Writing comedy isn’t hard.
Writing comedy and being a doofus — now that’s hard.
I don’t appear to have the ability — useful as it seems — to think of things to write about. Not while I’m trying to think of things to write about, anyway. Which is most of the time.
Instead, I get topics in much the same way that Douglas Adams taught us how to fly — if you forget for a moment that you’re trying not to fall, you won’t. Which is to say, as long as I’m not searching for ideas, one might actually pop into my head.
The trick at that point is to remember it. And that trick is trickier than it might initially sound. Because there are usually only three times of day when I’m not trying, at some level, to think of funny things: when I’m driving, when I’m showering, and when I’ve just woken up. None of these are ideal moments to have some Great Big Idea™. I’ll explain why.
Many people can multitask while they’re maneuvering their automocar around the city. They talk and drive, drink (non-adult beverages, hopefully) and drive, apply makeup and drive, belt out tunes and drive, and curse and shout and give me the finger for staring into their car to see what they’re doing — and drive.
That’s not me. I was always taught — by my father, who did most of the driving: “Don’t distract the driver.”
(Lucky for him, he could dispense wisdom and drive. Otherwise, I’d have badgered him into a fiery mangled wreck during my more hyper days.
That’s his story, anyway. I think he just wanted to shut me up for ten minutes at a time. Smart guy, dad.)
So when I’m behind the wheel, I’m focused on the road at hand. I can have a little music, maybe, but no chit-chat, no beverage service, no face painting — and no daydreaming about what I’m going to write about next. I don’t even chew gum and drive. All business.
So of course, it’s in the car when many ideas pop unbidden into my head. And usually unpop, unremembered, right back out again. I just don’t have a good way to capture them. I’ve tried keeping a notebook in the car — but if a nugget forms at seventy miles an hour on the Mass. Turnpike, what am I going to do? Pull over and jot it down? Transcribe ridiculous nonsense to whatever horrified passenger might be with me? Write and drive?
Clearly, no. Fiery mangled wreck, remember?
A while back I tried keeping a voice recorder in the car for such occasions. I used it exactly once. Here’s what it captured:
“Okay, so what if Marie Curie worked in a kosher deli, and — hey, all right, quit yer honking, asshole. I’m moving.
Anyway, she’s there making brisket, and — ALL RIGHT, SURE, COME ON IN, BEEMER MAN. It’s not like I was using this lane. Christ.
Now — OH, SHUT UP ALREADY! THE LIGHT IS RED. RED! For the love of… no. No, little minivan, you can’t come across in front of me to go left. No. Fill the gap. HAH! DENIED.
Oh, very mature. You kiss your kids with that mouth, lady? Nice.
Now what the hell was I saying? Ah, shit.”
If I ever take off in the comedy world, the first thing I’m doing is hiring a chauffeur. It’s the only way.
At least the shower is a stationary location, which makes the risk of death or dismemberment in case of distraction less of a concern.
Still a concern, mind you. But less.
And the problem of writing ideas down is no less severe. Can’t take paper into the shower. The water would short out a recorder or laptop. For a long time, the wisdom from the watery deep was lost altogether. Until I caught onto the bright idea of squiggling reminders with my finger on the fogged-up bathroom window. That worked well for a while.
Until the wife showered after me one day, and asked what the hell “Amputee Pimp” and “Tony Teabags, Mafia Hazer” had to do with getting clean.
I didn’t know what to tell her. She’d either find out about my half-baked comedy ideas, or think I was into some extremely weird shower porn.
I decided not to write on the window after that. The marriage seems safer that way.
“Filters are offline, propriety is out to lunch, and decorum has been drugged and bound and stuffed in the Sandman’s trunk.”
I’m not a morning person. Seriously not. Proof, even.
So whatever awesome-sounding-in-my-head idea I might have when rejoining the world of the conscious has two enormous obstacles to seeing the light of day. First, I have zero judgment at the crack of awakeness. I could find a shopping list — or Schindler’s list, for that matter — hilarious when I’m only half unslept. Filters are offline, propriety is out to lunch, and decorum has been drugged and bound and stuffed in the Sandman’s trunk. So I’m as likely to sort out some actually-usable tidbit as I am to start upright and blurt to no one in particular:
‘The Unabomber hosts Wheel of Fortune! Giant condoms for Japanese bullet trains! Sarah Palin with Kuato!‘
Clearly, I need to stop eating junk food before bed. Or junk TV. Something.
The second problem is that my motor skills don’t especially kick in until noon or so. So even if I have a legitimate idea — and if I’ve remembered to keep a pen and paper by the bedside — all I scribble down while the gag is fresh is nonsense gibberish. I’ve looked through that notebook. And between the ‘Flgribben on thr Squrre parodu!’ entries and pages full of meaningless doodles — some of which may or may not, iin fact, be condomed bullet trains, or Marie Curie in an apron, slicing a slab of corned beef — I’ve got nothing.
And that’s why writing comedy is easy. But writing comedy as a doofus? HARD.
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