When I Get My Act Down Pat

"The Shah of Iran, Kaiser Wilhelm, Benito Juarez, Prince Rainier, and Nikita Krushev walk into a bar in SoHo. Which one of them gets served?"
None, for they are all dead.
Okay- Jean Servais, Guy LaRoche, Yves Montand, Jean Gabin, and Maurice Chevalier drop into a bar in Southern Paris for a drink. Which one of them gets served?"
None, for they are all dead."
Shecky is my joke doctor- he talks fast- he talks funny. He's Jewish.
"Um, Dan, these punch lines, they're exactly the same."
"I know that."
"Hmmm. Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth and Gary Carter request service at an alcohol establishment in Cooperstown. Which one of them gets served?
Gary Carter."
"And you can do an endless line of, 'all dead,' punch lines, right- just as long as it ends with Gary Carter- see?"
"Might go over well in Europe, perhaps. Americans don't really view death as comedy, though."
"Well, some of the characters in the jokes are European, I guess. It's good stuff man, come on."
"It's better than some of your other material. Guy LaRoche, though- is that a real person? I don't think so- and Kaiser Wilhelm- wasn't he a midget? Some people say so, any way- midgets are funny, right?"
"Well, yes, but not to midgets."
"That's probably true."
For the most part, I trust Shecky's judgment. I pay him forty bucks a session for his advice. He often says, though, that everything comedic in this world is loosely based around failure. Your journey towards your tragic future is where real hilarity is borne. And I don't know if I agree. Though I guess I have found myself saying things like, 'alas,' and, 'we're all victims of circumstance,' quite often lately.
"Dan, this is important- the very core of good comedy is that you have an audience, and that you're trying to make this audience laugh. This is the understood context that we're working in here. When you sit in your house and write these jokes in front of your computer?"
"I don't have a computer."
"Okay, well, when you sit in front of your note pad or whatever, and write these things, there's nobody there to censor, scoff, or even potentially laugh at what you have written. You've got to find a way to project yourself onto the stage while writing. This stuff, it's just not going to be good enough to take to the stage open mic night. Do you have a friend- or better, a more critically-minded cohort- who you can read your material to, before bringing it here to me?"
"No, I can't really think of anybody. My friend, he doesn't like jokes, and I don't think I have any cohorts."
Well, then we're probably in trouble. For tomorrow, remember- it's all about cadence, punch line, and picking your spots, Dan- don't always talk over laughter, though sometimes that's all right. And always stick to the motto- I see no punch line, I see no funny. Okay?"
"All right."
"Bring me some new stuff- it's go time baby- crunch time."
He tore my jokes apart again. They say that whatever doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, you know. But I don't agree- I say that whatever doesn't kill us will usually leave us at least mentally impaired. Luckily, though, I'm always thinking funny. A fat man with a lady's haircut just came out of his house with a large pole, nearly impaling me. He missed- and yet still, I was struck- not by the guy, by the pole, but by comic genius. A duck walks into a clinic with a javelin crammed up its ass. What does it tell the doctor? Quack.
Hilarious! Can't wait to tell Shecky that one!
I have wanted to be a comedian ever since I was a kid. Grew up watching all of those late-night HBO stand up specials with the family. Seeing Robin Harris, the Bebe Kid's guy, on the tube, Whoopie Goldberger, some guy who did a whole act about his watch being behind, Jake Johanson, et cetera. And sometimes they'd even have a good artist on, like Carol Liefer. But this was very rare. Mostly it was that shit Billy Crystal and his mate Robin Williams. How unfunny can it get- yet still, these are the people who made me want to get into the business. Cause it looked so god damn easy!
Everything in this world is potential material- every move we make could be subject for a joke, or a drama, or perhaps both. And that's why I love being in this business. Got my first open mic night set up for Thursday. Man am I excited!
Just saw a lady walking over a curb, all smiles. Everyone looks younger at the curb- hey, I'm jumping- it's fun- ha ha! Fifty year old women become ten at extra high ones, you know. I think there's a joke here somewhere. I think so- but unfortunately, I can't find it right now.
People often question how so much humor can emerge, like water from a fountain, from a balding, thirty year old never-getting-laid bachelor like myself. Hey, I question it sometimes too. Often, I don't feel that funny. All of my clothes are from thrift stores. And they smell like it, too. There isn't any comedy there.
Me and my friend Jake have decided to go to the Mexican-Karaoke-Fine Dining establishment tonight. Last time, I brought down the house with my 'Wasting Away Again In Horchataville,' rendition. I'll probably do an encore anoche. The place isn't really known for its margaritas.

