Saturday, April 22, 2006

Anatomy of a Joke

I’m back in the game as much as ever and I love it. Sometimes you go through lulls in comedy writing where it just doesn’t happen, and other times - like last night - your one-liner hits and the place goes nuts. The band plays, people name their new babies after the joke, and the Mayor of Los Angeles declares a holiday.
It’s a little like the mystery of why one song is a hit and another flops. If you read a lot of recent music history – which I do – you know how often the big song was an afterthought, something the artist didn’t really like, thrown on the record at the last minute. I love reading about Smokey Robinson or Chuck Berry trying to craft a hit. It’s a mysterious process.
Comedy writing isn’t on that level, of course, but I turn in these jokes and when one goes off, it behooves me to try and figure out why. The topic last night was Kenny Rogers and his ridiculous plastic surgery job that even has Michael Jackson screaming “Enough!” His eyes squint so much now he’s looking out through his eyebrows, and even he admits it was a disaster.
Now, the best plastic surgery joke I ever heard came from the master himself: Woody Allen. No surprise there. He said a woman had so many facelifts she’s now got a goatee. That’s not an exact quote, but you get the idea. Isn’t it a devastating visual? Sorry about the Soon-Yi shenanigans but for me Woody is still the MAN. I hear echoes of his work everywhere.
Speaking of echoes, Maureen Dowd had a column closer involving Cheney and Rumsfeld eating Chinese food. An hour later they were hungry for power. That reminded me of an old Dick Cavett joke where he says, “I ate at a German/ Chinese restaurant and a half hour later I was hungry for power." See, Maureen blew the time gap: She had “an hour later”, when I believe the correct comedic riff is “a half hour later.” I could be wrong on that, but I doubt it. By the way – mental note to self: Remember to tell them about the time I met Dick Cavett and made him laugh. Really. That’s one of my good comedy anecdotes.
Okay, the joke last night: “Kenny Rodgers has had too much plastic surgery. Today he tried to wink at a girl, and pulled a groin muscle.”
It doesn’t look like much in print but they went crazy. Jay acted it out later, and the band had a follow-up question. It was huge.
The reason I believe it hit was that it was a skin joke and it went right to the only part of the human body that’s a rapidly movable piece of skin. So it became an action joke, started by Kenny as opposed to Woody’s joke which was what the doctors had done. Then it put Kenny in the light of the horny older guy hitting on someone which is a comedic winner, especially since it goes with trying to look younger through plastic surgery anyway. Then it goes right to the groin – clearly the epicenter of a million laughs. In short, the joke framed the plastic surgery thing as tightly as possible with a sexual twist. Bingo! Major laugh. Maybe even Woody Allen would have approved. Oh well. I can’t wait till Monday. I’m on a roll and it’s May Sweeps. Time to try and ride the wave to the Mother Groove.


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