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An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit by George Meredith

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❶I was the next comic up, and it was clear that the woman was getting drunker and drunker because not only was she interrupting more, but was getting increasingly difficult to understand. Narrative comedy is, after all, the compression of drama.

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*An Essay on Comedy, by George Meredith

Jokes that are funny at 3 AM usually dissolve in the daylight. But not this one. Followed by a tag that went even deeper and yet politicized the joke. This morning I woke up and I was still laughing. Remembering that I have a show tonight, and a show on Saturday night. All day I thought about this joke. By 3 PM, only twelve hours after this perfect joke was born, I had a third tag— another punch line that not only capitalized on the eight words, and not only built on the next tag, but also added to the joke AND made fun of it all in just another eleven words.

There were sixty people in the room, sixty people who had paid to hear jokes. I wanted to open with this joke, to shake the building until the bottles fell off the bar. But I was seventh in the line-up. And how could I follow the perfect joke? Everything else I say would pale in comparison. So I thought maybe open with something tried and true. An opening joke about a cab driver, The Bronx and arson.

I know it works. Another three-liner that builds upon the previous. Then the next tag, one sentence that makes them laugh, then groan. That suckers them in so I can point out the futility, the silliness, the irony of their groans. Then the perfect eight words. It was so quiet I could hear the subway. The Montreal subway, three hundred and twenty five miles away. Do not open or close with a new joke, no matter how funny you think it is. Because YOU are not the judge, nor the jury.

You are the prosecutor. Your job is simply to present the evidence. THEY will render the verdict. There is a reason people state these rules. I thought those eight words were perfect. And in a way, they were. They were the perfect set-up to the two tags that followed.

But if they laugh at the set-up, IT is a punch line. Not ONLY a good set-up. A good set-up for two very good punch lines. Copyright by Shaun Eli. Including the rights to a car that runs on oranges, if you build it. Got on stage on Saturday night before a packed crowd. So packed that they had to bring in more tables to seat everyone. I went up fourth. I opened my set the same way I did the night before. Went into the eight word line, but this time thinking of it as the set-up to the two tags that follow actually three tags now— I thought of another on the way to the club.

Come to a show. Over the last month four different female comedians have spoken with me about the troubles in being a female comedian. One said that comedy was rough for women because club owners, bookers and producers often hit on the comedians, making it difficult for them to rebuff these advances and still get booked on shows.

I, occasionally billed as a feminist male comedian, do notice the difficulties women go through in this business. It is harder for women to get booked than it is for men. In the early eighties when I started going to NYC comedy clubs regularly as a fan, bookers were less likely to hire female comedians. It was very rare to see more than one woman in the line-up, even if the show had a dozen comedians.

And unfortunately, when people see a small amount of truth in something, they may believe the whole thing. The small amount of truth being that in fact there was a percentage of working female comics who did talk about their periods and complain about men. Some generalizations may have had a bit of truth twenty years ago, but no longer.

The percentage of professional female working comics is probably much lower. And maybe only one percent ever make it to the professional level. It takes a long time for things to change. Right now one NYC comedy club, Laugh Lounge, is owned and booked by a woman, and the person who first auditions comedians at The Comic Strip is also a woman.

And if you look at who is booked at some rooms, the proportion of women seems to be on the rise. Not terribly fast, but faster than it would happen without the women in comedy who are there helping other women.

But there is a group of people who can help women comedians even more than the bookers and other comedians can. How can you help? Some people say that one reason that men are more successful in the business world is that while women tend to seek consensus, men are more likely to try to win people over to their point of view.

A combination of all three? Marketing is very important in comedy— the more we promote, the more people we get to shows. The business really runs on favors. You introduced me to this booker, so come open for me on the road. You gave me a ride home when I was sick and it was raining, now I have a TV show so come audition for it.

Successful comedians have learned to be nice to other comedians— more than half their help as they start in the business will come from other comics. Want to know the reason that comedy clubs put on theme shows such as Latino comics or gay comics? Because they attract an audience. If the room is full the owners will notice and put on more of these shows.

