The week before I had to perform my very first original joke could be summed up in this way: Extended Nervous Breakdown Accompanied By Painful And Prolonged Migraines.
This was the scariest thing I’d had to do since I had to take my 3-hour oral exam/thesis defense for my Master’s Degree, discussing abstract, graduate-level literature and linguistic concepts in an entirely foreign language. But at least for that I had 4 years of college and 2 years of graduate school backing me up. Whereas with the comedy performance I was pretty much on my own.
And let me tell you something. When you are standing so far out of your comfort zone that it’s not even a blip on the radar, feeling as though you’re about to dive headfirst into the Grand Canyon Of Suckiness with nothing to break your fall, Believing In Yourself and Focusing On The Positive can just go ahead and suck it.
The problem was that I knew what was coming. While I have gotten pretty good at writing humor that people read, I had finally been forced to admit that truly, I did not have the first friggin’ clue as to how to write a joke that was funny when it was spoken. I’d been made painfully aware of this fact by the numerous times that my carefully crafted written jokes landed with all the grace of the Hindenburg plummeting to its fiery doom when I attempted to transfer them into a “humorous” Toastmaster’s speech.
So I was pretty sure that this class was going to be like the military, in that we and all of our old notions about humor would be broken down, in order to be reformed into something shiny and new. (I mean, I sort of assume that’s what they do in the military-I don’t have any personal experience in that area. I’m such a wuss that the only military that would ever take me in would be “The Army Of People You Send In When You WANT To Be Conquered”.)
And I was right. Since everyone was still pretty much operating out of defensive mode, and since we’d received no actual instruction in joke writing at this point, most people tried to go for the “clever”, easy laugh-sight gags, puns, references to sex. (I played it safe by poking fun at my big, bushy hair.)
And after each of us had performed we had to remain standing in front of the class while he critiqued us what (if anything) worked, and what did not. And so the break(ing) down began.