Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Every Laugh Is a Little Miracle

 

Reflect for a moment about all that is required for a comedian to get a laugh onstage.

It begins offstage with a barely-conscious “blip” passing through the comic’s mind: an inchoate connection between two things not normally thought connected. Recorded then promptly forgotten, the comedian’s subconscious begins to work its special brand of magic determining if there’s any “there” there. (The comedian usually needn’t check back with her subconscious as her subconscious will, when the time is right, check back with her.)

If green-lighted for the stage – most jokes aren’t, of course – the comic’s conscious mind then begins its specialty: reducing it to as few words as possible, owing to the fact that long jokes require bigger laughs than short jokes. Once put into the comedy equivalent of “legislative language”, it must be memorized, tweaked and articulated clearly and confidently as if for the first time ever instead of the third time that night.

None of the above will matter without a properly functioning microphone and sound system, which are like the tires of a car: little thought about yet absolutely essential if the audience is to meet its end of the bargain. Yes, stand-up comedy isn’t a monologue so much as a collaboration with the comedian. The audience must be engaged, meaning no blenders or loud-talking drunks in the vicinity. Even this is not enough, of course, because a comedian, like all speakers, must be interesting at all times.

And even if all of these prerequisites are met it still won’t be enough if, for example, the date is December 7, 1941 or September 11, 2001. (Or, if you’re working either coast, November 8, 2016.)

So every time an audience laughs at a comedian’s joke it represents a kind of perfect storm: a functioning sound system, plainspoken English, an engaged audience, a slow news day, and an untold number of other factors. Then consider that all these things must come together over and over, every eight to fifteen seconds or so, for 45 minutes to an hour. There is no laugh track. It’s an incredibly complex constellation which falls apart with so much as the slightest hesitation in the comic’s delivery or a dropped vodka tonic in a waitress’s.

That is the magic of stand-up comedy: the guttural response of the audience making the connection between two disparate thoughts in real time, courtesy of a comedian.

It’s amazing to think that a barely-conscious thought occurring to me in the shower at home in Los Angeles can become, the very next night, a belly laugh to people thousands of miles away in, say, Philadelphia. It all makes me reflect that there’s no such thing as a bad show: only nights in which fewer miracles happen than on others.

.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Members have made 32 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

    Gah! Sounds like walking a tightrope and you make it look easy!

    • #1
    • August 7, 2017 at 5:29 am
    • Like6 likes
  2. Profile photo of Addiction Is A Choice Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Gah! Sounds like walking a tightrope and you make it look easy!

    The great ones always make it look easy, Bryan 😉

    • #2
    • August 7, 2017 at 5:35 am
    • Like5 likes
  3. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor

    My favorite trick was the highlighter . . . 😉

    Very funny, David. I can’t imagine doing the work you do!

    • #3
    • August 7, 2017 at 6:33 am
    • Like2 likes
  4. Profile photo of WillowSpring Member

    Thanks for the behind the scenes view. This:

    “an inchoate connection between two things not normally thought connected. ”

    Reminds me of a very interesting book – “The Act of Creation” by Arthur Koestler (who more famously wrote “Darkness at Noon”). The goal was to investigate creativity, but there was no “marker” to establish the point of actual creation. He then argues that humor, which he associates with creativity, has a definite marker in laughter. Spending some time analyzing humor, he concludes that it involves the intersection of two planes where an idea makes sense in both planes, but the transition from one to the other provides the jolt of humor. After providing some examples of this in humor, the book then relates the idea of intersecting planes to other creativity.

    • #4
    • August 7, 2017 at 6:57 am
    • Like5 likes
  5. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Gah! Sounds like walking a tightrope and you make it look easy!

    Thanks, Bryan. That’s a topic unto itself: it’s not as funny if it’s made to look hard. It’s sort of like the winner of a marathon: of course he looks good: if he didn’t he wouldn’t have been in the lead at the finish line.