If you go to The Comic Strip because Judy Gold or Veronica Mosey or Karen Bergreen is playing, mention how much of a fan you are within earshot of the person at the door. Amateur comedians are told that one step in getting noticed is when the waitresses at comedy clubs start talking about them— they see a hundred comedians a week and what they say carries some weight. More importantly, if you, a paying customer, let it be known why you went to a show, you will be heard.

How are they doing? And black people are what, fifteen percent of the country? Joan Rivers had a shot at The Tonight Show but she blew it. I would quickly get sick of having so much of her. I would have said the same thing about Rodney Dangerfield, by the way. But perhaps this is still the result of sexism. A long time ago people said that women would never be TV stars, until Lucille Ball proved them wrong.

Some people even say that Kevin Costner will never be in a movie without baseball. Eventually he may prove them wrong too. There will consistently be number one sitcoms starring women. Maybe even, shockingly, with me, a feminist male, as the head writer of one of them. What will make these shows number one?

When you all watch them. Pamela Anderson has had how many? You want more female comics to succeed? Get yourself to their shows. There are thousands of comedy clubs in big cities, in little cities and even occasional professional comedy shows in small towns, all over the United States. This was written for publication last year and never run. She said that she was taking a friend out and asked if I could mail her eight free tickets, and mentioned a particular date.

A date when I do not have a show scheduled and my website lists my schedule. And that I would be happy to let her know the next time I could get the club to waive the cover charge for her entire party. No, an actual letter is too much work. Because in the military they teach you an important rule: What a bizarre country. Try not to hit any people. Ironically, he was eaten by an alligator.

Since registration dates are getting earlier and earlier each year, couples in NYC are advised to register their future children for private pre-schools and summer camps prior to having sex during ovulation. Wal-mart is being sued in Pennsylvania for requiring its employees to work for free through breaks and after their shifts end.

I suggest starting the trial at 9 AM and not stopping for anything until the jury has reached a verdict.

Trade Deficit has started shrinking as exports reached a record. Good luck getting the sun to sign off on it. Home Depot says that the S. But hey, aid OR casinos, okay? One or the other. When they finished laughing. Maybe this is why sales are down— when a retailer needs two investment banks to tell them how to sell, something is clearly wrong. Millions of words have been written about which wines go with which foods. To the best of my knowledge up until now no one has written about which wines go with which movies.

Many people might suggest a Chianti or Barolo but I think a strong red zinfandel such as a Martinelli or Hartford would be a better choice. The taste seems to follow the sepia tones of the film, and more than one Italian-American has told me that red zin reminds him of the wine his father used to make at home. Besides, zin would go better with the cannoli. I will miss your choice of ring tones. I hope the battered spouse who receives this now-donated phone gets through to when she or he needs to.

I know I always did. My new phone comes with 35 ring tones, each one annoying. Her loss; her shy cat was beginning to like me, an accomplishment previous boyfriends had never achieved. Way too much effort to say hi to the people who brought me into this world and raised me with values I appreciate and want to instill in my future children.

Especially because every time I call them they tell me how much they love me and how much something in their house needs fixing and when can I come over and do it? Oh, her photos are there, too, and they come up when she calls me.

A photo of her when she calls from home, and a photo of her holding her cell phone camera, taking a picture of me, when she calls from her cell phone. And just being able to pay is not enough— you have to be able to get a reservation at the newest restaurant two minutes after I call and tell you about it. Entrepreneur- lost my job two years ago but I found a thesaurus. But I encourage you to fly me there just to make sure. Let me clear up the uncertainty.

Shaun is very much a Jewish name. Prominent in the Bible were Shaun Macabee who saved the Jewish people from massacre when a tiny bit of oil burned for eight days the holiday Shanukah celebrates this. There was also King Shaun, famous for such inspirations of brilliance as suggesting cutting a baby in half nowadays, of course, with extended and convoluted families we cut babies into eighths, like pizza. Shauns are famous for more modern accomplishments as well. Shaun Graham Bell invented the telephone; later his grandson Shaun Walker Bell invented the cell phone, after an unsuccessful career as an oil man and an attempt to invent the smell phone.

