The first in a (possible) series of comedy stylings certain to elicit little to no laughter, and should be assiduously avoided as comedic directions. Other equally comedic “Dry Holes”: “The Upbeat Comedian.” (“I left home early to beat the traffic to get here. And you know what? I got here on time.” (NO LAUGHTER) “And I got here on time.” (STILL NOTHING) “Man, that one ‘killed’ at ‘The Optimists’ Convention!”) Then there’s “The Understanding Comedian.” (“A man closed the elevator door just as I was arriving. That’s okay. He was probably in a hurry. (OFF NO REACTION) Because… the guy couldn’t wait.”) And also “The Very Knowledgeable Comedian.” (“I can name all the American presidents in order: ‘Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe...’ (OFF NO REACTION) That’s okay. I’ll have you by Rutherford B. Hayes.”)
Comedians spend years discovering their onstage personas. Once they do, things considerably pick up. Pinpointing your “character” virtually eliminates “Trial and Error”, the experienced practitioner, cultivating a circumscribed comedy milieu.
An “insult comic” will not waste time thinking up “compliment jokes” – whatever they are – probably nothing, but you know what I mean. A political satirist eschews material about dating.
But, as mentioned above in italics, there are some comedic approaches that are not successful for anyone. That’s because, common-denominator-wise, all forms of comedy include a handful of similar ingredients:
– (Partial or “Big Time”) Exaggeration.
– Imperfect understanding. (Often bordering on ignorance.)
– A(n at least somewhat) prejudiced perspective, involving the selective inclusion of some informational content to the exclusion of informational content contradicting the included informational content, which, were it also included, would muddy the construction, fragment the focus and obliterate the “funny.”
– A controlled minimum number of words. (Precluding the above example from consideration as comedy, or perhaps even casual reading.)
Lacking these – or, truthfully, any – essential elements necessary in fashioning a joke, “The Pragmatic Comedian” is not a viable comedic alternative. Comedians are chronic complainers, not inveterate problem solvers. A Personal Anecdote: Angling for a laugh, I once “ramped up” by saying, “I’m one of the worst cooks you can possibly imagine.” I had a hilarious “follow-up example” teed up and ready to go when the pragmatic person I was speaking to replied, “I know this excellent cooking school, specializing in teaching ‘Beginners.’”
Talk about “dousing with cold water.” If I had purchased that joke, I’d have returned it, unused.
Reliable Rule of Thumb: Practical pragmatism is toxic to comedy.
Allow me to elucidate this flop-certaining disaster:
COMEDY VENUE M.C. “Put your hands together for Calvin Peterson, ‘The Pragmatic Comedian.’”
I stubbed my toe in the dark, going to the bathroom. So I purchased a nightlight. (AFTER A BEAT) So I don’t stub my toe anymore. (AFTER A BEAT) Because I can see where I’m going.”
Speaking of lighting, how many pragmatists does it take to screw in a light bulb? No more than one at a time. (OFF NO REACTION) Because they’re not that big. (OFF NO RESPONSE) How would more people involved actually help?… is what I am saying.
Okay, moving on…
Which is funny, because I’m about to do a joke about moving. That was an accident. But sometimes accidents are funny. (AFTER A BEAT) Apparently, not thistime.
One of the hardest things in life is moving. So I hired this full-service moving company, and they took care of everything. (OFF NO REACTION) It was great. (STILL NO REACTION) I can give you their number… if you want…
Okay, this isn’t working. I can see that. Because I’m a pragmatist. Three of my best jokes get “nothing”? Pragmatically speaking, I am failing in my selected intention.
The thing is, I really wanted to be a comedian. Unfortunately, my mind does not work that way. A good comedian needs to have “a screw loose.” I see a screw loose, I tighten it. (A SINGLE LAUGH.) No, really. I do.
I don’t mean to be practical; I just am. I had a friend in high school – Donny. Donny was the “Class Clown”, always making with the jokes. The teacher kept sending him to the principal’s office. I was never in the principal’s office. Wait, once. The principal’s printer experienced a “paper jam”, and I fixed it. (A COUPLE OF SCATTERED CHUCKLES.) They made me “Student of the Month.”
THE AUDIENCE LAUGHTER SLOWLY ACCELERATES. “THE PRAGMATIC COMEDIAN” APPEARS ODDLY DISORIENTED.)
Donny always had dates. I never had time for dates. I was too busy reorganizing my mother’s kitchen, placing the silverware closer to the dishes, and moving the dishtowels nearer to the sink.
THE AUDIENCE LAUGHTER INCREASES.
Something’s happening here. I’m just telling you what I did. There isa truthfulness to it, I suppose. I guess some people enjoy hearing the truth.
It takes me forty-five minutes to make my bed.
THE AUDIENCE IS NOW DEFINITELY WITH HIM.
It does. You want to get the “Hospital Corners” just “so”…(RESPONDING TO LAUGHTER)… thank you…and make the “blanket length” equal on both sides of the bed. You know what that’sabout. (BUILDING IN CONFIDENCE) Walking around to one side of the bed. (MIMING TUGGING THE BLANKETS) Walking around to the other side of the bed. (MIMING TUGGING BLANKETS AGAIN.) Then back to the first side… (STILL MORE MIMED BLANKET TUGGING. FRUSTRATED) ‘They’re not even!’ (THE AUDIENCE IS EATING THIS UP.) “Fluffing the pillows” is a lost art. But it’s important. I used to have two pillows. But I spent so long with my “fluffing”, I had to cut back to one. I have a life!
THE AUDIENCE ENTHUSIASTICALLY APPLAUDS.
Wow. You’re going to love my stuff about folding the laundry.
I have a “Batteries Drawer”, arranged in alphabetical order…
THE AUDIENCE IS NOW TOTALLY ENTHRALLED.
It is rare to have the opportunity to make somebody else truly happy. But in the middle of writing this, I thought, “Why not bring joy to the life of ‘The Pragmatic Comedian’?”
Who knows? Maybe anything’s funny, if delivered sincerely.
I’d just hate to be the one giving this particular genre a try.