Saturday, June 28, 2003

The value of the marriage contract

I'm a funny guy. No really, I am. Not only am I funny, but I've been creating material for other comedians for more than 15 years. Of course, I should specify that this long and impressive history does involve my nerdy years in high school where I would meekly say something funny, only to have it repeated by the class clown (aka comedian) at a louder decibel and to uproarious applause. And, if you want to get completely specific about it, my comedy writing also ends in high school - and wasn't really writing, but more inadvertent verbal coaching. Apart from that small fact however, I really have been writing comedy for more than 15 years. I'm currently just in a 12-year dry spell.

The most significant challenge of being known as a funny guy is that people expect it from you all the time. Being funny 24/7 isn't very easy - I just make it look that way. We've all seen some of our favorite comedians on The Tonight Show or similar entertainment program that takes advantage of our voyeuristic and vicarious tendencies. Somehow knowing their intimate life details makes us closer to them. And, as an added benefit, we'd know what to talk to them about if they showed up at one our parties (so far all my celebrity invitations have gone answered). However, my point is that often these purveyors of high comedy are not funny on these types of programs. They seem forced. The reason being that even great comedians need great writing.

At this point you are wondering when I'm getting to "The Value of the Marriage Contract." And, I don't blame you. I really should have broached this subject already, but comedy involves timing - and the delay of this subject is intended to compel the reader to keep reading to satisfy their curiosity. But then again, you string the reader along too long and they lose interest. Timing can be very complicated.

Imagine being a roadie for Jerry Seinfeld. You get the job and are very excited about touring with this amazing comedian for his sold out 50-city tour. The first couple of nights you laugh your [insert body part you wouldn't mind losing or diminishing] off as you listen in the wings. A dozen shows later, however, you find you are not laughing as hard or as often as you did in the beginning. The problem? It's the same material and you've heard it before. It is this problem that threatens most romantic relationships.

In coupledom, there is usually one person that takes the humor-lead, while the other takes a supporting comedic role or dutifully plays the straight man/woman. This happens because people are attracted to funny people. Findings from survey after survey conducted by reputable research firms - such as Cosmo, Glamour, etc. - indicate that sense of humor is always high on the list of desirable qualities sought after in a potential mate. The comedic power differential is caused by the fact that really funny people will tend not to date other really funny people because of the risk of upstaging.

A marriage or committed relationship is like a 50-city tour, except usually much longer and not so much time on the road. Social outings are the events in this 50-city/year/date tour. Each social event is an opportunity for the humor-lead to perform. The other half of the couple equation will then fulfill their duty as supporting comedian or straight person. Regardless of either position, a key duty is laughing at the humor-lead's jokes. Now, on the surface, this doesn't seem like it would be too hard. However, after you've been on the tour for a while, you've heard these jokes many times before. And while intrinsically they are still funny, they have lost their efficacy over time - like an Altoid that's been in the tin too long.

This is the precarious point in a relationship. For a relationship to last, both individuals must be committed to developing new material and also possess the ability to convincingly laugh at the delivery of each other's old material. Not only is new material important for domestic accord, it is also valuable for entertaining your social audience on your next world tour.

Meeting these requirements for a lasting relationship may seem a difficult task, but luckily for me, I'm married. As a married person, the marriage contract affords me many benefits, not the least of which is its binding nature, which represents an extra prod for my wife to laugh at my jokes. Also luckily for me, she has a good wit of her own, and while I remain the humor-lead, she has been known to write some of my material (and unfortunately upstage me at times).

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Power of suggestion

I’ve always believed in the power of suggestion - I just never knew the extent of its power. Sure, I only heard the “Satan is my hairdresser” line until after my youth group leader told me to listen for it while he slowly fingered the Black Sabbath LP backwards across the phonograph needle. And, I’ve definitely had the experience where I’m exposed to a new word, and then I see or hear it everywhere. However, my ponderings on “skullduggery” apparently added some high-octane fuel in the power of suggestion engine. Right after I made a mental note about that word while driving down Highway 1 in Leucadia, I saw a stereotypical Harley-Davidson figure drive by on his signature hog.