And then there was the Japanese engineer Shaun Ota, who invented a toy that later became a car. Of course he named it after himself. Copyright by Shaun Eli Breidbart. All rights reserved, except feel free to name your son Shaun. Everyone else is doing it. Or maybe a joint marketing promotion with Gillette— buy a Metrocard, get a coupon for a stick of deodorant.

Is it possible that someone found evidence that Harriet Miers is not a virgin? Tropical storm Beta is now forming in the Caribbean. The Laugh Factory in L. My smaller bid was apparently not enough. Bidding for stage time? Why would a comedian do that?

Please let me explain why I bid. Here are some advantages of buying the time on stage vs. The tape of my spot will surely have fewer gaffs than any ten minutes of Bush in front of a camera. I can say whatever I want without worrying about offending those who claim to support me. I can contradict myself, change my mind, even insult myself.

The money goes to help Katrina victims, unlike any money actually being spent by the Bush administration. This because precinct commanders are rated on how well they decrease crime in their territories, so they do what they can to prevent people from actually filing a police report.

Two days after my blog I got a letter from the precinct commander. Good news if it were true. I called the D. A simple case— two cops saw a guy with a gun and arrested him. This was pretty easy because in in The Bronx about one in three people walked around with an illegal handgun. The defendant was a twice-convicted felon who contradicted himself on the stand. An easy verdict, I thought. Why would they lie, I asked. Like alcoholics drink, cops lie. Eventually we convicted the guy, but it took a whole day of deliberations more on this in a future blog.

My father is a retired law enforcement officer, a veteran, and someone I look up to as a model of integrity. Foremost on my mind might be how the NYPD is telling me what they think I want to hear, with reckless disregard for the truth.

Inspector, the next time your officers lose a case in court, keep in mind, you might also be to blame. I could swear I heard this announcement in Grand Central Terminal this morning: In February I was a witness to a non-violent crime. Six phone calls later, all to find out which precinct covered that address no exaggeration, seven phone calls in total I was steered back to the first place I called. Someone ripped the mirror off your car? Your druggie son stole your jewelry? I also mentioned the crime and suggested that someone call me for further information.

Today September 26th I got a call from an officer at the precinct that covers the location. All this time I thought that big business should not be running the country, that the government should be separate from industry.

That the logging industry should not control our forests, that oil company executives should not be writing our energy policy. We need the government completely run by corporations. In this case I presume that either party would do what they can to cut the budget, and preventing this disaster was one of the items cut.

The levees breaking was maybe a one in a thousand chance. But I wonder how many other long-shot emergency items have also been cut. And what are we doing about it? President Bush has praised the newly-proposed Iraqi Constitution. Volunteers are flocking to hurricane-damaged areas to help out. Hey, they HAVE people! Plenty of people, people with nothing to do. Turn your truck around, Gus, and go back home. The two hundred bucks you would have spent on gas to drive to New Orleans?

President Bush is meeting Chinese President Hu. This has Bad International Incident written all over it. Last week Madonna was injured falling off a horse. The president of Turkmenistan has outlawed all lip-synching, even at private parties. After calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Chavez, Pat Robertson is now saying he was misinterpreted… even though he clearly talked about assassination.

This is not a relevant question: Their children, once they reach 18, are free to make up their own minds. Furthermore, the children of politicians may be able to make other, equally important, contributions to society. Where the hell are you sitting right now? And where were you sitting the first time you found www.

They stopped me from getting on my train. They took me aside and said that they wanted to look in my backpack.

My backpack contained no contraband, only my date book, cell phone, some magazines, some confidential business papers, and a copy of the Constitution. Hey, some people carry the whole Bible. Oh, and about a half-dozen empty soda cans.

Nobody needed to know that. It was a nice letter, nicer now in hindsight because apparently, knowledge or not, they did just fine. I wrote another script. I asked the police officer if she would prevent me from getting on my train if I refused to consent to a search. Or, as I did, simply take another train. What if I were a journalist, an attorney, an investment banker or a doctor, carrying papers that were not for the police to examine?

It might not be only MY rights which were being violated. Both parents were against it. My father fought in World War II on our side.

My mother came here from Russia, her parents fleeing totalitarianism. They abandoned everything they had when they came here, and were dirt poor back when there was no Welfare and Brooklyn still had plenty of dirt. Mom told me that even after living in the U. Because for his entire life in Russia, nothing good ever came out of a possible confrontation with a police officer.

