“‘Faked your way’? You?”
I know, Blue Italics “catches everything” Person. As man-child Lou Costello used to say when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,
“I’m a ba-a-a-a-a-d boy.”
I enjoy telling this story. I may be writing this entire blog post just to include it. “‘Good Boy’ Does Bad.” It’s so deliciously subversive.
Sadly, abject shame had deprived me of the details. I was in Toronto during my twenties, I guess not doing that much. I heard about this Canadian game show called “Party Game”, a north-of-the-border rip-off of “Charades”, featuring Canadian celebrities – which to some, barring William Shatner and Leslie Nielsen, and I will likely hear about moreis an oxymoron – as the game show’s teamed-up participants.
Hungry for show biz involvement, I called the “Party Game” production office, volunteering my services. Making no effort whatsoever to keep them from thinking I was my more recognized older brother who, with his then partner Lorne Michaels, was starring in nationally broadcast television specials.
It was only when I showed up for the taping that they discovered it was me. You could read the suppressed disappointment on their faces. It was like,
“That’snot John Travolta. That’s Joey.”
“Too late. You got me.”
But you know what?
I was pretty good. I got numerous laughs, and proved a talented charades player.
I learned something very important on “Party Game.” (I actually learned two things. The other was that they gave the show’s participants all the answers. Okay. But I was highly adept at pretending they didn’t.)
After the taping, the “Party Game” producer thanked us for coming and presented us with our checks. (Partially, a payoff to stay “Mum” that guessing the charades was itself a devious charade.)
Referencing my successful comedic approach, the producer told me something I had never considered before but I believe to be correct.
“You’re a ‘counter-puncher’,” he astutely observed.
And so I am. This personal attribute going way back.
At a friend’s daughter’s recent wedding I was reacquainted with fellow wedding guest Rick Moranis, whom I knew from Toronto, but only as a seven year-old, racing rambunctiously around at his Auntie Selma’s backyard barbecue, Rick’s Auntie Selma being one of my mother’s best friends (which was why we were invited.)
At the wedding, Rick remembered seeing my teenaged older brother, accompanied by a large reel-to-reel tape recorder, allowing him to record his prepared stand-up routine later that evening.
I recall that performance as well. But from a slightly different perspective.
With his tape recording whirring, my brother stood in the dining room, doing his act before a small gathering of assembled adults. Standing unnoticed in the corner was me, quietly “counterpunching” his performance. (Earning serious laughter myself. Sometimes actually more than the “Headliner.”)
Setting aside the inappropriateness of my behavior – making it three disreputable acts in one blog post – faking my way onto the game show, colluding with the cheating when I got there, and sabotaging my brother’s post-barbecue performance – I am apparently not the angel I thinkI am – my reactive comedy M.O. was on view at a substantially early age.
As I said yesterday, my comedy has to derive from somewhere. (Like someone else commanding the attention.) That’s why I always had difficulties starting a script. You’re facing a blank page, and it’s like,
“‘Counterpunch’ this, Big Shot!”
How couldI? There is nothing to counterpunch.
Even worse was what they called the – always dreaded to me– “Free Joke.”
I hated the “Free Joke.” The “Free Joke” nearly singlehandedly sunk my career.
What, you may ask, is a “Free Joke”?
“What’s a ‘Free Joke’?”
A “Free Joke” is this.
The scene – or, frequently, the entire episode – begins. But before that show’s storyline walks into the room – comes over the phone, is delivered in a letter, or accompanies the arrival of a long-lost “half-sister” – the writer is instructed to first insert, a “Free Joke”, a free-standing setup-and-punchline to “get the ball rolling” that has nothing at all to do with the episode’s story.
You know, like in school, they said,
“Write a composition about what you did last summer”?
Okay. I went to camp. Here comes the story where I didn’t know I was going.
But if they instead said,
“Write a composition about anything you feel like.”
That’s a “Free Joke.” In the form of a paralyzing assignment.
If I had two weeks to write a script, I’d spend one-and-a-half of them on the “Free Joke”, knowing– and here’s the insane part – that it would inevitably be replaced on “Rewrite Night.” Because, though it took a week-and-a-half to come up with the “Free Joke”,
It still stunk.
How do you ‘counterpunch’ a “Free Joke”? There is nothing before it to play off of.
(I just experienced a retroactive “Wa-a-a.”)
It occurred to me while thinking about this that “counterpunching” is the “Official Comedy of the Introvert.” Counterpunchers initiate nothing. But once the game is afoot, we respond impressively to the surroundings.
It’s an admittedly secondary attribute.
Which is fine with me.
You may not garner the accolades.
But the extrovert innovators take all the heat.
And you know what? (I hate this even more than the “Free Joke.”)
It hardly even slows them down.