Wednesday, March 29, 2006

lights going out and a kick in the balls

"You have to entertain yourself, goddammit! So what if the audience doesn't get on board? You think the audience knows from funny? The audience doesn't know from funny! You have to show them what's funny, and when you entertain yourself, you'll be funny. I know from funny, and you are funny, so show me some fucking funny!"

-My first sketch comedy writing teacher, Cynthia.

It was MST3K and the British Whose Line is it Anyway? that lit the comedy fire under me when I was ninteen. I don't remember how I ended up in Cynthia's class when I was in my early twenties, or why I thought I could be as funny as those guys on TV, but one of the wonderful things about being in your early twenties is not knowing why you shouldn't try to be a funny guy or a rock star or start up a company. With no kids or mortgage, you're not going to fall too hard if you stumble and fall, unless you are spectacularly stupid, in which case stumbling and falling is just Darwin making you his bitch.

Cynthia was one of the toughest teachers I've ever had, sort of like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, but I learned a lot from her, and if I ever get an award for being funny, she's one of the first people I'll thank.

Cynthia's advice to entertain myself extended well past comedy, and is something I heed whenever I write: "Why aren't you entertaining yourself?! If you're not going to entertain yourself, how can you expect the audience to be entertained?! Get off my fuckin' stage!"

I have written my best work just by hearing Cynthia's voice in my head and doing what she says, but from time to time, though, I start entertaining myself, and chase a red balloon a little too far away from the main point. Example: today, I wrote a news story about finding where your XBox was put together by running its serial number through a program.

It wasn't a particularly good story (yeah, you can find out where your Xbox came from. Big Deal.) so I asked myself, "Hey, where did my Xbox come from?"

I . . . found out that it came from a tiny little village in Chile, where it longed to play accordion in a J.Geils cover band, before its parents joined a cult and fled the country to Indonesia where they were mass-married under a full moon in 1992.

Following a little-publicized coup in 1998 that saw the cult's charismatic leader vanish with all the cult's assets, my Xbox's parents paid a smuggler 27000 bhat to put it on a container ship for America, where they hoped it would have a better life.

That's just the start of the story of my Xbox's imagined life (that easily could have gone on for another fifteen hundred words) but it's got little to do with the actual news. I left it up anyway.

A wonderful part of being 33 and writing in this medium, though, is chasing the Red Balloon a little too far down the street, falling into the gutter and scraping your knees, but dodging Darwin just before you feel his icy hand upon you.

Thanks, Cynthia.


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