Random Thoughts


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Writers love keeping notes.

(You may now act surprised!)

However, humorists have an additional reason or two for keeping notes that make this practice imperative.

We all have random thoughts. Some we’ll share; some we won’t admit at gunpoint. However, humorists routinely store them for future use. No matter how insane or seemingly useless an idea is at a particular moment, random very often means there’s a killer punchline hidden in there somewhere, or perhaps just a smile, or anything in between.

Remember being 20 and waking up on that dreaded morning after the wildest, most drunken party ever thrown. That was nature training you to deal with every damn morning when you’re 75.

A Little Standup Love
Every successful standup comedian makes and keeps notes 24/7. If they don’t have a notebook, they’re carrying a pocketful of napkins and Burger King receipts with hastily scribbled notes on every little corner that holds the faintest promise of future legibility. The reasons for this practice are simple:

  • Your brain is always disciplined and well-organized ONLY if you are a fictional character.
  • Ideas, both useful and useless, do not arrive on a convenient schedule.
  • Human short-term memory, when not actively reinforced, has a duration measured in seconds.
  • As long as you don’t own any goats, a notebook generally lasts longer than seconds.

The Perfect Filing System
One of the twentieth century’s most successful comedians, Bob Hope kept his Joke File in an eight-by-five bank vault at his home office. It comprised a dozen file cabinets and over a half million jokes (filed alphabetically) written by more than 100 of America’s best humorists, including Hope himself. Today, you can see this collection, over 85,000 scanned pages, at the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment in the Library of Congress.

On the other hand, don’t underestimate the value of old shoe boxes.

If you think the road to hell is paved with good intentions, you should see the road to becoming well-organized.

While I tip my hat to Bob Hope and anyone else so nicely and neatly organized, the only realistic value in any filing system is that you can find said file again at some time in the future. I knew one comedian who kept all of his notes in a 30-gallon trash bag. It worked for him, and frankly, what else matters?

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Nota Bene!
Writers often keep a file of ideas that they will revisit from time to time in order to select an idea for their next project. It’s a standard practice and unquestionably worthwhile. Humorists, on the other hand, keep a joke file for these same reasons and for daily exercise.

If you are a beginner at writing jokes in any format, the odds are pretty good that your finest efforts are just as likely to garner a yawn as a laugh.

That’s nice, dear. Eat your porridge.

Now, picture yourself after many years of writing just one good joke every day. You will find:

  • Your brain is more disciplined, capable of finding the funny in just about any topic.
  • Ideas now arrive on demand.
  • It no longer matters that your short-term memory is unreliable since generating a steady stream of ideas has become routine.
  • Your Joke File, more precious than gold, is always available for reference and is now large enough to annoy your spouse.

Today’s random thought could be the perfect funny bit of dialogue or the iconic humorous character that you are looking for in your notes ten years from now. In addition, filing and consciously cultivating random thoughts every day will, over time, train you to find your funny at will. So, you now have an entirely valid reason to shout:

Somebody get me a trash bag!

Parting Funny: The secret to winning an argument with a woman: They have to be dead.
   – John Betz, Jr.

Next Up: Let’s Talk Dialogue

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A Comic View: Richard Pryor


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

What can we learn from a skinny kid from Illinois?

Hmm???

Comparing lists of the All Time Best Stand Up Comedians, it often appears that Richard Pryor and George Carlin simply alternate for the Number One and Number Two spot. Granted, whose name lands at the top of any list is essentially a matter of taste; however, if any list of best comedians does not place Richard Pryor in one of the top slots, you know immediately that the list is essentially worthless.

As with all unique voices, Richard Pryor engenders strong opinions in people. You may love him or hate him; however, without doubt, he was one of the most influential comedians ever to take the stage. He could be:

Critical:

I went to the White House, met the president. We in trouble.

Brutally honest:

[On going to court] You go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find: Just Us.

Profane:

The reason people use a crucifix against vampires is that vampires are allergic to bullshit.

Painfully Insightful:

I went to Zimbabwe. I know how white people feel in America now; relaxed! Cause when I heard the police car, I knew they weren’t coming after me!

Controversial\Challenging\Confrontational:

Word Association, performed with Chevy Chase, as well as several other progressive-for-their-time sketches performed on Saturday Night Live just about choked the NBC censors. The five-second broadcast delay was invented to accommodate Richard Prior’s appearance as guest host, and of course, any possible language slips while he was live on camera.

