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01/04/2007: Yes, and...
Recently I've been asked questions - in a few different letters and emails - that I think all boil down to the same thing. "How can I think funny?"
We've all met people who are effortlessly, automatically funny. Fearless in front of strangers, they tell stories, they do voices, they jump to their feet and do 'bits'. When one of their jokes lands, they instantly follow it up, expanding it into a routine. When one of their jokes flops, they become a whirlwind of self-deprecation that's even funnier than if the whole thing had succeeded. I love these people (even though they're exhausting).
Comedy writers' rooms are packed with these men and women (more men than women still, but that'll change). I once heard that Martin Short literally could not leave the writers' room (this must've been at SCTV or SNL) until he got a laugh, so that he could leave on the laugh. Geez.
I think a lot of this comic ability has to do with childhood environment. Crowded houses where attention is doled out to the funniest child, those are the comedian factories of our world.
But what about the rest of us? I myself am an only child from a quiet stable household where attention was not punchline-dependent. I did watch a lot of television comedy, and developed the ability to be funny "on the page" from observing what worked for me as an audience member. So I had that.
Being funny on the page can be enough, thank goodness, but being able to "pitch" your jokes well in the room is also part of the comedy writer's job, and I wasn't very good at it. I was most comfortable working out a joke on paper for a while, massaging the wording... not blurting it out as it was forming in my head.
Now, I've never gotten *really* good at blurting - I'm still fairly quiet in the room - but I will tell you what helped a lot. I took an acting class where we did improv. It was terrifying, but it did help. I had no time to overwork the joke, I *had to* just go with it. I already had a little bit of confidence that I could be funny given a trained actor to say the lines. I gained confidence in my ability to be funny with my own voicebox. It also is really good for teaching you to look at the world with an eye for comic potential -- for "seeing things funny." I can't praise the experience enough.
Start with other beginners, learn the rules, and give it a go. Maybe it's never too late to have a survival-of-the-funniest childhood!
Lunch: quesadilla, a coke, and something wonderful called a "buckeye" from Big Sugar Bakeshop... like a high-class Reeses peanut butter cup.