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).

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