Friday, February 8, 2008

Lessons in Comedy #35


At the core of all human life, there are basic themes that weave us together as a species. These themes can be seen over and over throughout history in literature and historical events. The most obvious of these are extremely simple themes like love, hate, jealousy, revenge, power struggles, or heart break. You'll see all of these themes echoed in every book, movie, song, play or tv show ever created. The reason for this is simple, we all identify with these themes. We all feel these feelings.

The same is true in comedy. Very basic themes and ideas will get repeated over and over. I have a theory that there hasn't been a new joke written in thousands of years. The only thing that changes is the way they are told and the settings in which they are contained.

Certain things will always be funny and thus will always be used.

My first realization of this was in a sketch class I took at the UCB in 2005. Years before this class, in Dallas, the Night-OH-Cabaret had done this character called The Southern Lawyer. It was an old southern gentleman that used colloquialisms and spoke very eloquently, but was in fact a very inept lawyer. We did this character at least 10 times, every script basically the same at it's core.

Flash forward to the class. It was the second class and we were assigned to bring in a sketch to read aloud. We went around the room and got to this one guy named Nick Nadel. He's a very funny guy and has found much success writing in the comedy world. I hope he read that and gets me a job. At any rate, Nick, Nick Nadel not me, proceeds to read his sketch. It was about an old southern lawyer, and I swear to God it was a carbon copy of one of the sketches we had done so many times before.

Had he flown to Dallas and copied down the script in the back of the bar? Had he somehow gotten a copy of one of the scripts from the show? No, he was just doing what all comedians do, writing funny material on a common theme.

I'm almost certain that everything I've ever written has been written 100 times by other people around the world. But the good thing is, I can't be everywhere at once, and neither can the audience. So people that enjoyed our southern lawyer sketch in a small bar in Dallas, will never see the other Nick's southern lawyer sketch. And the beat goes on.

The fact that themes and ideas get repeated by people that have no clue that they are repeating ideas and themes is the bane of my existence. I PRIDE myself on writing what I view as original material. I would NEVER EVER steal someones joke. That's the one and only cardinal sin in comedy. So when someone accuses me of stealing something I've done, it infuriates me.

The best thing about this new fangled interweb, is that it opens the door to the entire world. Now it's possible for a billion people to see me without my shirt on instead of just 68 people in a small theater in Dallas or New York. However, the worst thing about this new fangled interweb, is that it opens the door to the entire world. Now these themes and ideas that get repeated will all be readily available for everyone to see all at once. That means there will be overlap, and inevitably what ever a person sees first, they will consider the original and accuse anything that follows as a rip off.

The problem with the public is they don't care to dissect these issues. They don't have to. They act out another human theme that gets repeated over and over again, shooting their mouth off without all the pertinent info.

I say all this because the below sketch also fell into this category at one point. I wrote this sketch about 5 years ago for the cabaret. We did it once or twice to a pretty big crowd and it went over well. I got lazy and brought it into the sketch class I was talking about above. We read it aloud and it got a good response. The goal of this sketch class was, after 8 weeks we put on a live show at the UCB theater. The sketch of mine that got into the show was the Mr. Soose one that I posted earlier. So the below sketch, while funny, didn't make it into the show.

There was another guy in the class, who was in a sketch group from a school in New York. About a month after this class was over, I was at the theater for something and that sketch group was preforming. I stopped to watch for a second, and noticed they were doing the below sketch almost verbatim. I was livid. I nonchalantly asked one of the members of the sketch group who had written the sketch, and they told me it was the dude from my class. This made me even angrier. Long story short, accusations were thrown around, feelings were hurt, and eventually all was forgiven. Neither of us had stolen the others idea, we had both written our subsequent sketches years earlier. It was just a very basic idea and a very easy target for comedy. Same themes, same ideas, just repeated by humans as they have been for centuries, and will be long after I'm gone.

OK, enough comedy school 101, here's the pretty basic, double entendre filled, sketch 101 skit for your consumption:


dicky van tastic said...

mmmmm, leather assless chaps. Now those say, business.

Sam said...

I can't believe it! You stole that whole blog from my website!

Nick Gibbons said...

I stole my sole from you Sam. My soul is your soul.

Sam said...

I was told I don't have a soul. Is that where it went?