If there was a big yellow caution sign for anyone in the comedy world it should be “Watch for Big Head”
One of my most notorious weaknesses in comedy is trying to be too clever.
I’ve spent nearly thirty years, not only as a comedian and comedy writer, but also as a comedy scientist; figuring out what makes something funny and how to bottle it so it can be reproduced at will.
Sometimes I’ll write a joke and think to myself, ‘that’s too simple… that’s not going to get a big laugh,’ only to try the joke on stage and get not just a great laugh, but an applause break.
I wrote a joke the other day and opened with it that night at the Comedy Store:
“The republicans are consulting with Caitlyn Jenner on how to best deal with Donald Trump. You know, since she’s now the expert on how to quickly eliminate a dick.”
The joke got a crisp laugh, then solid applause followed… and just earlier I was in my ‘big head’ I wondering whether that would even get a good laugh.
It’s Easy to Get Too Clever
The more experience we have in comedy, the easier it is to get too clever; to get stuck in analysis of the joke.
Most solid comedy is about simple associations, recognition and release of tension. Because Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump and the presidential race are all politically charged and issues that are now, it’s more likely to create tension and provide for solid release. And since release is the one of the top triggers for applause, it worked.
But because I was in my ‘big head,’ I second guessed myself.
If it Sounds Funny, Do It!
Sometimes, we have to remember to get out of our own way and write what we think is funny. Does it sound funny? Does it feel funny? Then do it.
Emmy Award-winning writer, Gene Perret said, “Sometimes the joke doesn’t need to be categorized. Sometimes it defies explanation, it’s just funny.
He goes on to say,
“Steven Wright, one of the most inventive comedy writers of all time, has a line that defies categorizing, that reads:
“When I was a kid we had a sandbox in our back yard that was filled with quicksand. I was an only child… eventually.”
Kathleen Madigan had a line in her act during the time when the book Final Exit, a controversial book on how to commit suicide, was first published. She talked about being in a bookstore checkout line behind a customer who was buying it.
“The guy was about to pay $19.95 for a book on how to commit suicide. I said, ‘Hey man, I’ll stab you in the head for five dollars.'”
Mr. Perret makes a good point. Although each of these jokes has a definite reason that they would trigger laughs, they don’t necessarily fit into any category. They are just funny.
I like explaining and understanding ‘why’ something is funny. It’s my life’s work. But sometimes you don’t need an explanation, sometimes funny is just funny.
So resist the temptation of getting into over analysis of the joke, if it feels funny, just do it.
In other words, watch out for ‘big head.’