Keep in mind he was a Jew in a small town in Russia, where for sport the Cossacks would get drunk and beat up Jews for no reason. Of course once they got here, like so many other immigrants, they had to start over. Neither of my parents had it easy. Yet somehow they not only got through it, they raised three sons who, between all of us, have seven Ivy League degrees one of which is mine.

Marines, a pediatric oncologist, Israeli commandos, black belts in karate. Because, as someone once said, and has often been quoted, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Okay, now to explain the Seinfeld reference. I wrote a second spec. The same two plots, virtually the same story, some of even the same types of sentences and ideas. I was darker-skinned, named Abdul or Mohammed, carrying a copy of the Koran. So, not only do these random searches waste time, frighten people, waste resources that could be put to better use, but they also risk convincing people that they are the victims of stereotyping, of discrimination, of the violation of their equal rights.

That too is a risk we should not be taking. Not just the richest. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! I am for the legalization of marijuana. Also for the legalization of marajuana and the legalization of marihuana.

Any drug that has three different spellings is fine with me. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up. I have to speak up. We have to draw the line somewhere.

Better now than later. I had no drugs in my bag. I do not use marijuana, by any spelling. Another reason to oppose these searches.

If enough people say no, maybe we can make a difference. Heard of Philadelphia mass transit? Heard of the local supermarket? Heard of hiding a bomb under your shirt, instead of in a backpack? So have the terrorists. Like you should have, schmucks running our country, before September 11th.

The White House had received warnings of hijackings. A Tom Clancy novel depicted a terrorist crashing a into the Capitol Building during a joint meeting of Congress. On my birthday yesterday I learned that the NYPD plans to begin random searches of backpacks in subways.

Essentially they made him an arms dealer so they could arrest him for being an arms dealer. The NYC subway system has millions of riders a day. It will rain blood and metrocards. Oh, you work in a nail salon, Kara? So the suicide bombers give up on the subway… and instead blow up everyone in Gristedes, the movie theater, on the sidewalk.

At least until winter, when they can hide the bombs under their winter coats. But anything that wastes my time, and invades my privacy, I have a problem with. And I heard on the radio yesterday that in the past four years there have been accidental incursions of the giant flight restrictions around Washington, DC. Which means that probably there have been hundreds of thousands of flights that had to divert around that airspace.

Do you realize what a monumental waste of time and fuel that must be? In other words, you can look at yourself. I can look at myself. But I cannot look at yourself unless you and I are the same person. Because when I do look at myself, I see me, not you.

So I had to sue my landlord. Back in the winter they were doing reconstruction on the apartment upstairs. The standard way to gut an apartment is to bust out a window, park a dumpster in the alley below, and throw all the debris out the window into the dumpster.

He pretty much understood that I knew what I was talking about. And I found out that his office was an hour commute from the courthouse. I asked him the address of the courthouse. He said 34 Fifth Avenue. I asked him to read me my address. He said 17 Fifth Avenue. He showed up in court. We went into court, where the judge asked if we could go outside and try to settle. He asked what I wanted. I said that sounded rather drastic— could we say July 4, ? I was walking to her apartment carrying four dozen roses.

In the water bottle pockets of my backpack I had two bottles of Champagne sticking out very noticeably. She looked at the roses, then at the Champagne, then at me. Then back at the roses, and the Champagne.

Eminent domain is the Constitutionally-allowed power of state and local governments to seize private property for a public purpose, as long as they pay for it. The Supreme Court just ruled that the power of Eminent Domain allows state and local governments to seize private property and give or sell it to other private enterprises merely because the newer enterprise promises to add value to the property.

In other words, they can tear down a slum and put up fancy housing because that will lead to economic development and higher tax revenue. Oh, they have to pay the people who own the slum properties, but they pay the market value for a slum, not what the land is going to be worth once the slum is replaced by fancy housing.

Of course with the slum gone the price of the least expensive housing goes up, and the poor people who have been forced out of their homes are screwed. The Supreme Court vote was , and I find myself agreeing with the conservative minority that there ought to be stricter limits to eminent domain. Otherwise, the state can seize a K-Mart and sell the land to Target, because Target promises higher tax revenues. That is, until Wal-Mart comes along.

