Being funny is really hard.
Being funny is really hard.
No, seriously, hear me out for a second. I know some of you read that sentence and thought, "Pfft (or however you write that onomatopoeia), I make my co-workers laugh all the time with no effort."
I know that being funny in that context can be easy. I do that constantly. I lived much of my life as the "funny one" in my social circles, until I found myself in a social circle with someone funnier than I was. That was a tough couple of years.
What I'm talking about is being funny on purpose, which I feel the need to further elaborate on as comedic writing.
Many of my nights for the past couple months have been spent trying to craft my first stand-up comedy set to take to open mics around the valley. It's something I've wanted to do for some time, but was too afraid to start working on until I interviewed Drew Carey before his show in February, and he gave me a crucial piece of advice that he didn't realize was advice for me.
"I didn't know how to write jokes. I didn't know anything about it," Carey told me. "So I went to the library and found a book on how to write jokes. I was amazed that there was a book."
I took it to heart when Carey said he started out not knowing how to write jokes.
Like I said, I fancied myself a pretty funny guy growing up, but I didn't know how to construct a joke on purpose. My humor (I won't even call it comedy) was simply me spouting weird and moronic things in response to what someone else said.
It makes me wonder how many laughs were out of pity for me.
"I know, it was dumb. Just laugh anyway, he has so little else going for him."
My concept of comedy didn't really go past that point until my final year at Southern Oregon University, when I started listening to comedy podcasts and watching more stand-up specials on TV. I thought to myself, "Self, you could do this. It might be fun."
Then I would get an anxiety attack because I realized I didn't know how to construct a joke. I decided it was something you had to be born with and shut the door on doing comedy.
As I listened to more comedy podcasts and conducted the interview with Carey, my brain started screaming at me that there was no reason not to give it a try. I listened to some of my favorite comedians talk about their years of personal failure before finding their voice. If they can fail and be OK, then so can I. And if I can't be OK, then I can curl up into a ball and suck my thumb with pride because I'll know I gave it a shot.
I've started studying comedy, and I have a composition notebook where I write joke pieces and elements.
The notebook is green, in case you were wondering. You probably weren't, but at least now you can picture it.
I've spent the better part of two months writing down jokes and stringing them together into bits, with the eventual goal of creating a whole set. Comedians measure the amount of material they have in minutes. Often, an opener has 15 minutes of material, while a headlining act tells jokes for 45 minutes to an hour.
Guess how much material I've managed to get together in two months. If you guessed two and a half minutes, I am sincerely creeped out and request that you stop spying on me this instant.
Yes, that's correct. I'm writing at a rate of one minute per month of work. I'm sure more veteran comedians can write more quickly, but I'm new. The number of lines of ink scratching out a set-up or a punch line far outweigh the number of jokes in the book, but I've cobbled together a two-and-a-half-minute bit that I'm actually kind of proud of.
I probably only need five minutes for an open mic set, so the prospect of telling these jokes to people other than my small group of friends is looming on the horizon. It both excites me and makes me want to run away to Pennsylvania and become Amish. No one expects the Amish to be funny.
I'm sure many of you are wondering why I'm telling you this. What does this have to do with being a geek?
The reason, my fellow geeklings ... geekers (I'll work on that one later), is because many geeks tend to enjoy creative outlets. Many creative people have a fear of sharing their creative output with the world, especially when they live in an area like the Rogue Valley that sees a great deal of creative output.
Maybe my story of struggling through creativity will help one of you finally start writing that comic book or making that movie you've always been thinking about.
I want to tell you guys, just as I learned, that there's no reason not to at least try. We can all live through the worst thing that can happen as a result of releasing our creative endeavors to the world.
If something is created because of reading my column, I expect to be credited properly. I'm sure you'll also think of some fair compensation.
I'm also writing it because, let's be honest, what ISN'T geeky about a guy studying stand-up comedy?
Ian Hand is assistant editor for Tempo and an enormous geek. Follow him on Twitter @IanHand_MT.