Oh no- so hung over today. Just looked at my left foot in the shower, and counted at least seventeen toes there. Must have drinken ten Clamato and vodka drinks or something yesterday. You know, I always try to ride my bike when I go out drinking. Often, after a heavy night hitting the sauce, I worry that I might find a bloodied toe or knee cap in my wheel spokes. Don't laugh- bicycular homicide is real people. It's not supposed to be funny. Still, I might try out this material on Shecky any way, to see if he likes it.
This sidewalk closed sign here, by his house, should read, 'sidewalk closed for four to five years,' man, because that thing has been shut down way too long.
As expected, Shecky enjoyed the one about the duck, because he said it was a good play on the 'put it on my bill,' jokes of old. Had to confess I had not heard any of those.
"A whore, a monk, and a ladle walk into a church?a ladle?"
"Yeah, a big spoon."
"So, you've a got a big spoon walking in this one?"
"Oh, you, you're right- forget that, skip it."
"My mother, I love her, but she started off in cooking school, then became an entomologist. We'd always get head lice instead of rice, and grub worms in the morning cereal. I came home from the hospital, she said she burned the mac and cheese, but my sister, she's like, don't worry, it was filled with maggots any way.
Ugh- still, though she loves me- the woman let me sleep with her in her bed 'til I was fourteen-
Dan, none of this is funny, and that last part there, that's actually extremely embarrassing, not amusing at all. Show me something else.
I met a lady who looked like a seventies television star, but she was always so down-trodden. We used to call her Mary Tyler Morose. Yes.
Okay, there's no punch line here. What are you thinking? How many toes on a Sasquatch? One. How many penises on a porcupine? One. Tongues on a pug? One. This joke, it has no zip- you've got a knack for that- it's endless, it's pointless?"
"But it's an audience participation joke, it keeps going on, until you know, the answer is two to something, or until I've stumped them, whatever."
"So what you're saying is that this material isn't finished?"
"I guess so."
"What did I say- never bring me unfinished material! I'll steal it if it's half way good, use it in my own cavalcade!"
"Oh, well wait- maybe the punch line is 'one.'"
"One is a number, it's not a punch line. But I do like the audience participation idea- and you know that. I often incorporate that in my own shows.
Have you been working on your prat falls? Let me see one."
I lifted my right leg slowly, then swung it back fast, causing my weight to sweep forward, falling flat on my face. But Shecky did not approve.
"What the hell was that- you gotta fall on your ass! That way- it's not funny- it's painful!"
"Yeah, it did kind of hurt, I guess."
"Ah, forget it."
Went outside, and saw a motorcyclist revving his engine, speeding down the street. "Hey, if you've got an asshole, you might as well show it," I yelled, quite obviously transferring my anger to the leather-clad gentleman.
"Fuck it man," I said, for it was time to get work watching surveillance videos at the bank. Eight hours of bums sleeping in the entry way, next to the ATM machine. My uncle could hook me up- I could be just a regular guy, a normal working stiff, like the rest of you. But I'm always thinking funny- I hear someone walking behind me with one of those rolling pieces of luggage, and I think there's a skateboarder at my back. I think how cool one minute, then how horribly uncool the next. And I think there's got to be a joke there somewhere, you know? Unfortunately, though, I can't find it.
Never really liked people, in truth. It always feels like most of them are humoring you, then mocking your every move just as soon as they can get away. But I feel lucky to have my friend Jake, though. He holds this theory that we morphed from lesser beings, due to extreme dietary changes, at some point in the not too distant past. Perhaps we were apes, perhaps birds or lizards, no one knows for certain. And many of us still maintain these animal-esque, mongoloid-type traits. Maybe we were dinosaurs- there could have once been a Manosaur, or a Manotops. Tyrannosaurus Man. I don't know- but he says that creationalism, the missing link, and any spontaneous methods used to explain the birth of humanity, well, they're all crap. I myself was on an all gyro diet for a couple of weeks once, was becoming jaundiced, and looked like I might be turning into an Ugli fruit, or even a banana. It's true. Any way, he was messing around with the video technologies used in Michael Jackson's Black or White video and found we could be morphed using the least amount of editing effects with a native-Texan horned frog. Right before he could print out the visual evidence, though, he was fired for all of his extra-curricular scientific activity. Don't know why I'm going into all of this right now- sorry. Guess I'm just trying to prove to you that my life isn't all about comedy.
"When a greyhound, a rotweiler, and a marmoset get together, and fuck each other in the ass, what do you call their off-spring?
A greymarot. What is that- what does that even mean?"
"Uh, it's uh, um?"
"It's nothing, it's bad. Moving on- My friend Arthur had a bad urinary tract infection, and he drank all of the cranberry juice he could, but it just wouldn't go away. So he stuck the end of a clothes hanger up his urethra?what's with all of the blue humor?"
"It is kind of dirty, isn't it?"
"This stuff can really offend people, turn them off- you should avoid it. Give me more.
Okay, right away I see a problem- you've got three jokes here that mention The Fight Doctor Ferdy Pacheko."
vvvv "Yeah, I know, I like that name, I, I think it's funny."
"It's not funny enough to mention three times. I'm sure some would say it's not funny at all."
"Oh come on it's funny- say the name- Ferdy Pacheko, Ferdy Pacheko?"
"No, no I will not.
Well, I'd have to say you got a lot of material here, Dan. Do you think you're ready?"
"I think so. I think I was born ready."
"I'd have to disagree there- no one was born ready for the stage, and these aren't the best jokes I've ever read, most certainly. But you can make it, if you truly believe. And I think you do- I think you can pull it off."
With this statement, we hugged, and I felt as if I was holding the very embodiment of comedy right there in my arms. "Shecky," I exclaimed, thanking the man, but quickly he requested his money. Got out my billfold, handed the cash over, and bid him adieu.