Where does it end? Ask Bill Gates, or Exxon, or maybe China. Or those mini racing cars. Thank God for the Second Amendment. You can have my house when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I vote and pay my taxes proudly and I think this is the greatest country in the world. But still we stink. A few nights ago I was watching Fear Factor. One of the bug-eating episodes, not one of the bugs-crawling-all-over-you episodes.

There are five billion people on our planet, and a lot of them go hungry. Some of them will die of starvation. Or perhaps for every hour of Fear Factor people watch, they should be required to spend five minutes watching people go hungry. It may not be on the same scale as the Holocaust, but this time we know all about it and we have the military means to stop it.

And by stopping it, perhaps discouraging future mass murderers. Oh, unless they really piss us off. England, —, Princeton, New Jersey: Gordon and Breach, Schocken, Polhemus, Robert, Comic Faith: Duke University Press, Princeton University Press, Please contact the author for suggestions or further informations: You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Many others had to learn the craft of comedy writing through trial, error and terror.

They are well-paid for their rare skills. Meanwhile, every year hundreds of new drama screenwriters emerge from tertiary courses around Australia.

Few have spent any significant time working with experienced comedy teachers. The good news is that comedy writing for any format demands the conscious or unconscious application of principles that even the most bleak bore can grasp and master.

What are you doing Saturday night? What about Friday night? Play It Again, Sam. Get me a vodka rocks. And a piece of toast. Identifying the common principle underpinning these exchanges requires some thought. Devising the exchanges takes even more thought. Strangely, there is an assumption that because a comic scenario or joke is simple, inventing it must require less thought from both writer and audience than, say, a dramatic emotional exchange. Without knowing the principle underpinning these exchanges, writing something similar can pose as much of a challenge as finding the shortest route to Rome.

Yes, all roads lead to Rome but without a map, the simplest route takes time and practice to find. This lack of knowledge is not a sign of stupidity, however, or a lack of skill and talent. For the average audience member, this lack of knowledge is unfortunate, but allowable.

For screenwriters, authors or playwrights, not knowing the principle connecting these jokes is unforgivable — and may explain why they are forced to work a second job to pay their bills. It acts as a framework, much in the way scaffolding can be used to construct a building. The buildings may be made of differing materials — bricks, wood, mud — but the scaffolding used to guide the construction is the same.

Or, to put it another way, a hair-roller provides the same function. Hair colour, strength or style has nothing to do with the function of a hair-roller itself. The principle — known as the Inescapable Conclusion — is simple and forehead-slappingly obvious when you know it.

Each of the three exchanges involves different topics — dating, clothing and drinking. Two of them first and third follow a classic tripartite pattern, but the second is a two-line pattern. Each plays on the unique qualities and immediate desires of very different personalities. And the Philogelos joke is from Ancient Greece, so has no direct contemporary, cultural or regional link to the three segments of dialogue.

So what is the principle of the Inescapable Conclusion? The date is, for now, inescapable. And Lucille created by Mitch Hurwitz is getting her vodka no matter what. The premise of each exchange is fought against, but cannot be denied. This particular comic principle relies on the audience falling for a simple trick of misdirection. In each example, they are lead to assume there will be a twist on the premise — perhaps Woody will give up, Kath will admit she is a Size and-a-half, or Lucille will delay her morning vodka.

When each premise is proven to be inescapable, the truth of the characters acting true to form, and the inevitability of the situation comes as a minor surprise, a surprise that figures. The Inescapable Conclusion gag-type is to be found in many narrative comedies or one-liners.

The American comedian Martha Raye opined. A comic scenario is translated by our higher perceptions to our primal responses some of which are located around the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. Then a response of involuntary noise, adrenalin, endorphins, shallow breathing, bladder- and bowel-evacuation is initiated by the lower brain. The connection between anxiety, fear, surprise and laughter is undeniable.

An absent-minded Professor is on a sea voyage when a storm blows up. The ship begins to sink and his Slaves weep in fear. I have freed you all in my will!

Now can you see the pattern?

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