A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . I was employed by IBM as a speechwriter.
A good part of the job—I would say the most difficult—was writing original humor through which an executive speaker could establish an early, warm simpatico with the audience.
The idea was that if an audience finds a corporate speaker coming across as a good-humored, down-to-earth person, they are more amenable to and accepting of the persuasive premise of the speech.
In addition to speeches, a small team of us writers—five or six at most—labored each spring to script the huge meetings the company held at resort hotels to honor and motivate top performers.
There were about eight meetings each spring, running three or four days each, with an average attendance of six to eight hundred at each session.
We booked prestigious speakers who were leaders in their fields, celebrity entertainment to perform at social gatherings each evening, and film and video and pyrotechnics in custom-built theatrical environments to wow the audiences.
And throughout it all, humor.
I did this work for more than thirty years.
I bring up this backstory to demonstrate that I have some modest schooling in causing people to laugh.
Why this blog post? Because I’m not finding very much funny stuff on YouTube these days. Sometimes I sit here and think, “If I wrote that I would have been fired.”
I intentionally don’t have television here in Vieques, where I now live. I am here to write books. But about five o’clock each evening, as I’m prepping dinner, I miss the latest news. So I began streaming NPR radio.
It wasn’t long before I found myself angered and depressed by the day’s news, and yelling at my poor laptop the way I used to holler at the TV when I lived in the States.
So I started watching comedy programs on YouTube. And this is where I ran into problems.
Colbert, Meyers, Kimmell don’t work for me. Although they are often funny, all they talk about is Trump, and that makes me lose my appetite.
I needed non-political comics.
Lewis Black, for one. I relate to his cynicism about the inane state of our society, and I cannot stop laughing at his humorous ranting.
I discovered John Pinette, who built a career joking about food until his obesity took him at an early age.
I found Brad Upton, who has me in stitches about growing old.
But I soon exhausted all their available YouTube videos.
So I looked and looked and looked for laughter . . . and found the “Chick Comedy” channel.
And here is where I found the reason to write this blog post.
Almost all the female comics I viewed this week dwell on their sex lives. All they talk about is how raunchy they are. Or the intimate workings of their bodies. Or the humorous aspects of their couplings with numerous men of dubious genital accoutrements. It’s as if they are rationalizing and justifying themselves for being sexually sophisticated.
Relevant gender commentary, perhaps. But they are just not funny.
Huffington Post recently ran a piece about Ali Wong’s act, calling it “a comedic masterpiece,” the goal of which is to air out all the evils of pregnancy and new motherhood:
A very pregnant Wong―dressed in a tight cheetah-print dress, gold flats and bright red eyeglasses―returned to the stage to dive right into the ‘wack-ass job’ of postpartum life, not letting any gruesome detail go undiscussed.
No, thank you, not while I’m steaming cauliflower for my supper.
I know, I know. There are tons of male comics who center on “adult” themes. I was simply surprised, though, that so many of the performers featured on the Chick Comedy channel were so wholly focused on sex. Unless the Chick Channel producers curated the clips this way—to emphasize the sexual. But that’s a lot of curating.
My hunch is that Pereto’s distribution is at work here.
Vilfredo Pareto died in 1923. His distribution principle is known as the "eighty-twenty rule.” An example: eighty percent of the wealth of a society is held by twenty percent of its population.
Following the Italian economist’s thinking, I adhere to the principle that eighty percent of the lawyers out there are mediocre, twenty percent skilled. Eighty percent of people who call themselves writers are mountebanks, twenty percent talented. Eighty percent of comics are not funny . . . .
Everybody from French playwright Moliere to British actor Edmund Gwenn has been credited with saying: “Death is easy, comedy is hard.”
It doesn’t matter who said it. I can attest to it. It’s absolutely true.
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.