“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”
— E. B. White
I just watched a great five minute video of Jerry Seinfeld explaining the process of writing a joke about Pop Tarts. It took him two years to write a bit that will likely only last ten minutes. He fussed over syllable count and rhythm like a musician. I couldn’t do Jerry’s laundry, but these are the same pains I take when I write jokes for Twitter.
Some jokes come together in a couple tries in one sitting, some take a long time and several revisions. One of the jokes I’m most proud of took me weeks of revising, cutting, copying, pasting, and reordering. Here it is:
I’d love to know what this guy in the next stall is paying that Foley artist. The man’s gallop is so good I can almost smell the horse.
Let’s have frog legs for dinner.
- I’m in a bathroom stall, which is automatically funny.
- There is some raucous activity happening in the stall next to me. Also funny. If you’re keeping score, that’s now a second bathroom stall, along with some loud bathroom noises.
- The noises are so vivid I believe they are coming from a Foley artist. Foley artists use to work for radio shows making believable sound effects live on the air. That’s a pretty funny occupation by itself, but it’s made funnier because the only people left doing Foley work in the 21st century are employed by Garrison Keillor.
- The Foley artist is doing his work in the stall with the other man, and since I’ve not said anything about this being a handicapped stall, you may believe it’s sufficiently cramped in there.
- The Foley artist is there because he has been paid well to ply his trade while another man uses the bathroom. Why? Is it for the edification of the other patrons of local leaving houses? Is it for his own amusement? You get to decide! Isn’t this fun?
Now, we could have stopped the joke here and it would have been complete. But let’s continue.
- The sound effect the Foley artist is performing is the distinct trip-o-let of a horse gallop, which is funny because there is clearly not actually a Foley artist in the stall next to me. There is just a single man alone in the misery of his body trying make sense of what must have been a dinner of curry and firecrackers.
- Referencing the gallop sound, we make a broadly absurd situation funnier by adding specificity. Rear ends making noise are funny. Rear ends making the specific rhythmic pattern of a horse’s gallop are funnier still because rear ends are not known for their dexterity.
Now we get to it.
- So completely has this illusion been created in the theatre of my mind, and by a Foley artist so gifted I might wonder what princely sum it would take to hire his services, that I believe a horse is running in place in the stall next to me, and that the usual men’s room smells are indeed the earthy musk of a fine equine specimen.
It took weeks to get this right, to boil these eight-odd multiple sentence bullets down into 140 characters with 5 to spare.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Twitter is my night club. There’s less smoke and I can kick people out at 9pm. And while comedians measure their work by laughs in the night club, we measure it by little golden stars on Twitter. That’s how we know you’re laughing.
That joke got 13 little golden stars, which is nothing comparatively, but I was pleased as I could be, because I worked hard for each one of them and several were from my other funny friends, whose work I respect.
The real real reason I’m telling you this is because yesterday I posted a tweet that got 22 little golden stars. What flights of humor did I perform? I posted a photo of a pumpkin in which I had carved a symbol from my daughters’ favorite cartoon. With the photo I said “All the days of my life led up to the moment I carved Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark into a pumpkin.” →
Rainbow Dash is the name of a character in the children’s program My Little Pony. A cutie mark is a butt tattoo on each pony that tells you at a glance what their power is. I was making a throw-away joke about how my entire life had been orchestrated so that I would live to be 35 years old and spend an hour carving a magical pony’s butt tattoo into a pumpkin for my children. Is that funny? Well, yeah, it is. But it’s not two-men-and-a-Foley-artist-walk-into-a-restroom-and-I-can-smell-the-horse funny.
And it wasn’t 22 little golden stars from my funny friends telling me they laughed. It was 22 little golden stars from a bunch of grown, male, childless fans of My Little Pony (Bronies), all of whom apparently receive keyword alerts when someone tweets about magical ponies with butt tattoos.
Well they can keep their little gift horse. I’m headed over to the second stall to get a look at that Clydesdale.