Comedy: Part 1. The Role of a Comedian, or “There is a joke everywhere.”

One theme I want to cover is where ideas come from in everyday life.  This series on comedy will be part of that theme.

A while ago I was talking with a friend about where some of my ideas come from, and I mentioned standup comedy.  She nodded, unsurprised.  Then I mentioned a few by name, and she looked a little surprised when I mentioned Katt Williams, probably for much the same reason that Katt Williams was once caught off-guard by Flava-Flav (3:48).  But I want to start here precisely because it may seem out-of-character for me.  As I mentioned in the intro post, every additional viewpoint you look at makes you that much smarter.

This is why I enjoy comedy so much and why there are so many lessons to be learned from it.

1.)  (A lot of) Comedy involves critical thinking and logical conclusions

The comic is the guy who is first of all cynical, he doesn’t believe anything, he doesn’t trust anything, and he doesn’t feel like other people are as smart as he is.  It takes all of that for you to do the job.  Because if you did believe that people were as smart as you, then you wouldn’t believe they needed you to talk to them, number one.  Number two, you have to be smarter than average to get the type of info you get as a comic and disseminate it to the people. –Katt Williams [Dark Comedy (:15)]

…And your head has to work a certain way to be a really good comic, you have to process info well and remember it and keep it…  -Katt Williams  [High Comic Caliber (:20)]

People hold a lot of contradictory ideas.  The friend who says “just do it” today may say “good things come to those who wait” tomorrow.  A cautious leader who always takes the safe path may suddenly declare “Fortune favors the bold!” as he makes a risky, possibly reckless move.  “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush…” except when it’s time to buy lottery tickets and then “you can’t win if you don’t play!”

Comedy can come from plucking these things out of everyday life and putting them side-by-side in a bit that makes you notice things you never noticed before.  (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s montages of politicians flip-flopping on issues through the years are great examples of this.)  Or, in a different approach, a comedian can follow one line of reasoning well past the point when someone would have abandoned it for the contradicting advice and end up in an extreme situation to show the error of one (or both) ways of thinking.  (Pretty much Colbert’s entire persona).

By repackaging everyday occurrences into narratives that highlight a point (ie, “disseminating it to the people”), comedians give us a laugh but also hopefully teach us something at the same time.

2.)  The comic can say things others can’t

There is a joke everywhere.  The pope dying isn’t funny, but the fact that we thought he was already dead is hilarious.  The fact that you could look at him and tell that he wanted to die…that was the thing, “I’m Jesus’ right-hand, why won’t he take me?”  He looked like he was ready to go.  Any of those subjects in regular conversation wouldn’t be in good taste, but that’s not our job as comedians.  Our job is to take those perverse things and bring out the humor in them, that’s our job, so there aren’t any taboo subjects.  –Katt Williams [There’s a Joke Everywhere (1:38)]

One of the biggest barriers to honest communication today is political correctness.  PC has a lot of levels.  I think most people would agree that bringing up abortion in the workplace is a pretty bad idea, and that is reasonable.  On the other end of the spectrum, trying to identify or describe a person without mentioning obvious characteristics in an attempt to not look racist/sexist/whateverist is unreasonable and pretty silly.  (ie saying “the third person on the left” instead of “the only woman in the room.”)  Regardless of how unreasonable it may be, PC shuts down honest conversations.

Comedians get to avoid all of this.  From the spoken form of the court jester, to published satire like “A Modest Proposal” and Voltaire, to political cartoons, to modern audio/video-distributed standup, comedy has always been an outlet to say what otherwise couldn’t be said.

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5 thoughts on “Comedy: Part 1. The Role of a Comedian, or “There is a joke everywhere.”

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