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Friday, August 26, 2005 

The funny

I am a little unsure as to how to take this week's topic. It seems to be part confessional/part embarassing story-a-thon. I have a story that fits this category, but it requires a lengthy introduction about the funny.

The funny is what wannabe comics call the ability to consistently make others laugh (or, at least, it was the term I used when I wanted to be a comic). It is as much a skill as a talent and it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to get it right. The funny is unique. It is so tied into a person's character that it is difficult for others to use it in the same way (this, more than anything, is why professional comics almost never steal each other's schtick). The funny is universal. If you have the funny down, you can get almost anyone to laugh, smile, or roll their eyes tolerably. Most comics will tell you that the funny isn't there every night, that some bombs are unavoidable. Nonetheless, successful comics can access the funny far more often than they can't.

When I was in high school, I was a student of the funny. I was an awkward kid, unsure of myself. I communicated awkwardness in my dress, my demeanor, and my acquaintances. I dressed like the freaks and hung with the geeks. It took a little while for me to find my useful talent, but when I did, it was the funny. I could make people laugh. I could calculate the unexpected and then say or do it in the appropriate way to get a laugh. I didn't sling insults around much, but when I did, they were funny. I didn't tell many jokes, but when I did, they were funny. I didn't make many fashion statements, but when I did, they were funny (often unintentionally).

I had a friend, Steve Batterson, with whom I developed a schtick. I was the Jerry Lewis to his Woody Allen. I was all bad puns, misheard innuendos, and pratfalls. He was all quick wit and abrasive insecurity. We did a morning show for the high school close-circuit TV that was our little version of David Letterman (or maybe Conan O'Brien when Andy Richter was on the show). We had a lot of laughs secure in our knowledge of the funny.

I studied the funny. I watched Comedy Central obsessively. I also watched Sportscenter, because the anchors there were much, much funnier than other sportscasters. I was never a memorizer of Monty Python, Black Adder, or Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I watched whatever I could and paid close attention to what was funny. There were many different styles and I was developing my own.

The highpoint of my romance with the funny came at BYU in my freshman year. I was a technical theater major who was in deep denial regarding my desire to act. I eventually convinced myself to try out for an experimental play that an acquaintance of mine was putting on. At the auditions, people were given a brief monologue from the play and asked to perform it. I took mine, about a guy who was trying to impress an old-flame at a high-school reunion or something, and I applied the funny. When I read the monologue later, I realized that it was meant to be a solemn, wistful sort of monologue, but I didn't notice that at first and read it as a putz, full of bad self-justification, misunderstood signals, and complete cluelessness. And it worked. The assembled wannabe actors actually paid attention and laughed at the right bits. I had done the funny justice.

Then, near the end of the monologue, the worst thing possible happened. I broke character, which my training had drilled into me was the worst thing that I could do. I was saying something that wasn't meant to be funny, but something in my delivery struck some girl in the audience as funny and she laughed. A loud, brash laugh that had no place being emitted at that point in the monologue. She wasn't going along with the program. I was unnerved by the laugh; I couldn't think. I quickly turned to her, stuck my tongue out at her, and continued the monologue. Immediately, I realized my error. What I had done had probably ruined my shot at getting the part; breaking character is never a good thing. I was mad: mad at myself for letting her get to me, but madder at her for that unforeseen, thought-rending laugh. How did she have the nerve to laugh at the non-appointed spot? Didn't she understand what was funny and what wasn't? Why did she have to throw me off my game?

I finished the monologue and wanted, more than anything, to go over there and punch her; to scratch at her eyes or grab at her throat. I was furious and wasn't quite able to contain myself. So, I walked over to her. But I knew that it would be bad for me to harm her. So, I made myself do something that was as far from harming her as I could imagine. I placed my hands behind her head, pulled her to me, and kissed her.

I feel like I should mention that I had never seen this girl before. I have never seen her since. I have no idea if she thought it was funny or disturbing or appropriate. I don't know if she thought that this meant I liked her or if she understood that I was really mad at her. She didn't seem particularly shocked or offended. I don't recall her having much of a reaction at all.

The director then went on to have us all give each other back rubs (I wound up rubbing her back and she mine). We practiced tableau and other acting tricks and, as predicted, I didn't get the part.

I tell this story to others sometimes, in part because I am such a timid-looking fellow in person. It is hard for people to imagine me doing something so crazy. I preface the story by saying that I once kissed a complete stranger because I was mad at her. However, I've done a lot of thinking lately about the story. When I hear about rapists and their motivations, I realize that they match (somewhat) with mine in this act. This girl had taken my control away from me and I had to regain it by dominating her. I am rather disturbed by this development. The original title of this post was "Violent Sex Acts," but I retain enough of the funny to know that that wouldn't be funny.

Since that "high" point, my relationship with the funny has waned. I went on a mission, which hurt my ability to bring the funny. There is a practiced insincerity needed to call upon the funny (the truth isn't funny to strangers, because it is too true. You have to know the people involved to feel comfortable laughing at the truth). You can't be insincere and be a missionary, so I gave it up in order to be a better missionary. I was still funny (and still am), but much more intermittently. Coincidentally, I gave up all thoughts of acting, too.

To the girl I kissed in anger, I didn't understand what motivated me at the time and, to be honest, I am still a little unclear about it. I guess I thought it would be funny. If I hurt you, I am sorry. I cannot offer you much more than that, unfortunately. Just please know that I haven't made a habit of it and I won't tell the story anymore. I just don't find it funny.

That is truly one of the most interesting confessions I have ever heard. I'm not even sure what to make of it... I was utterly surprised when you said you remedied the situation by kissing her and then horrified when you said you realized it was an act of taking back control. And impressed that you would willingly "give up the funny" to be a better missionary. So interesting... I guess I've never had to consider such things because I've never been all that funny.

When they make a Lifetime movie of the week about you ("The evil woman-hating drama student from BYU"), can Matthew Modine play me?

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I actually didn't realize this until I started writing the post. I don't know what to do with it now. Oh well.

Bless you, John. This WAS fasicnating. I had NO IDEA where you were going with all of this until the absolutely appropriate moment. I would love to disagree with you on your motives for kissing that girl. I think the correlation between what you did and what rapists do is a stretch. I agree that you probably felt that you did it to gain back some control or to in fact "dominate" her, but I don't think this is how rapists start out. Have you felt guilty about this? Did you feel guilty because you did it, or because later you discovered latent motivation and it bothered you? Anyhow, great post and an interesting confession...

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I just thought that this was a silly story about my past until I started writing the post. As it is now, I am not entirely convinced it isn't, but out of respect for the fact that I might have really hurt that girl (doubtful, but possible) I don't think I am going to tell it anymore.

Also, I don't really think of myself as a rapist.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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