    • #5
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:51 am
    • Like3 likes
  6. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    WillowSpring (View Comment):
    Thanks for the behind the scenes view. This:

    “an inchoate connection between two things not normally thought connected. ”

    WillowSpring – That sounds very much like an interesting book and what I was trying to get at in this piece. What’s great about comedy, of course, is that the audience ultimately decides if a thing is funny or not: and they’re never wrong. Sort of like the Congressional Budget Office…

    • #6
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:54 am
    • LikeLike
  7. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    My favorite trick was the highlighter . . . 😉

    Very funny, David. I can’t imagine doing the work you do!

    Thank you, Susan. “Very funny” are two words no comedian ever tires of hearing.

    • #7
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:55 am
    • Like2 likes
  8. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Gah! Sounds like walking a tightrope and you make it look easy!

    The great ones always make it look easy, Bryan 😉

    Thanks, Addiction. The wacca-wacca approach doesn’t work for me. 😉

    • #8
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:57 am
    • Like2 likes
  9. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Miracles, indeed, David (in so many ways)…Thanks for all of it! I wanna be there when you *nail* the highlighter bit… 😀

    • #9
    • August 7, 2017 at 8:26 am
    • Like5 likes
  10. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Miracles, indeed, David (in so many ways)…Thanks for all of it! I wanna be there when you *nail* the highlighter bit… 😀

    The day I nail it is the day it stops being funny!

    • #10
    • August 7, 2017 at 9:47 am
    • Like4 likes
  11. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    The day I nail it is the day it stops being funny!

    Oh, but then, it becomes amazing – like dust-busters, tissues, and balloons – as ballet and theology. 😀

    • #11
    • August 7, 2017 at 11:43 am
    • Like2 likes
  12. Profile photo of skipsul Moderator

    So much truth in this – I like watching comics as much as anything for the little tells of the craft behind it all, and some of the most fun moments are when comics are a bit spent and start ad-libbing if the audience is receptive. Keeping an audience entertained is definitely a skill.

    Comedic writing takes a slightly different skill set (we just have to get it right on paper, not keep re-telling ever after), but the germination of jokes still is very haphazard and sometimes requires a lot of working over to perfect. When you are lucky you hit it on the first try, but this is rarely the case.

    • #12
    • August 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm
    • Like3 likes
  13. Profile photo of Pugshot Member

    David makes a particularly good point. Just as within the population at large there are are a select number of people who can play the piano, but there are an infinitesimal number of concert pianists. In the same way, there are a reasonable number of people who can tell a joke, a much smaller number who can perform a credible comic routine, and a tiny number who are truly memorable comedians.

    • #13
    • August 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm
    • Like4 likes
  14. Profile photo of Gary McVey Member

    One tiny example: Jay Leno had a running bit about buying odd things at The 99 Cents Store. One was a musical Christmas card. When he opened it, it played “If I Were a Rich Man” and got a good laugh. What struck me, and now reminds me of David’s post, is the unspoken complexity of the joke.

    After all, the Burbank studio audience was mostly 25-40, (IOW, 1965 to 1980, roughly speaking, at the time of broadcast around 2005). Yet they all instantly recognized a song from a 1964 musical, remembered that it was a Jewish-themed musical, and therefore was an incongruous choice for a Christmas card. That’s a lot to know; yet everyone worked the puzzle in a fraction of a second. The laugh was the proof.

    • #14
    • August 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm
    • Like5 likes
  15. Profile photo of skipsul Moderator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    One tiny example: Jay Leno had a running bit about buying odd things at The 99 Cents Store. One was a musical Christmas card. When he opened it, it played “If I Were a Rich Man” and got a good laugh. What struck me, and now reminds me of David’s post, is the unspoken complexity of the joke.

    After all, the Burbank studio audience was mostly 25-40, (IOW, 1965 to 1980, roughly speaking, at the time of broadcast around 2005). Yet they all instantly recognized a song from a 1964 musical, remembered that it was a Jewish-themed musical, and therefore was an incongruous choice for a Christmas card. That’s a lot to know; yet everyone worked the puzzle in a fraction of a second. The laugh was the proof.

    I like this example I saw over the weekend of another multi-layered joke.

    • #15
    • August 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm
    • Like3 likes
  16. Profile photo of Patrick McClure Member

    When will you be in or near Louisville, KY?

