Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Speaking Truth To Power To Comedic Effect"

I was originally going to call this post, “Three Jokes, And I Don’t Know Why Any Of Them Are Funny – And I’m A Professional.”  But there are three things wrong with that title.  One, it’s too long.  Two, I know why the jokes are funny.  (It came to me while I was brushing my teeth just before starting in on this post.)  And three, it turns out there are four jokes.  So I wisely abandoned the original title, in favor of the more appropriate one above.  (Saved, by a toothbrushing moment of illumination.  Kudos to Sensodyne, “the mind-clearing dentifrice.”)

On those handful of occasions when I have spoken truth to power, the incident is never planned or premeditated.  The words just blurt out of me, before my better judgment intervenes.  I’d stop myself if I could.  But by the time my brain is alerted, my lips are already moving.

Sometimes, the moment plays out dramatically, as I described in a past post where I mentioned saying to Bill Cosby, “I really wish you’d learn your lines.”  And then there was Republican pollster Frank Luntz, back in 1998, who was explaining that he was working on ways to maximize the damage to President Clinton over the Monica Wolinsky scandal, and I said, “How did you ever get to be so scummy?” 

These unsolicited outbursts were eminently unfunny.  Instead of laughter, each elicited a deafening silence, followed by a resumption in the conversation which included no mention of what had recently transpired.  The participants couldn’t process it, so they just pretended it didn’t happen.

On other occasions, however, I have spoken truth to power and received some of the biggest reactions I have ever garnered.  Thunderclaps of laughter, once, with accompanying applause.  The weird thing is, sometimes, my speaking truth to power yields cosmic silence, sometimes, laughter, and sometimes, there’s a startling indifference, even though, as my brother once said about a joke that fell flat, “It felt just like the good one.”

There’s just no predicting when it’ll be the one, and when it’ll be the other.  And when it’ll be the third one.  It is always a surprise.  (As is the outburst itself.)

Okay, so these ones got laughter.  Though I fear they will not be less effective out of context, as in, “You had to be there” experiencing the “Moment of Blurt” and the subliminal buildup thereto. Worst case scenario – I now have them all in one place.  Helpful to me.  Meaningless to you.    

Okay, here we go.
A technical rehearsal for our university show is going way over time, dragging agonizingly past midnight.  The theater’s custodian, a big-shouldered bully, can’t close up and go home until we’re done.  Consequently angry, he continually batters the show’s participants (which includes me) with abuse, lacerating us for our cluelessness and ineptitude.  Then, from out of the darkness, a voice speaks up – it is mine – and, mimicking Oliver Hardy’s posture of ruffled dignity, says,

“We are doing…the best…we can.”

The place goes wild.  Laughter plus applause. 

And the insults, happily, abate.
I am attending a Dress Rehearsal for the annual Canadian review called Spring Thaw.  The producer, a man embodying authority without grace, notices me chomping on an unlit Have-A-Tampa cigar (the one with the wooden tip), which, at this point, has been smoked down its culminating inch.  As we exit the auditorium, the unilaterally disliked producer inquires,

“Do you have another one of those cigars?”

Gesturing to the vestigial stub, I reply,

“I barely have this one.”

Boom! – the roof comes off.  It’s an exhilarating moment.  Rivaling Obama nailing Trump at a “Press Club Dinner” with his “It’s problems like that that keep me up at night.”  (Trump’s decision to fire Gary Busey off of Celebrity Apprentice.)
There is a leather-upholstered Stickley rocking chair in our living room, generally recognized as “my chair.”  Entering the room, I find it occupied by a visiting houseguest. 

“Is this your chair?” he inquires disingenuously.

I immediately reply,

“They’re all my chairs.”

The living room explodes.  I am blind-sided, but satisfied.  (Though the houseguest remains rooted in my chair.)

I’m in yoga class, a discipline known as “Restorative Yoga”, a less than vigorous practice I have come to call, “Napping with strangers.”  One night, our teacher insists on varying our unchallenging routine, introducing a complicated and contorting posture called “The Pigeon.”  Everybody’s struggling, without noticeable success, to assume that position, when a student, speaking primarily to himself, intones,

“I have never seen a pigeon do this."

The mellow “Om” ambiance is shattered by hoots and screeches of un-yoga-like hilarity.  I was embarrassed to find myself laughing, fearing that my classmates would think I had said that to be funny, and I hadn’t.  I just couldn’t get into “The Pigeon.” 

It occurs to me that some people might be afraid of me, uncertain when I might their jostle their authority and suddenly “go off.”  They would have no concern, of course, if they knew that these eruptions of truth-telling rarely happen, and when they do, they are never under my control.

You know what, though?  I’m gonna keep that little secret to myself.

You can do me the favor of doing the same.

1 comment:

Johnny Walker said...

Is it so bad to laugh when you've said something funny? I often wonder if it's funnier for the other person if I don't, but there are times that I can't help share the moment.