Popular Is Not Enough


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

CRAFT

Last week, I posted a humorous commentary on a news article from The Wall Street Journal which questioned the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. The article noted a study linking gifts and free meals for doctors to an increase in the number of prescriptions for new drugs.

Now, topical humor is generally a good bit of fun, however, a study relating a free lunch to prescription medication is a fairly esoteric topic. ‘Esoteric’ is Latin for No one cares.

Still, the question remains, Why did I pick this particular topic?

Two reasons:

  • The Wall Street Journal was not alone. The story appeared in the health sections of multiple major metropolitan newspapers (online).
  • I had a point of view worth exploring humorously.

It’s good that health is a popular topic, but point of view is equally important.

Point of View In General
First, let’s dispel the rumor that merely having a point of view is interesting or funny. That’s simply not true.

Second, the belief that every point of view can be made humorous is actually unprovable. While everything has a funny side, whether a writer can find it and utilize it well is problematic. Add to this audience acceptance…

Only one in four jokes ever works, and I still can’t predict what people will laugh at. – Steven Wright

I think Steven Wright is one of the funniest men on the planet, and while I question the validity of his “one in four” calculation, he is correct that predicting audience response is often complicated (AKA a Crap Shoot?). However, you can improve your odds.

Pro vs. Con Is Just The Beginning
Referring to my previous column once again, do you think it’s probable that one can cure everything by taking a pill?

Not likely.

Are doctors really making decisions about your health based on the quality of
a free Chicken Tetrazzini?

Amusing, but even less likely.

Are the directors of most pharmaceutical companies a bunch of sociopathic, price-gouging bastards?

Okay, that one is arguable.

Still, as the above statements demonstrate, a humorous point of view is not simply choosing a pro or con stance. It’s an exploration of multiple viewpoints, and may even be an ad hoc mixture of pro and con. You’re searching for funny, not a personal manifesto.

Topic Exploration
Naturally, each writer has his own opinion on nearly all topics. That’s fair. Writers form opinions just like everyone still breathing, and a fair number of dead people who happen to be oft quoted.

The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation. – Isaac D’Israeli

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.
– Clarence Darrow

That pretty much covers quoting or ignoring the dead. And of course, it’s entirely fair to quote the living as well. In fact, many journalists spend huge amounts of time looking for interesting quotations to take out of context.

However, in addition to reading articles on the same topic from multiple news outlets, looking for appropriate quotations, and formulating your own opinion(s), there is one blatantly obvious and very helpful tool that many writers overlook.

CLUE: You’re not the only one with an opinion.

Broaden Your Views
No writer alone can think of every possible angle. There is just too much flexibility in our significantly-less than black and white world. Ergo, searching for opinion (non-news) articles is just common sense, and very often useful when writing humorous commentary.

Granted, newspaper opinion pieces are more prevalent on political topics. And fortunately, a good many of us live in countries that offer legal protections whereby political commentators will not have their giblets roasted over charcoal briquettes for doing their job.

[answering phone] Amnesty International, Putin Division, may I help you?

However, many MUCH, MUCH more mundane topics have been editorialized.

Bottom Line: Yes, you have a point of view worth exploring, but so does everyone else. The Editorial Page is just as valuable a resource as the front page for topical humor.

When exploring viewpoints, always google: “Editorials on __________.”

You don’t have to agree with the views that you find, and you’re certainly entitled to laugh at them. …Damn! Isn’t that useful for humorous commentary!

Parting Funny: My mother buried three husbands, and two of them were just napping.
Rita Rudner
 
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Take A Pill


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

JUST FOR FUN
 

First, a short test:

Do Americans eat more:
A: Pharmaceuticals
B: M&M’s
C: Jelly Beans
 

The billions of dollars answer:
Mars, the candy company not the planet, produces $33 billion worth of M&M’s each year, which equates to approximately 146 billion M&M’s. Let’s be generous and say that Americans eat two-thirds of them or approximately 97 billion. The statistics are a bit murky on jelly beans, but Americans eat approximately $85 billion worth, and 16 billion individual jelly beans during the Easter holidays alone each year. Pharmaceuticals on the other hand is more than just pills. We must also consider potions, lotions and various pill-shaped medicinals that use an entirely different orifice. However, pharmaceuticals weighs in at a whopping $425 billion in the US. Again, let’s be generous and say that at least half, or $212.5 billion accounts for pills.