Intensely Personal:

There was a time in my life when I thought I had everything—millions of dollars, mansions, cars, nice clothes, beautiful women, and every other materialistic thing you can imagine. Now, I struggle for peace.

Unafraid to Share His Pain:

When you’re running down the street on fire, people get out of your way!

And Just Plain Funny:

I had to stop drinkin’, cuz I got tired of waking up in my car driving ninety.

Early in his successful, on-track career, Pryor literally walked off a Las Vegas stage without performing, deciding in that moment that mainstream, censor-friendly comedy was not for him. Few people experience such a moment, an all-encompassing epiphany in their lives that must either be followed or suppressed.

Pryor followed. He disappeared for several years.

When he returned, he built a new career, the one that he wanted…as himself. Pryor’s one-off reincarnation was both scandalous and momentous.

Book Cover image

“I cried with laughter!”

Pryor’s comedy—here I am, and here’s my stories, my life, and my world—sometimes chafed society’s last nerve, and yet, was so distinctively astute that we couldn’t turn away. His iconic performances sold out everywhere. His comedy albums went to the top of the charts and won five Grammy’s. His acting won Emmys and Oscar Nominations. He became the most successful comedian of his generation.

The same producers who claimed that Pryor would never work again (after his Vegas walk-off) were now begging to book Richard Pryor anywhere and everywhere. He drew black audiences; he drew white audiences, and he changed the conversation between them for future generations.

In 1998, Richard Pryor was the first recipient of The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

I feel great about accepting this prize. It is nice to be regarded on par with a great white man—now that’s funny! Seriously, though, two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humor. I am proud that, like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humor to lessen people’s hatred!

Richard Pryor’s influence truly spans generations. We may focus at times on the tragedy that marred so much of his personal life. We may focus on his extraordinary talent as a writer and a performer. Truthfully, there are very few positive or negative attributes that people have not assigned at one time or another to Richard Pryor, but through it all, he demonstrated—for us who listen—the extraordinary courage required to:

Express Yourself!

Might be something there. Hmm???

Parting Funny: I’m all for anarchy as long as I can keep room service.Louie Anderson

Next Up: Random Thoughts

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Is Criticism Cruel?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

A bit of a serious rant, today.

Noooooooo!

Yes, so buckle up!

Humor (in this case, humour) has once again raised a teeny-tiny controversy, and I may have some thoughts on the issue.

That was the cue for the drumroll, dammit! Drumroll? Drumroll?

A recent online article (2/2/2016) about John Cleese in the British newspaper, The Telegraph brought a complex issue to light. Here’s the short version:

The Monty Python star revealed that he has been advised not to perform to [university] students as the fear of offending has expanded so far that any kind of criticism is now seen as “cruel.”

While this article was published as entertainment news, and I applaud the writer, Lucy Clarke-Billings, for not mixing news and commentary as so often happens today, I must also note that this article failed miserably to adequately address the many issues that it raised. Certainly, this writer could have stimulated a very lively debate had this been handled not as entertainment news but as an opinion piece. And I, for one, would have preferred the latter.

I had an opinion; I’m quite sure. Maybe, in my other jacket…

Consider just a few of this article’s implications:

  • Are colleges and universities, institutions founded on the freedom of intellectual inquiry, now graduating a generation of whiners who do not have the intellectual or emotional capacity to handle a little criticism?
  • Has freedom of intellectual inquiry become a politically-correct-only freedom?
  • Are we raising a younger generation incapable of accepting that not everyone thinks the way they do?
  • Is it time to rein in political correctness?
  • Is political correctness killing comedy?

My Frank Opinion: People who take political correctness to extremes are hilarious fools.

That’s the hysterical reason-challenged, if you please!

There are certain aspects of the human psyche that, as adults, we all must accept:

  • Everyone is open-minded until you challenge their core beliefs or comment negatively on their mother.
  • Freedom of speech is generally supported only until someone that you oppose tries to use it.
  • The younger generation is always viewed as inadequate.

It’s difficult to believe that the younger generation is incapable of handling criticism, or that they do not understand that political correctness is a concept of limited usefulness but large bandwagon. And in fairness, note that the older generation also whines a good deal; easily seen in the waiting room of any arthritis specialist.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Now, I have the utmost respect and a good bit of hero worship for John Cleese. I can’t say that I would act the fool and gush all over him if I met him on the street; however, as he is a true master of the absurd, I probably wouldn’t object if he wanted to skip paper altogether and place his autograph on my left buttock.

