Funny or not, here I come
The book title caught my eye, “How to Write Funny.” I love to write. It seemed like a book I desperately needed. But I quickly reconsidered. Somehow it was like my Granny writing a book about making biscuits. Humor and biscuit-making are art forms, not something a person could learn from reading the words on a page.
Seeing the book title brought to mind a story. A few years ago a friend called from Jackson. She was clearly panicked and nervous. “Lisa, I REALLY need your help. I’m speaking at a mother/daughter banquet tomorrow night and I need an opening joke. You’re funny, so I wondered if you would give me an opening joke for the banquet?” Trouble was a-brewin’, friends. This woman is a beautiful, intelligent, gracious, articulate woman. She could have been Miss America. I’m serious. But, funny? No, she isn’t funny.
My reply was simple: “Oh, I would love to help you, but I can’t. Funny people don’t tell jokes.”
“What?” she said with amazement.
“Oh no. Funny people don’t tell jokes. People who AREN’T funny are the ones who tell jokes. Trust me on this one. Think about it. Haven’t you ever been to a banquet and some sincerely wonderful speaker says, ‘Have you heard the one about the traveling salesman and the zebra and the...’ Look out. This speaker has been on the Internet and he’s getting ready to try to ‘wow’ us with an Internet joke. BIG mistake. That’s when I want to run full-bore from the back of the conference room and yell at the top of my lungs, ‘STOP!! STOP!! You’re too nice for this! You’re too intelligent to stoop to this level. Back away from the Internet Joke Book, Mister!’”
Funny people don’t tell “canned” jokes because funny people tell real stories. A slightly traumatic story with a few humorous details can fill the bill nicely. For example, I know a woman who tried to squeeze herself into a girdle that was two sizes too small so that she could wear a dress that was two sizes too small to a very important wedding. The problem? Well, you’d have to see me, I mean her, do the full demonstration, but suffice it to say, the girdle didn’t ELIMINATE the fat around her middle, it just sent the fat to OTHER places. All the “ungirdled” parts of her body were now overflowing and expanding, cutting off airflow and circulation. Finally, she had to get the scissors and start cutting the expensive undergarment so that her life and the lives of others could be spared. A funny story from real life that comes with a girdle demonstration ... well, that beats, “Did you hear the one about the salesman...,” any day of the week.
People who aren’t funny shouldn’t attempt humor. This is just a hard fact of life. If you feel uncomfortable demonstrating a tragic girdle mistake in front of a large crowd, make note of that discomfort and act on it. You don’t see me modeling swimwear and teaching Algebra, do you? No. My discomfort in those areas is a gift from God to society at large. I consider it an act of public service to abstain from swimsuit modeling and Algebra instructing.
And what about my beautiful friend who needed a joke for her speech? She took my advice. She seriously and authentically made her speech. She did it with style, her style. And the result? It was a big hit. And she didn’t even wear a girdle.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger on 11.07.07