What it means to be “naturally funny” is kind of difficult to explain.
I am not talking about “Class Clown”, with its oppressive “Look at me!’ urgency.
I am not talking about the ability to notice the chuckling incongruities of everyday life. (Although that’s part of it. Not everyone driving through Wales takes note of a sign outside a Welsh filling station reading, “Gas and potatoes.”)
And I am not talking about “learning the ‘comedy craft.’” You can do that. But if you are not naturally funny, the results are less fluid and comfortably innate. (Imagine a robot, trying to dance.)
The issue brings to mind the film Funny Bones, in which a successful comedian father caustically informs his unsuccessful comedian son,
“There is a thing called ‘funny bones.’ You either have them or you don’t – You don’t!”
I believe that part is true – “you either have them or you don’t”, though the example suggests the peculiarity in question is not necessarily genetic.
What I know about “naturally funny” is this:
It is as much a surprise to the perpetrator as it is to the audience.
As evidenced by this story.
By the way – in a more serious milieu – an article in today’s paper opined that, despite his “sewer rat” morality, the current president has a great advantage over his opponents due to his ability to tell simple, evocative stories (making him look, inevitably, “terrific.”) I have warned you about that before. “Stories” are seriously destructive. They should be kept away from children at all costs. Wait! How would you put them to sleep?
Now, back to our regular “fluff.”
I am in Grade Eleven. (What Americans call Eleventh Grade, just to be different.) Taking a Physics class, none of whose content I generically understand. I just memorize the textbook and hope for the best.
Our Grade Eleven Physics teacher is Mr. Sullivan, a virtual compendium of Physics. (Though I suspect he knows very little about Purim. Averaged together, we are probably equally knowledgeable.)
Mr. Sullivan has never said anything funny. Maybe on his own time, but never in class. No one has ever heard the man laugh.
The day’s lesson concerns the relationship between “frequency” and “pitch.” To that educational end, Mr. Sullivan breaks out the “Savart’s Toothed Wheel.”
(Named after French Physicist Felix Savart (1791-1841), but originally conceived by English scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703), so one guy made it up and another guy stole the credit. So much for honor amongst Physicists. Or maybe just French Physicists.)
Here’s how the “Savart’s Toothed Wheel” works.
You plug in the machine, which sits groundingly on a desk. When it is switched on, a thin, tooth-edged metal wheel starts spinning around. You slip a small piece of cardboard into the teeth. A certain pitched sound comes out. However – and herein lies the lesson – if you modulate the spinning speed of the wheel, the pitch immediately changes, squealing increasingly higher as its rotation revs up, droning increasingly lower as it progressively slows down.
Mr. Sullivan executes Savart’s Physical principle to masterful perfection. He then selects a student to come up and duplicate this simple experiment.
The selected student is me.
Am I nervous? Of course I’m nervous. I had been singled out for unwanted attention. And I know my classmates are vicious, especially – inexplicably – my friends.
Plus, those “Savart’s Wheel” teeth look real pointy.
Mr. Sullivan turns on the wheel, then hands me a small piece of cardboard. As I have seen him just do, I approach the fast-spinning wheel, tentatively extending my arm, and inserting the cardboard into the machine’s circling teeth.
Almost immediately, pieces of cardboard are flying all over the classoom. In was like Lindbergh, returned from Paris, in his ticker-tape parade in New York. Paralyzed into inaction, I remain frozen in place, leaving the cardboard stuck in the teeth, quickly disintegrating into confetti.
I had no idea what was happening. I had assiduously followed Mr. Sullivan’s technique. The result, however, was startlingly different. As was the reaction.
My classmates are screeching, as I stand there, covered in cardboard.
The most amazing thing, though?
Mr. Sullivan is convulsed in hysterics, literally holding his ribs, unable to catch his breath, and making his face turn real red. I actually feared for his safety. There was also something bizarre, seeing a serious guy “lose it.”
Finally, the cardboard is totally chewed up, and the classroom tumult subsides. I return to my seat feeling, incongruously humiliated yet greeted with rapturous applause.
“Naturally funny.” It’s like charisma. But sillier.
Unlike charisma, however, it is not on regular display, unable to be summoned, nor consciously controlled. When it arrives, I can but stand there and watch.
Hoping nobody gets hurt.