The man is a comedy genius. If you doubt this for a second, please note that it was also reported that a Monty Python reunion show sold out in under a minute!

Try naming other artists who have done as well.

We have to grant that criticism is sometimes harsh, but then so are truth, justice and many other concepts\ideas. Are writers, humorists and standup comedians now to avoid opinions, criticisms, and God-forbid, possibly harsh words for fear of being considered cruel?

  • Yes, if you want your work to have no discernable impact.
  • No, if you want to develop your own unique voice.

I suggest that British university students write, petition, or shout from the rooftops an invitation for John Cleese to speak at their institution. For if a little criticism truly shatters your piddling, little, insular world, then you are, without doubt, an idiot.

And yes, that’s a criticism.

Parting Funny: The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of Charades.
Demetri Martin

Next Up: The Comic View: Richard Pryor

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Modus Operandi: Ridiculous!


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Humorists long ago discovered the ridiculous nature of the human race. While humanity, collectively and individually, likes to consider themselves rational, living up to this unreasonably high standard is far beyond our abilities. Man is just not up to the challenge of building, maintaining, or facing a rational world.

She wants me to meet her parents. Can I hide at your place?

I’m ridiculous. You’re ridiculous. We’re all ridiculous together!
Somewhere in your house, you will find a mirror.

Experiment #1: Get naked (at home, please!). Stand in front of your mirror. Don’t turn away. Evaluate yourself for fifteen minutes. Try not to laugh.

If you fail, you may assume that you are sane.

If the physical aspects of your body don’t seem ridiculous to you, you may not have noticed:

  • You are not perfectly symmetrical. At the very least, the left cheek of your bum is a slightly different size than the right. And likely, it didn’t used to droop so much.
  • You eat and breathe through the same hole, making choking a fairly frequent interruption to the regularly scheduled program for all of us.
  • Your body’s unmentionables are mentioned all the time. They are a primary focus of human history, evolution, singles bars, girl-talk, boy-talk, etc. The extra hair is merely decorative.
  • Etc….and then some!

The Wider World
Experiment #2: If you are lucky enough to have a mirror that is mobile, carry it outside your door (Dress first, please!). Hold it up to the world. What do you see in your mirror? Anything ridiculous on the horizon?

Due to the nearly insane inflation of college tuitions, student loans do not buy nearly as much beer and quality toke as they used to.

How about:

  • People stuck in rush hour traffic who think leaning on their horn makes for a speedier and more pleasant journey.
  • Same driver—owns more bumper stickers than books.
  • Conservatives wholeheartedly support free speech until someone tries to use it.
  • Liberals wholeheartedly support free speech as long as someone reins in those pesky conservatives.
  • Religion and science are at odds, and proponents of either are NEVER wrong.
  • Your driver’s license photo—$35 to be airbrushed by Satan!
  • Mismatch of the sexes! Women on average take twenty minutes to achieve orgasm. Men—putting it politely—get off in a photo finish with popping the top on a beer can.
  • Women want to talk about “our relationship.” Men would rather eat glass shards.
  • The school bus is arriving with your children, who are ALWAYS the smartest and most beautiful ever produced.
  • WARNING: Rant Ahead! Your neighbor’s dog craps on everybody’s lawn but his own… Your parents know what’s wrong with your life—and tell you… Your in-laws taught you how to force a smile… Your boss moonlights as the stunt double for a horse’s ass… Your job is remarkably similar to Guantanamo’s waterboarding facilities… “Supportive” community organizations fundraise by selling candy, cookies and cakes that your bathroom scale doesn’t want you to eat…
    Book Cover image

    You’ll like it!

    Most politicians couldn’t pass a polygraph even if the test was multiple choice… Our court system strives to convince people that the statue of the blind bitch on the courthouse steps is a positive metaphor and not a frank opinion on daily performance… Our country is never wrong in a red state, and never quite right in a blue state… The United Nations is ignored more often than the speed limit… Our beautiful planet, Earth, our only lifeboat in a hostile universe—if we can’t sink it, no one can… NASA builds Mars probes no one will ever see again in a pristine, germ-free clean room. You prepare your lunch on a counter you washed last July… Add yet another huge ETC!

Ridiculous is humanity’s normal operating procedure. Humorists are not writing jokes, they’re reporting the facts.

Writers who can’t find anything funny to write do not suffer from writer’s block, but poor eyesight.

