Between the ages of 10 and 14, I had two aspirations, motivated by two different sets of obsessions. One was to be a parapsychologist -- I was a sort-of credulous, sort-of just-excited-by-monsters-and-mysteries fan of In Search Of
, of everything from von Daniken's Chariots to Bigfoot to the now-absurdly-unscary-let-alone-improbable Mothman. (I was way more of a crazed fan of Close Encounters
than Star Wars
, 'though I read the novelizations of both repeatedly.)
Two was to be a comedy writer -- and I do mean writer. Maybe doing stand-up, maybe doing sketches, maybe doing ... who knows? But it was the writing
that fascinated me -- from Steve Martin to Python to (HOLY SHIT what is this crazed thing on the television on Friday nights?) SCTV to Albert Brooks (I was perhaps the most atypical member of Brooks' fanbase -- very young, small-town, goy as goy can be). These folks didn't just make me laugh -- they made me think about that ineffable thing
that makes me laugh. I'm not talking about irony, 'though that's a component--a sense that these various comics' approaches all started from a complicated joking about the idea of joking. No, it was more varied an appreciation. I loved the formal quality of so much of the joking; I could just grasp not just that Brooks was mocking the "Mr. Jaws" songs but that he was teasing out something about the nature of parody in parodying a novelty song. I just really dug the meta -- comedy about comedy has always hit me so very deeply, generating a simultaneous convulsive bodily response and an equally potent cognitive pleasure.
I never ended up that kind of writer (or improv comic, or sketch team member, or... -- alas). But I've always loved listening to, reading about funny people talking about what they do. Not for the practical pros/cons. (This book sometimes pitches the boring "how does one become a comic writer" question, has advice from agents, etc. In the words of Homer S, BOOOOO-ring.) And it's not even for theories of comedy--I do enjoy dissecting that particular frog (or, as the editor/interviewer Mike Sacks argues here, putting down the scalpel but still poking the frog to see how it jumps). But it's more illuminating just to hear about process, thinking, context, outcomes -- like Steve Martin's pretty good memoir Born Standing Up
, or the pretty damn funny and smart doc The Aristocrats
, And Here's the Kicker
is a wonderful tour through the making of comedy.
Now, when will someone put together that book on parapsychologists at work?