Being funny has never been easy.
I’m not talking about me, but in general. We all love to laugh, but what cracks us up is as different as our individual lives. That’s why, over the years, I’ve paid attention and taken mental notes about what’s funny and what makes people laugh. Heck, I even put together a pamphlet (hardly a book) about how to write funny jokes that’s available for your Kindle on Amazon.
To save you the free download (and seriously, I can’t even remember when I wrote that) it’s based on the two golden rules of comedy–know your audience and go for the common experiences. I’ve spent my career going for the quick kill. Do a brief setup and while people are nodding their heads in agreement, you zing ’em with the punchline.
If you’re standing up there on the stage and setting up a joke by saying, “You know how you go the leper colony because they’ve got a great cigar bar in the back,” you’ve already lost the people who have never been to a leper colony, or don’t care that they have a cigar bar. If you go for the quicker, “President Trump met with the Pope today,” with those seven words, you’ve created a picture in the audiences’ mind of Trump, the Pontiff and the stereotypes that come with each of them. Where I went with it was “Their conversation began with one saying, “So what’s with that big thing on your head?” and the other replying, “Back at ya!”
Donald’s hair, the Pope’s hat, ha-ha, let’s all go home.
This week, Kathy Griffin (who I’ve always felt was a needy comic) thought it would be hilarious to do a photo shoot that included her holding onto a bloody Donald Trump head. For the science of comedy, I would have loved to have been in that meeting where that concept turned into “a funny idea.”
You thought the leper colony set up didn’t work? If your audience was the U.S., then you’re already heading down the path where 50% of the people who see the photo not only won’t think it’s funny, it would be viewed as offensive. Now, do you really want to instantly piss off half of your audience, some of whom might even have liked you as a comic until now? Next, let’s whittle down the prospective hysterical laughter even further by reducing it to just the part of the audience that thinks ISIS beheadings are funnier than Benny Hill. In a world where innocent kids are blown up at a pop concert, where reporters have their heads cut off live on the Internet, regardless of how you feel about the president (who, is still the president, by the way), holding a bloody Trump head is shocking, disturbing, and a lot of things, but not funny.
Remember that pursuit of shared experiences? OK, so if you think a bloody Trump head is funny, then we should probably do it with a Hillary head, too, right? I mean, that’s a funny gag! And while we’re at it, let’s grab the heads of two more former presidents, bloody them up and have an upside-down Mount Rushmore!
Can you imagine the outrage if someone had done this with an Obama head? We’d be hearing how wrong it was and that it could only have come from the mind of someone who is a right-wing, white supremacist racist scumbag.
So, to summarize:
Kathy has now entered the Gilbert Gottfried zone, where one day, she might get to open for Michael Richards in a comedy club that offers a Groupon for two drinks and some laughs for $17.
I know that comedians who constantly reach for that edge have to keep stretching for the outer limits, but someone with Kathy’s experience should have seen at least a small warning light going off. The same is true for Gilbert and Richards. Jokes about Tsunami victims days after the tragedy or thinking the N-word is funny when spoken by a white guy defies logic. I don’t get it, nor do I want to.
Oh, I’ve had my dark humor moments. I’ve thought of some pretty sick stuff over the years. It’s part of the spectrum. But then you go back to the “know your audience” part of the comedy formula and make sure those jokes never see the light of day.
Even if you share Ms. Griffin’s contempt for the president, do you really want to live in a society where something like the above photo is considered mainstream funny?
Freedom of speech? Absolutely. Knock yourself out. Want to be a comedian? Try being funny.