Parting Funny: I went to a La-Z-Boy furniture store. Not one of those jerks got off their fat ass and helped me.Augie Cook

Next Up: Is Criticism Cruel?

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Quick Aside: The Laughter in Your Head


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

NOTE: For those of you wondering, a Quick Aside is just a random thought or two that will should may be worth a minute of your time.

Have you ever been the only person laughing in a movie theater? Ever noticed something hilarious that no one else got? You’re not alone.

The lovely, very funny, and very talented writer, Lisa Shiroff is an online friend who wondered about the same thing. Below is a bit of our online exchange.

Lisa wrote: “It’s so much fun in my head. But people around me never seem as amused.”

Jay wrote: The problem, Lisa, is that so few people understand that most of life is screamingly funny. Kudos to you for figuring out that life is only serious for people with a genuine fear of facing reality.

Basically…

It starts as mom busies herself building a nursery while the baby is building his\her tiny little body by sucking the calcium and all other nutrients out of mom’s bones and turning her figure, which allowed mom to become a mom in the first place, into a Goodyear blimp with cankles.

Next, we have the formative years, which is the politically correct way for parents to say, ‘I love you so I’m not going to kill you for being a daily worry, robbing my piggybank, setting the kitchen on fire, and making me miss my chance to tour Europe, where I might have met pleasant people, the sort who don’t simultaneously hate me, think I’m stupid, and cause my auto insurance rates to look like the national debt of a Third World country.’

Then, off to college. This is an institution fully funded by the conversion of every parent’s comfortable retirement into keggers and unoriginal sin.

Then, the wee ones finally arrive at adulthood, where they find that the grind of working a job you hate is considered “normal,” everything is taxable, and everyone is expected to conform to concepts of society that are traditional, rather than well-thought-out.

But…

Have no fear, one can always move back in with the parents until such time as it’s necessary to start building a nursery while the baby is…

Lisa’s reply:

Jay QUOTED: “…Then, off to college. This is an institution fully funded by the conversion of every parents’ comfortable retirement into keggers and unoriginal sin…”

Lisa wrote: While I love everything you wrote in that answer…the line I quoted above is yet one more reason why I drink.

Check out Lisa Shiroff’s books.

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Angles, Bangles and Tangles


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Okay, let’s lighten up a bit with an easy mnemonic. You know, those silly little words and jingles that help you remember formulas, etc. You learned a bunch of them from your high school math teacher, the one wearing the ugly plaid sports coat.

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.
Gilda Radner

When searching for an amusing line, you can sort through the different types of humor to see if anything pops; maybe a little innuendo, maybe some irony, etc. However, if not successful, you still have options.

Such as?

One Answer: Angles, Bangles and Tangles

Let’s consider a crime novel scene: We’ll call our main character, Tony. He’s a no-nonsense, old school Italian—a hardboiled police detective. The villain breaks into Tony’s apartment bent on revenge. Then, life-threatening chaos! After a bit of rough and tumble, Tony cracks the bad guy’s skull with a lamp, sending him crashing to the floor.

You’ve written your scene. It’s edge-of-your-seat thrilling, and you certainly don’t want to change that. However, Tony now needs one of those fabulous (hopefully iconic) James Bond-type amusing lines, a little mild comic relief for this tense situation.

Angles
A change in perspective (angle) is often much more successful than struggling repeatedly to beat your frontal lobe into submission…and productivity.

“Last night, I gave my wife a piece of my mind.”
“I gave mine a diamond tennis bracelet. Works much better.”

You don’t need to change your character or scene. You don’t need to change anything. However, if Tony’s personality is not delivering the funny, why not try someone else? No two people have the same view of the world.

What response would come out of the mouth of:

  • Your grandmother: “That was a Tiffany lamp!”
  • A 1960’s hippie: “I got some ointment that might help that. It’s organic.”
  • An alien: “Red blood. Who’d have guessed?”
  • Your garbage man: “Dude, don’t lie there. The Dumpster’s out back.”
  • Your local grocer: “Cleanup, aisle five.”

Sort as you go. Note, grandma’s line doesn’t fit a tough police detective. The hippie, grocer and garbage man’s lines are much too trite. The alien…snarky and amusing; that just might work.

Can we beat it? Probably, so keep going.

Keep changing the perspective until you find the best line. What would a hot babe say? A personal trainer? A physics professor?