The place was filled to the brim- there were anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five people there, in the audience alone. When it was my turn up, I got the wobbly knees, forgot a lot of my material, and got the sweats real bad. Water was dripping down my forehead, from my lip. It began okay, with the Gary Carter crap, though no one really laughed. Remembered the whole joke any way. An elderly woman poured chardonnay on my shoe at about the half way point, though. That's not a good sign. Accidentally mentioned The Fight Doctor Ferdy Pacheko eight times, forgot the punch line to the, 'one,' joke, though I don't know that there ever really was one any way, and totally omitted the duck. Afterwards, one guy told me the act was brilliant, that it was the worst stand up he'd ever seen, unfunny to the point where it turned back around again, and became totally hilarious. Initially, I felt complemented by this, but later, his comments hurt real bad. Shecky told me it wasn't so horrible, but I knew he was just trying to make me feel better. So I fired his ass.

For a couple of days, I thought non-stop about calling my uncle. But the words, 'these aren't the best jokes I've ever read, but you can make it,' and, 'I see no punch line, I see no funny,' kept running through my mind, not allowing me to pick up the phone. I've never believed in redemption, but I've always had faith in good strong jokes. It was time to get out there again, to see the hilarity. To make it happen. I know I'll get up on stage again someday soon. Because it's all about confidence in your material, really, when you think about it. At least that's what Shecky says. I'll get my act down pat, and get a late night show on HBO or an emcee gig at Lipstix or something one day. You can bet your bottom dollar on that.


Dan Gleason