Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"When People Don't Laugh (And You Know Exactly Why)"

This one’s just sad, a professional Funny Person, fouling one off his foot. 

My only excuse for this miscue is that the ease and comfort of a Hawaiian vacation had allowed my normally reliable standards to recede.  I would never have done this at home.

I am passing this along because it’s important for you to know that professionals Funny People can also, on occasion, crank up a stinkeroo.  Nobody has a perfect record in comedy. 

Also, if I left out the stories where I seriously mess up, I’d been out of stories two years ago. 

Okay, here we go.

We’re sitting on the beach, slathered in lotion, acting like it’s a really nice day, though it most assuredly isn’t.  As I fake luxuriate on my bribe-provided lounger, I am strawing up an iced tea from a plastic cup, delivered earlier by a friendly, young beach attendant.  College age.  Picking up a few extra bucks pampering luxury hotel guests on her Christmas Break.

The beach attendant returns; she’s doing her “rounds.”  She spots my near empty beverage glass, and inquires,

“Would you like a refill of iced tea?”

“No thanks,” I reply. 

Somehow, my answer does not satisfy her.  So she persists.

“It’s free,” she informs me.  Then adding, “And I don’t have anything to do.”

Well, sir, even on vacation, a professional Comedy Person can spot a fat set-up line.  And there it was.  A big lollipop.  Right down the middle.

“And I don’t have anything to do.”

You have to admit that is an unusual thing for a serving person to say.  You almost never hear that.  I know I never have.  To me, the line cried out for a witty retort. 

Unable to let a perfect set-up line go by – even on vacation – I immediately pounced.   My response to “And I don’t have anything to do” was this:

“Could you give me a massage?”

Aw, man.  I wanted to take it back as soon as it came out.  I mean, that was just… Ucccch!   At this moment of recall, my hands are covering my face, masking my embarrassment, humiliation and disgust.  At the time, however, I brazenly soldiered on, pretending I had said something humorous, rather than something irredeemably tasteless and utterly inappropriate. 

The first sign that I’d messed up is that nobody laughed.  There was dead silence all around.  Though even silence can contain an insinuating rebuke.  This was a distinctively sour silence.

The beach attendant’s face said, “I can’t believe he said that, but I don’t want to forfeit my tip”, generating an expression of muted irritation, mixed with “I wish I’d gone home and spent Christmas with my family.”

Professionally speaking – if it makes any difference at this point – there was a funny answer to “And I don’t have anything to do.”  I could have said this instead, and it would have been great.  Listen to this:

“Would you like a refill of iced tea?”

“No, thanks.”

“It’s free.  And I don’t have anything to do.”

“Could you give me a haircut?”

You see the difference there?  It’s funny, because of the incongruity of asking a beach attendant to give you a haircut.  More importantly, it lacks any semblance of sexual harassment. 

If I hadn’t been on vacation, I’m almost certainly have said that.

Unfortunately, there is no “Undo” button in life.  I had irreversibly said the wrong this at the right time.

Earning shame and self-rebuke.

But absolutely, and entirely deservedly,

No laugh.


joe said...

That "haircut" reply would have been gold.

Still, you have learned and (ideally) filed it away.

Max Clarke said...


James Bond funny. Sean Connery would have said that. I think a girl just like that gave him a massage in Miami Beach near the beginning of Goldfinger.

Don't regret it, though, because it led to the better "haircut" reply, and I learned something about comedy today.

Come to think of it, Dudley Moore did something like this in Arthur. He visits Susan Johnson's father because he's going to propose. The butler takes Arthur's coat and asks if he needs anything. Arthur replies, "Do you have today's Pravda? I like to keep up with Russia."


Gary said...

That was a swing and a miss. No foul just a big ol' swing, the kind where you're so far off balance that the momentum will likely cause you to fall down. And it happens to everyone, pros and amateurs, too.