Since I researched these figures using the pick the first available number because I’m tired method, this impromptu breakdown is hardly scientific, and certainly not wholly accurate. However, it is a fair to middling indicator that Americans like their pills more than candy.

Sorry, chocolate fans, not enough billions in your favorite candy’s corner. You just don’t stand a chance when stacked up against Valium et al.

Now, there are several reasons that we like drugs:

First: What’s not to like.
Seriously. If the answer to any problem is take a pill, what a wonderful world we live in. Can you think of an easier way to cure what ails you?

Granted, stepping off the top floor of a tall building without using the elevator also has its fans, but trying to cure everything at once is too ambitious for most people.

Second: Predisposition
You may be among the six percent of our population who think the US Congress is doing a good job, in which case, it’s patently obvious that you’ll swallow anything.

Last: It’s an entertainment expense.
No, not the obvious form of drugs and entertainment, even though a fair amount of us do toke and coke. Instead, let’s look at a recent study, reported in a Wall Street Journal article that shows your doctor is more likely to prescribe American-priced (“Ouch! My wallet!”) pharmaceuticals if the drug company buys them a cheap meal.

Shocking, I know!

It’s hard to believe that your doctor may be making decisions about your health based on his impressions of Merck or Pfizer’s Chicken Tetrazzini, but it’s true. You’d think that highly educated medical professionals would at least hold out for a little prime rib or surf & turf.

Now, I have nothing against drug companies other than:

  • Prescriptions that cost fifteen cents elsewhere in the world can cost Americans one hundred dollars.
  • The FDA always compares new drugs to a placebo (sugar pill), and nearly anything works better than sugar. [See: Mom’s chicken noodle soup]
  • My favorite television shows are always interrupted by commercials—fair enough—but it seems every third one is telling me to ask my doctor for another pill.

Okay, on that last one, most of today’s television programming makes nausea medication essential.

Book Cover image

“Hilarious!”

Still, I’m disturbed that my doctor, who used to learn his trade by making Grand Rounds at a teaching hospital and reading professional journals, is now making his decisions based on a drug company buying him a free Mediterranean Salad with Feta Vinaigrette. Although, admittedly, the vinaigrette is a healthy choice.

Maybe…possibly…could be, I’m just getting old. In our modern reality, a cheap meal, a promotional lecture, and possibly a discounted tee time is now likely equivalent to the old-school method of dedicated doctors teaching other dedicated doctors about the latest advances for compassionate care of their patients. If not, there’s probably a pill for that, too. When he’s finished his meal, I’ll ask my doctor.

Parting Funny: I belong to Bridegrooms Anonymous. Whenever I feel like getting married, they send over a lady in a housecoat and hair curlers to burn my toast for me.Dick Martin
 
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Comedians and Tragedy


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

CRAFT – A special note.
 
 

Sometimes, the elephant in the room is the one with the most influence.

Most of us have experienced personal tragedy—the loss of a loved one, a family member who receives a frightening diagnosis from their doctor, or the disastrous loss of a family home from fire or natural disaster. Being human, we grieve, each in our own way, until such time as we are able to, as the Brits say so succinctly, soldier on.

Professional writers who experience a personal tragedy usually continue writing, some introducing a cathartic strain to their prose. Professional humorists follow a similar course, continuing to craft jokes, but there are some differences.

And not all tragedies are personal.

As we were so recently reminded in Orlando, national tragedy also impacts our consciousness. For those who need help, psychologists are available to deal with the varying degrees of shock and horror. Most writers or performers need only recognize the fact of its existence. At such times, the catastrophic event weighs on each mind in every humorist’s audience. Even if audience members are not aware consciously, tragedy can subdue their mood and limit their ability to enjoy the work of even the most talented humorists.

How can we laugh in the face of tragedy?

How can a comedian make jokes in a time of crisis?

How can a humorist do his\her job while our nation grieves?

The same way as doctors, lawyers, plumbers and carpenters. We get out of bed. We go to work. We do our job.