But, if this fails:

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution" Bangles
Every character is decorated (bangles) with personality traits, behind the scenes actions, and quirks. Every scene is decorated with objects, weather, scenery, etc. Almost any minor detail can be altered without changing the character or scene as a whole. The devil may be in the details, but the funny may be also.

What detail can be altered when a police detective arrests a bad guy who just trashed his apartment?

You get one phone call, and it damn well better be to a maid service.

Tangles
You can add an extra touch of conflict (tangles) to almost any scene. This doesn’t have to be mean or nasty, it can be entirely playful.

Perhaps, our bad guy, although stunned, tries to reach for a backup gun in an ankle holster. How would our detective handle this added conflict?

I snatched the piece, a snub .38, away from the bastard. “I’ll hold that for you. Don’t worry, you’ll get it back when hell freezes over.”

If our bad guy is dead, use external conflict:

“Damn! I promised the captain I wouldn’t kill anyone this week.”

Angles, Bangles, and Tangles
Is this mnemonic silly? Who cares?

When trying to find your funny, mildly amusing as above or a hearty belly laugh, a silly, little mnemonic may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Parting Funny: I don’t let men smoke in my apartment. But if I have a woman over, she can barbecue a goat.Todd Barry

Next Up: Modus Operandi: Ridiculous!

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What Does It Mean To ‘Push the Envelope’?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

When a topic is vitally important to humorists, sometimes I have to be a bit serious. I know I’ll be forgiven.

For your penance, sincerely compliment your mother’s good taste in choosing a Medieval theme for her kitchen.

Now, shall we?

If you talk to any fighter pilot who has flown numerous air-to-air combat missions, you know that he\she has pushed their aircraft to the very limits of its performance, riding that razor’s edge between loss of control and victory. How do you know this? You’re talking to them. They survived.

Success is rarely so brutal and final as combat, but there are lessons to be learned from such experiences.

The Iraqi Air Force likes to take sick leave en masse.

Well, yes, but what I was getting at is that success is rarely risk free. For people who don’t literally have their butts on the line every day, there are still huge benefits to riding the razor’s edge. Survival. Rare Insights. Victory.

The Faint of Heart
Leave now.

Writers: Stark Raving Mad by Choice
Face facts: If you are a writer, it is entirely justifiable to question your sanity.

I don’t doubt my sanity for a minute. I doubt it all day long.

As a writer, you have a different mindset from “normal” people. You willfully and vicariously experience a time and place through the senses of your main character, even though that place exists only in your head and your character is unquestionably a phantom. You spend hours upon hours converting your imaginings into the ideal format to choke your printer.

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.Gene Fowler

Next, you edit, which is basically a state of frenzied, obsessive worry over where to place a comma.

Should you complete your manuscript before your hard drive crashes, you then share your phantom character and his\her make-believe world with glorious and much appreciated test readers, who hopefully enjoy the experience vicariously through their interpretation of your interpretation of your fantastic, but entirely delusional world.

Finally, in almost all cases, traditional publishers ignore you and call you names, but you still sell enough copies of your book to afford supersizing at least one Big Mac meal.

Seriously, what is sane and reasonable about this process?

You need a little bit of insanity to do great things.Henry Rollins

So, when it comes time to add a bit of humor to your writing, is it really any more insane to swing for the fences, giving it all you’ve got?

HINT=> No.

Take a moment.
Yes, I know that I’ve mentioned pushing your boundaries on several occasions, but take a moment now to seriously consider what this involves:

  • Defining your comfort zone.
  • Asking why and how your comfort zone became established.
  • Imagining stepping outside of your comfort zone.
  • Imagining yourself on the razor’s edge and finding the funniest line.
  • Realizing that the risk involved in a joke is negligible.

I always hate it when you have to do a lame euphemism that no normal person would ever use.James Downey

Book Cover image

“…witty, funny, and well written.”

The best humor is never found in your comfort zone. If you are writing a scene or a bit of dialogue that would greatly benefit from a bit of humor, pushing the envelope IS the safe bet, and stepping outside your comfort zone is the sanest thing that you can do.

SPECIAL NOTE: Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks (Penguin Books, 2014) is the sequel to And Here’s the Kicker. I’m just a few chapters into this book, and I can already state that the advice from these successful comedy writers is PURE GOLD! The best mentors are always those who have ‘been there and done that.’ Don’t miss this read!

Parting Funny: I have a “carpe diem” mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day. They make me want to slap a dead poet. – Joanne Sherman

Next Up: Angles, Bangles and Tangles

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