Now, I’m not implying that all Harley riders are crafty or deceitful, nor I am suggesting that they all sew skull and crossbones on the back of their tasseled, leather jackets. For if that were the case, this particular event would not be worth mentioning at all. In fact, their presence is quite common on this popular and eclectic stretch of California coastline. What you don’t often see is a Harley rider with a pint-sized, skeletal companion on back sporting the typical leather garb - but without any skin. Then again, the grim figure appeared to be having so much fun, I’m now surprised that you don’t see it more often.

So I began to wonder it my musing on skullduggery had conjured up this Harley-riding, skeleton puppet beaming back at me with a disturbing, yet toothsome smile. Before I had too much time to consider this fact, I was passed by a large, high-riding black truck with a pair of skull and crossbones emblazoned across the tailgate. Whether the owner of the truck was just extremely patriotic or merely thought our national symbol helped soften the effects of the Jolly Roger imagery, I cannot tell, but nonetheless the truck also featured four American flags waving rapidly from the windows and truck bed. Once again, this is not a scene one often encounters, and the timing was impeccable.

Due to these odd events, I began to consider that the power of suggestion goes beyond an increased exposure to a particular word or phrase – it has the ability to shape individual destinies. In my case, it made a Harley rider with a puppet fetish and a patriot with a Napoleon complex make an intricate series of decisions that led them across my path. I think altering the life course of these individuals took a lot out of the suggestion deity, as the next day it was back to its tried and true tricks. This time, it was working its magic on my friend A.J., who came across the use of the word “skullduggery” in a daily newsletter he received just hours after reading my post. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’ll have to track down a black truck and mischievous marionette to be certain.

Thursday, June 05, 2003


Over Memorial Day Weekend, the wife and I packed up the dog and all her amenities (I note the dog's amenities, because they are indeed noteworthy) and headed North.

It was time for the annual Heathcote Hiatus at my wife's parents' five-acre plot in the beautiful hamlet of Nipomo, just south of Pismo Beach. Understanding the significance of traveling via motor car on a holiday weekend (especially when L.A. stands before you and your destination), we made sure we were prepared for a 4.5 hour trip that could easily turn into 6 of 7. Part of that preparation was securing some books on tape* from the local library.

One of the selections was The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. It was a random selection based on compelling marketing copy found on the cover of a 10 audiocassette collection. The carefully crafted words clearly indicated that I had satisfied my search for a light-hearted comedy. Please forgive my ignorance, as I will you if you're also not familiar, but I had no idea that Wodehouse was an extremely famous British author who first penned the character "Jeeves" - whose renown forever pinned that name to the butler profession.

However, the point of this post is not to discuss Wodehouse, but rather the style of speech that his novel characters' employ. For me, a good portion of the comedy comes from the formality, exaggeration and elevated vocabulary inherent in each conversation. I was constantly delighted by the sound of such rarely used words as ensconce, miscreant and skullduggery. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer by profession, but I just love the clever use of words. As I continued to listen, I began to wonder why most Americans seem to use such a limited vocabulary. I've chalked it up to laziness over ignorance, but I leave it up for discussion.

Soon, I began to become inspired to use more colorful language in my own everyday speech. However, as I thought about it more, I feared that people would consider me very odd, pompous or gay. The former and latter I could deal with - as it certainly wouldn't be the first time - but I don't want to come across as pompous. So, for the meantime, I am going to seek out more Wodehouse novels (he's an author of nearly 100) for my private amusement and perhaps slowly edge myself further into the deep end of the vocabulary pool.

*The subject of cassette tapes will be explored in a future post.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

I'm getting around to it

I'm currently perfecting the art of procrastination. I think I'm pretty good, but I know I could be better if I would just devote the time to it. I believe I have some real raw talent that just needs to be cultivated. I imagine the possibilities.

Of course, my mother said I had raw talent for playing the guitar, but I stopped practicing after a couple of years and now can barely remember a tune. To my credit, that was about 15 years ago.

This personal anecdote doesn't give me much hope for my mastering procrastination, but maybe that's a good thing.

First things, first

Sometimes it's important to try new things, set new priorities, venture outside of outside of the box thinking.

That is why I have come up with the novel idea of posting some of my daily musings. I have a feeling that this kind of Internet-based journaling will really catch on one day - but, in the meantime, I'm happy to be an innovator. So, here goes...

OK, I'm drawing a blank. The pressure. Being clever on demand is more difficult than I anticipated. Must not force it. Must let inspiration strike.