First, address the pain.
In the aftermath of tragedy, it’s entirely normal for a humorist to want to act professionally and carry on. However, respect for the feelings of your audience (and your own feelings) is best served by acknowledgement. Avoiding a harsh reality accomplishes nothing; directly confronting the event compassionately helps clear the air. Be clear. Be direct. Express your own thoughts, your own sympathies.

There is no right or wrong way.
Sometimes, all we can do is our best, and hope it’s adequate.

A nicely written article by Adam Epstein (with video clips) demonstrates for us how some popular comedians addressed the Orlando mass shooting. Speaking with palpable discomfort in some of these clips, these professional humorists express their feelings and those of our nation.

Note the range of feelings expressed. From sincere empathy to blatant anger, it can honestly be said that all are appropriate at such emotionally confusing times. It is also brave for them to be so open with their audience, and whether you agree with all of their sentiments or not, each effort to reach out to our nation is wholly admirable.

Human, then humor
As a nation, Americans have always come together and been supportive in times of national tragedy. American comedians have the same desire to be supportive; today both of the Orlando victims’ families and of their audience members concerned with the often uncertain feelings this horrific crime has engendered in their hearts and minds.

Afterwards, humorists will return to work. There will be new jokes written and performed. Audiences will once again enjoy a smile, a giggle and a laugh. And each succeeding day, it will get a little easier for all of us.

No tragedy, no depraved act will ever permanently rob our country of normal.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
– Helen Keller

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The First Gentleman


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Since Hillary has now secured enough primary votes and delegates to win the Democratic nomination, and Trump continues to show voters that he’s about as inclusive as a teenage girl’s clique, we must now focus on the very likely probability that the United States is about to elect its first female president. While rational people grant that Hillary is well-qualified for the Oval Office, there are still numerous questions about Bill Clinton’s qualifications to occupy the East Wing Office of the First Lady
…er…Gentleman.

Since the United States has no history to rely on in this particular area, I can only offer a modest approximation of a few possibly-upcoming events should Bill assume this unelected office.

First Day’s Schedule
0800 Full day training seminar on how to talk to female voters about women’s issues without becoming one.

Decorating The First Gentleman’s Office
“I’m sorry, sir. The nanny cam and the bust of your wife with the eyes that follow you about the room can’t be removed. Madam President’s order, sir.”

White House Decor
“We just can’t match The Lincoln Bedroom’s current furnishings, sir. Apparently, there’s no such thing as a vintage stripper pole.”

The White House China Pattern
Excerpt from Good Housekeeping Magazine:
“The red, white and blue pattern, crafted in the finest Delftware, is surprisingly robust, exhibiting all the subtle overtones of a fraternity toga party.”

Choosing a Cause
The First Gentleman has taken up the plight of today’s over-burdened politicians who face unreasonable standards when running for political office. It’s been named,
Support Politicians Who Inhale.

Hosting Visiting Dignitaries Wives
French President: Not in this lifetime.
British Prime Minister: Double her staff of bodyguards.
Mexican President: Build a wall around her.
Various Others: Shoot if necessary.

Hosting White House Tea
“Ladies, you have a choice of Earl Grey hot with milk or lemon, or from my native Arkansas, a locally produced drink called ‘Shine.’

Managing the White House Staff
“Whose deal is it?”

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Honors Received
The Mile End Deli in New York City has honored the First Gentleman by offering an All-American beef hot dog with chili, cheese, onions, extra peppers and a courtesy breath mint. The staff named it The Bill Clinton, but most patrons simply order, “One Horn Dog, please.”

Acting As White House Hostess at State Dinners – Worst Case Scenario
Excerpt from an exclusive Washington Post interview: Hage Gottfried Geingob, the President of Namibia, gives his impressions of the first state dinner held by the new administration.

