Research by a Washington State University linguist found that people who tell bad jokes often endure an astonishing outpouring of hostility from the listeners.So this guy walks into a bar. No, wait! It's a Rabbi. This Jewish Rabbi walks into this bar. WAIT! Back up. He has this parrot on his shoulder. I think. Or is it the parrot that's Jewish? Oh nevermind.
"These were basically attacks intended to result in the social exclusion or humiliation of the speaker, punctuated on occasion with profanity, a nasty glare or even a solid punch to the arm," said researcher Nancy Bell.
Some people can tell a good joke and some people can't. I am one of the latter. Some people can remember every joke they've ever heard or received in their email box. They can deliver an appropriate joke for every occasion and tell it with the right amount of timing and inflection, topping it off with a hilarious punch line that evokes spontaneous laughter from their audience. I tend to abruptly start and stop, forgetting exactly where I was going with the joke - I panic when I see my audience's eyes become unfocused - or they check the time by checking the ol' wristwatch. It's not that I am humorless (I hope), it's just the readymade joke I am horrible at. I owe that to Dennis Robbins.
When I was a freshman in HS (1976), I rode the bus to school (about a 45 minute ride from the south end of Flint to Powers Catholic on the north side). I was a skinny and introverted kid who did not want to draw any unwanted attention, so I sat in the back of the bus. I turned around and stared out the back window to avoid eye contact of any upper classman. This worked for a day or two. Until one day, Dennis Robbins shouted, "Hey Carlson! Why ya looking out the back window? Turn around kid and watch where we're going!". I should state here that, like E.F. Hutton, when Robbins talked, people listened. He was a very large senior (maybe 300 lbs to my 120lbs) with very large arms and very large legs. Even his hair was very large. He ruled the bus. It was his kingdom. What I should have done was turn around immediately and look down at the floor without making a peep. Instead, I answered him without turning around, "because I'd rather look out the back window to see where I've been." The bus roared with laughter, not so much for what was said - but rather that this skinny freshman dared to challenge his authority. Punishment was quickly administered. Robbins turned his class ring around on his finger and open-handed me "stone first" to the top of my skull. I saw stars (humor/violence. laughter/pain).
I wished the story ended there, but I had embarrassed Robbins and was going to make me pay. The bus was silent as Robbins began to ramble, "So you're a funny guy, huh? You think you're a comedian, do ya? Well here's the deal. You are going to make me laugh all the way to school and all of the way home. You are going to make me laugh or I will throw you off of this bus!"
I remember going to the library and checking out old and dusty joke books (Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman, etc.) and running up the phone bill calling the "joke-of-the-day" hotline. I remember outling my standup "set" and timed myself in the mirror to make sure I had enough material for the long bus ride to and from school. I don't remember Robbins laughing at my stuff (it was more of a sneer), but as long as a few kids were laughing - it seemed to keep him at bay.
It worked for about a week. I ran out of material and started repeating jokes told earlier. It's a blur from here, really. Silence. Frown. PANIC! Too late. I am being lifted. I am pushed against the back/side window of the bus.. it swings open from the bottom... I go out. Freefall! I see stars as I impact the curb. I watch the bus pulling away to it's next destination. Incredible! The bus driver never saw a thing. (humor/violence. laughter/pain).
It must have been a pivotal moment in my humor development. I quit telling jokes of any kind. Not even "knock knocks". The part of the brain responsible for the retaining and telling of jokes must have atrophied and withered away from disuse. From then on, I turned my humor inward and developed a philosophy that all I needed to do was to make myself laugh. If another person found something I said or did funny, then bully for them. They were along for the ride, but this time the funny bus is my kingdom. That is the philosophy of this blog. Don't make me throw you off my bus!
Comedian, humor thyself!