Comedy is hard work. It’s not funny how hard it is to craft a joke, or tell an anecdote in a way that gets a chuckle. Any comedy writer, or stand-up comedian will tell you that it is easier to flop than to fill a room with laughter. It may very well be easier to make people cry than it is to tickle their funny bone.
Comedy, as a modern endeavor, is as old as ancient Greece. The origin of the term is derived from the old Greeks, especially in theatre and the form known as political satire. Theatrical comedy in often pitted two groups against each other in a humorous context. Many social conventions were tipped on their sides and made to look ridiculous. Political satire often swayed public opinion amongst the Athenian democracy. The high and mighty were lambasted and cast to look less high and mighty.
Bill Shakespeare liked to have a happy ending to his comedies. He wrote of right old guffaws after the shew be tamed, including marriage and the whole happily ever after deal.
Physical comedy can be traced back to traveling Punch and Judy shows. Well, actually, this form of comedy is Italian and known as commedia dell’arte. Punch is an anglicized form of Pulcinella, the hapless target of Judy’s slapstick. I bet Tom and Jerry or Ren & Stimpy have no clue about their 17th century ancestry.
Comedy comes in many guises, from sketch comedy to the comedy of menace. And my intention was not a full essay on comedy. I wanted to start with some background, introduce some forms, and then let the mayhem begin.
Okay, okay—where are them jokes?
The best jokes are the ones that catch us by surprise, the unintended and real.
I am in a workshop with a writer named Garth Dawson. Garth writes witty snippets about modern life. He uses a conversational style, with one character named Charlie, getting a call from his pal Wendell. These funny slice of life stories usually don’t last more than a page or page and a half. But they ring true with the odd things in our daily lives.
I was working on a Grand Jury scene from my work-in-progress and Garth seemed to enjoy my work. He enjoyed it enough to pass along to me some real life courtroom back and forth between lawyers and witness. Now this is real testimony and comes under the heading of “you can’t make this stuff up.” Enjoy these. Laugh if you got’em.
Lawyer: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
Witness: He said, ‘Where am I, Cathy?’
Lawyer: And why did that upset you?
Witness: My name is Susan.
Lawyer: What is your date of birth?
Witness: July 18th
Lawyer: What year?
Witness: Every year.
Lawyer: How old is your son, the one living with you?
Witness: Thirty-eight, or thirty-five. I can’t remember which.
Lawyer: How long has he lived with you?
Witness: Forty-five years.
Lawyer: Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?
Witness: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
Lawyer: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
Witness: He’s 20, much like your IQ.
Lawyer: She had three children, right?
Lawyer: How many were boys?
Lawyer: Were there any girls?
Witness: Your honor, I think I need a new attorney.
Lawyer: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
Witness: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.
Lawyer: All of your responses MUST be oral, okay? What school did you go to?
Lawyer: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
Witness: The autopsy started around 8:30PM.
Lawyer: And, Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
Witness: If not, he was by the time I finished.
Comedy is all around us. Just open your ears.