    • #16
    • August 7, 2017 at 1:05 pm
    • Like1 like
  17. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Patrick McClure (View Comment):
    When will you be in or near Louisville, KY?

    I was at the Performing Arts Center in Louisville last month: great town! Was asked twice by locals if I’m a jockey. Never been asked that in my life, was asked it twice in Louisville…

    • #17
    • August 7, 2017 at 1:20 pm
    • Like3 likes
  18. Profile photo of Patrick McClure Member

    David Deeble (View Comment):

    Patrick McClure (View Comment):
    When will you be in or near Louisville, KY?

    I was at the Performing Arts Center in Louisville last month: great town! Was asked twice by locals if I’m a jockey. Never been asked that in my life, was asked it twice in Louisville…

    DAMMIT, I’m sorry I missed it.

    • #18
    • August 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm
    • Like2 likes
  19. Profile photo of Patrick McClure Member

    Well your web site says it was a private show. When might you be back in a public forum? And did they say Jockey, or shorten it to Jock?

    • #19
    • August 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm
    • Like3 likes
  20. Profile photo of Man With the Axe Member

    I never get tired of watching your act.

    • #20
    • August 7, 2017 at 4:48 pm
    • Like3 likes
  21. Profile photo of Fritz Member

    Greatly admire the courage it takes for a comedian to get up there every performance and be “on”.

    I enrolled just for fun in a 6-week course in stand-up, taught by two professional comics at a local community college (I was in my early 60s at the time, if that is of interest). Five weeks of hearing about the craft, developing one’s own routine, performing it in varous iterations before the class, getting feedback from them and the pros. The 6th week was to be THE bill at a local comedy club.

    Take it from me — the four minutes you are given to be on stage are the lonnnnngest and scariest four minutes of one’s life.

    Yet, what a rush!!

    Spotlights mean you can’t see anything of the audience, but you know they are out there, so you begin. Great to get some laughs, without them one would simply die. But if you manage to get them laughing, then YOU are the one who killed.

    Comics’ life is life and death, every show. Kudos to the pro’s.

    • #21
    • August 7, 2017 at 6:43 pm
    • Like6 likes
  22. Profile photo of Melissa Praemonitus Member

    Loved the video, and will make it to at least one of your live shows one of these days 🙂

    • #22
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:47 pm
    • Like3 likes
  23. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Patrick – Don’t have Louisville on my schedule at this time. When I do book something out Kentucky way rest assured that it will be posted on my website. Would be great to meet you. And you’re always welcome to attend private shows!

    • #23
    • August 8, 2017 at 2:06 am
    • LikeLike
  24. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Absolutely, Melissa: maybe in L.A!

    • #24
    • August 8, 2017 at 2:07 am
    • Like1 like
  25. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Congratulations, Fritz!

    • #25
    • August 8, 2017 at 2:08 am
    • Like2 likes
  26. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    I never get tired of watching your act.

    Thanks, Man!

    • #26
    • August 8, 2017 at 2:09 am
    • Like1 like
  27. Profile photo of Patrick McClure Member

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    Patrick – Don’t have Louisville on my schedule at this time. When I do book something out Kentucky way rest assured that it will be posted on my website. Would be great to meet you. And you’re always welcome to attend private shows!

    Thanks. I’ll have to add you to my watch list.

    • #27
    • August 8, 2017 at 7:15 am
    • Like2 likes
  28. Profile photo of GLDIII Reagan

    So does your wife still say, when asked, Yes I married him because he makes me laugh!

    Mine seems to have heard all of them by now, do you rent out new material?

    • #28
    • August 9, 2017 at 10:54 am
    • Like2 likes
  29. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    @gldiii – As a comedian married to a German, I run new material by my wife all the time. If she doesn’t respond, I put it in the show.

    • #29
    • August 10, 2017 at 1:48 am
    • Like11 likes
  30. Profile photo of Fritz Member

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    @gldiii – As a comedian married to a German, I run new material by my wife all the time. If she doesn’t respond, I put it in the show.

    Now, that’s funny right there!!!

    • #30
    • August 12, 2017 at 1:38 pm
    • Like4 likes
  1. 1
  2. 2