The 6’3” guy who danced with me Friday called me yesterday. He’s a voiceover artist and a stand-up comedian so… he has a ridiculously sexy voice, and we had each other laughing a thousand times a minute.
It was a lot of fun, and it got me thinking, that in my private life since the election, I’ve started to laugh more, joke around with friends more. Commiserating with friends on the phone, we laugh at ourselves as we bewail what’s happening around us.
Publicly though, I can’t bring myself to write funny. In these posts, I’ll see opportunities for jokes and when I try to insert them it feels awful. I admire people who can use comedy now, but I can’t, not yet, not publicly, it just seems so obscene, like I’m normalizing what’s happening right now. There’s outrage humor and disdainful humor that works at times like these, but I don’t feel like channeling that humor right now. It’s ridiculously freeing to let myself write without having to be funny. For years, I wouldn’t post stuff on Facebook b/c I didn’t want to appear unfunny. Now I’m posting the schmaltzy un-clever emotional stuff and it’s delightful because I feel like I’m saying a big Fuck You to the demon in my brain who told me I had to be funny all the time. (It’s like that Bambi line with a comedy twist, “If you don’t have anything funny to say, don’t say anything at all“ – Bullshit, say whatever you want to.)
I’m enormously lucky because when I’m sad, I have people to cheer me up who are award-winning comedians. I can literally call a multi-Emmy-winning comedy writer right now and just be like, “Cheer me up.” Hollywood is a place where every class clown from every small town comes to try their hand at comedy. You’re getting the best of the best. And when they’re around each other they get even better and more skilled. I’m such a bitch at clubs and pick-up bars, if a guy hits on me with a joke, I’m sighing wistfully for my comedy writer friends. These pick up artists just aren’t in the same league, and they don’t know how woefully inadequate they are (like I said, bitch).
I don’t have the heart to “do” comedy right now, it’s just too soon. Still, comedy is such a huge part of my life that I thought maybe I could jot down some thoughts I have about it.
I Was Never the Class Clown
At my 10 year high school reunion I didn’t tell any of the class clowns about what I do. I thought I would spare their feelings. Most of them are doctors or engineers now, and if they were literary they became lawyers. I was a huge Tracy-Flick style nerd in high school, pretty humorless, and for me to be the one to write comedy professionally is just weird. I’ve written for Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Ken Jeong. It’s kind of like never playing football in high school and telling the star quarterback that you’re in the NFL now. So I hid my light under a bushel with the class clowns. I say I was trying to spare their feelings, but the truth is, I was trying to spare mine. I was grappling that summer with the whole “Who Am I?” question. That is, “Who am I to write comedy?” “Who am I to earn money for writing jokes?” It felt obscene and illusory. And with those questions whorling around in my own brain, I didn’t think I could take it if I heard a high school classmate ask it to me directly, “Who are you to write comedy?”
Learning to Be Funny
When I was 21 within a few short months I, 1) decided to be a writer, 2) decided to be a screenwriter, 3) decided to be a comedy screenwriter. I felt like such a latebloomer, because it seemed like all the professionally funny people were class clowns who figured out at age 5 that Funny was their superpower, and here I was 2 decades late being like, “Hey I’m gonna be funny now, too!”
I bought a book called How to Be Funny Even Though You’re Not. (Seriously.) I hung out with the first comedy writer friend I made in town and like a weirdo studied him the whole time like an anthropologist – his habits, the way he looked at the world, the way he talked. He was a joke machine. And I realized I had all the same equipment he had (er, mentally, not physically). He had a machine in his brain that was constantly scanning the world, looking for irony and potential for comedy. As a college novelist, I had that same machine, I was also constantly scanning the world looking for irony. So we were both mining our experiences in our lives for irony, but where he used it for jokes, I used it for poignancy. That feeling in a novel where your’e like “ahhhhh.” He used it for comedies where you’re like “haaaa!” So I changed that setting in my brain from “poignancy” to “comedy” and I started to see humor everywhere.
When I have a job where I’m being paid to be funny and I can’t seem to write anything funny, I have this mantra I say out loud: “I’m hilarious!” It works 99% of the time. The thing is, being hilarious is like being classy, if you really are classy you don’t go around saying, “I’m classy!” So here I am, needing to be funny, saying to myself, “I’m hilarious!” thus admitting I am not funny, and then finding the whole situation funny, and then feeling pretty… funny, yes, even hilarious. It takes me on a meta spin in my head that loosens me up and gets me writing again.
I’m Funnier When I’m in Love
I used to be scared that if I fell in love and had super healthy relationships I would cease to be funny. You can’t totally fault me for this logic. At the time, it seemed like the only humor available to me was the whole single jaded girl-in-the-city with really horrible dating stories. So I was going around wanting a great relationship but subconsciously probably self-sabotaging because I was afraid that if I got happy I wouldn’t have anything to complain about and then I wouldn’t be funny or interesting anymore.
I was released from these fears this fall. I had a whirlwind romance with a man involving barroom darts and lots of chivalry. That week we courted, I would not shut up about him. Any meeting I was in, I’d talk on and on and on about him… And people laughed. I was ridiculously in love. People were laughing at me, with me, all of the above. And it suddenly hit me – I’m funnier when I’m in love. I don’t have to be jaded single girl to be funny, I’m funnier when I’m ridiculous-in-love ME.
I’m Funnier When I Have My Contacts Off
One night my eyes were so dry I took off my contacts while at house party. It was a pretty intimate affair, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Without contacts, I can walk around fine, I just miss the subtleties of human expression. That night I got bigger laughs than I ever had at a party. And I wasn’t even trying to be funny. I’d be telling a story and the booming laughter would cut me off, catching me by surprise. What was going on? I realized that when I have my contacts in, I’m constantly looking at people’s faces, trying to gauge how much they’re digging what I’m saying, and adjusting, but now that their faces were a blur, I would blithely galumph along in my stories and they would hit. I know this means that if I care less about what people think all the time, I would be a better artist. Still working on this.
You’re Funny Too, Especially If You’re a Lady
Female comedians face a lot of the same discrimination & stereotypes as female politicians. If you’re a woman and you don’t think you’re funny, reconsider. I’d laugh at you. If you’re a woman and don’t think you’re political, reconsider. I’d vote for you. If you’re a woman and you don’t think you’re funny, reconsider. Click To TweetOur presence on the playing field freaks people out, because by our inherent nature, we change the game. The definition of funny is changed. The definition of power is changed.
I didn’t feel like I belonged because the origin story was always one of the class clown who never fit in and used humor as a defense mechanism. This origin story is very very male. And there are so many women who are funny but don’t have this male origin story. There are great biographies written by Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Amy Schumer, but these are points on the graph that haven’t coalesced into a mythos yet, an archetypal female fool. But we can create a new mythos, a new origin story, I believe in us.
This would be a good time to end with a joke, but see above 😉