Post: Is it true that after this state visit to Washington that you are looking more favorably on increasing the participation of American oil companies in offshore exploration and production, and perhaps increasing American participation in copper mining as well?
President Geingob: Absolutely.
Post: What changed your mind?
President Geingob: I met with your First Gentleman just after noon. Bill took me to a Redskins game, and while I didn’t really understand the game, it was most exciting, and I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable. We had a private box, of course, the Secret Service insisted, and the food was fantastic. The First Gentleman had it catered by a very talented chef called Hooters.
Post: Understandable.
President Geingob: Later, I took a short nap, then I attended the formal dinner at the White House at 8 PM. There, I met with your new president and many of your country’s dignitaries. Again, the food was excellent, but I didn’t care for the dessert, fruit and parfait, so Bill immediately arranged an alternative for me under the table. I think it was called a ‘Lewinsky’. Most satisfying.
Post: Surely, you don’t mean…
President Geingob: Best state visit ever! USA Number One!
 

Conclusion
Obviously, this election may be breaking new ground in both the West and East Wing of the White House. Not to mention that Hillary may be the first president in US history to issue an executive order to geld her spouse.

Parting Funny: Inside me there’s a thin person struggling to get out, but I can usually sedate him with four or five cupcakes.Bob Thaves
 
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Funny Insights


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

One of the difficulties faced by novice humor writers is their relentless search for that magic How To that is going to make everything they write hilarious.

Comedy Secret #4961: That How To doesn’t exist.

Still, there is much to learn from the search.

Studying humorists is an excellent start. Most comedians are very generous with tips on technique. They generally respect other humorists and have a genuine interest in expanding the field. After all, the more people (audiences, readers) learn to love humor, the better it is for their career because demand increases.

I’ll be happy to do a show for The Grand Exalted Order of the Magenta Feltberry Lodge…Uh, who the hell are you?

Or, as Robin Williams once quipped:

When I started, I would have played the opening of an envelope.

BUT…

While learning from other humorists is wholly worthwhile, there are many other sources of humor insights all around us—some quite normal and expected, and some rather strange. All it takes is a little awareness to find useful tips nearly everywhere.

Let’s consider a few not-so-obvious examples:

Science
Billions of dollars are spend on scientific research to cure disease, explore the nature of our universe, and create new breathable synthetic fabrics for underwear that doesn’t bind.

It’s true, science has improved our lives, yet many discoveries can be attributed not to intent, but to one very simple, very human act: A scientist looks closely at some aspect of his world and says to himself, “That’s odd.”

What a fabulous observation! It can also be a fabulous insight leading to your next joke.

If stray cats follow you into a singles bar, reconsider your aftershave.

When I spotted a stray cat outside a noisy club, did I consider it odd? A bit. Is it funny?

My audience thought so.

Philosophers
It takes a very secure man to give a public lecture wearing a toga.

Pick any philosopher at random, and you’ll see he\she offers lessons useful for the construction of humor. Let’s try Jean-Paul Sartre, often one of the most confusing philosophers of modern times. His concept of living without freedom, which he called
Bad Faith can be described as telling ourselves that we MUST live a certain way, and as a result, we close ourselves off from other options.

Does everything in life have to be a certain way?

No.

Deviating from the expected norm may lead you to a more comfortable life, but it could also lead you to a great gag.

I don’t think I’ll marry again. I’ll just find a woman that hates me and buy her a house. – Attributed to Lewis Grizzard and others.

Out of the Mouths of Babes
I firmly believe that the most wonderful thing about children is that most of them aren’t mine.

Book Cover image

“Hilarious!”

Still, children have a unique way of looking at the world. Some call this innocence, but whatever you call it, children often go right to the heart of a matter with their own wonderfully skewed view of the world.

One day, when my son was three years-old, his grandfather brought him home and announced, somewhat red-faced, that he wasn’t taking my son to a restaurant again until he was older.

They had simply gone out for ice cream! What happened?

Answer: They had gone to a local family restaurant which was known for its many flavors of ice cream. While waiting to be served, my son had stood up in their booth, pointed to a nearby table with an obviously overweight customer and shouted:

Poppy, look at how much food that man is eating!

Everyone in the restaurant looked and laughed, and mortally embarrassed ‘Poppy’ wanted to crawl under the table.

Intentionally looking at the world from the view of innocence, or imagining everything as if it were a new experience, is a great insight, and quite often, just plain funny.

Conclusion
Certainly, comedians can teach us how to add a touch of humor to life, but the truth, often a bit harder to grasp, is that everyone and everything we know teaches humor. That is, if we’re listening.

Parting Funny: Just because nobody complains doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect.
Benny Hill
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