How to Listen to Jokes: A Supremely Biased Guide

I try to tell jokes. It’s what I want to do. In a long-term way. Like preferably, down the road, for money. It’s a weird thing. I know. It doesn’t not have to do with personal insecurities and a deep-seated desire to somehow please people. As far as career paths go, it’s probably not the most lucrative, but it’s more rewarding to me than any other. Unless you know of a job that pays seven figures a year to watch basketball and Simpsons reruns. If you do, please try to get in contact with me because I’m very interested. My name’s at the top of this article.

But while I wait for you to throw that one onto my lap, let me tell you about my experience performing comedy. Evergreen is a super accepting school. The student body is passionate about a lot of causes that most people throughout the country don’t give a second thought to. I love this about us. It’s one of the reasons I came here. That being said, that pressure of knowing you’re in the minority of people who believe in something can make people tense. When it’s something you believe in so strongly, how can you make light of it?

I strongly believe in gay rights. I identify as bisexual. At the same time, it’s a subject I poke fun at in my comedy. I’ve used the most hateful term in the American lexicon related to gay men on stage and have no qualms with doing it again if I feel it’s appropriate. I wrote a sketch with a friend of mine where there are characters named Lance and Longines who are crude caricatures of stereotypical and pornographized versions of feminine gay men. And I do so while sleeping well at night. Well, not well, but any issues regarding sleep aren’t caused by that.

My favorite part of comedy is that I can use it as a way to parody the most serious things I encounter and hopefully amuse people while doing it. I don’t want to offend, but if I really believe that what I’m doing is both responsible and funny, I won’t censor something that might not be interpreted the way I want it to. This is obviously a much easier hurdle to jump as a performer than an audience member.

My comedy is an extension of me. It’s all within my personal boundaries for what’s “appropriate” and I’ve come to terms with the material. As an audience member this is totally the opposite. An audience member is subjected to listen to a performer politely and laugh if they are amused. If you don’t like the material, you can be respectful in doing so by not laughing, or you can be a jackass and shout something in the middle of the set in hopes of five minutes of fame in the crowd as “the heckler”.

Those people have already stopped reading so I’ll address you as a respectful person. As a respectful person you might not find the performer funny. This could be for any number of reasons, but I want to talk about one from that great myriad. A difficulty some people might have with any given performer is that they don’t necessarily find the humor to be relatable. This is someone else with a totally different history and moral code. As an audience member, I can hear Chris Rock say the “N-Word” in every single permutation, but I can’t tell you what his personal beliefs on the use of that word are, just the context for which I feel it’s appropriate for me to hear a person say it (not by Chris Fenton).

When a subject is as universally unfunny as the Aurora Shooting and you make a joke about it, you should be criticized. At the same time, it’s possible to humorously make fun of subjects that are dark and scary and contentious. It’s an unspoken agreement, that whenever you hear someone go on stage, or record material, that you as the audience will give them the chance to entertain you and hopefully allow them to give you insight into any particular thing they hope will make you laugh. In that case I was quickly able to ascertain that it wasn’t material I was okay with. That being said, I believe the onus is on the listener to try and understand the performer than it is on the performer to not offend the audience.

I’m not as offended by, say, the average Jay Leno joke as I was Cook’s comments, but they both represent, at least in my mind, two opposite sides of a spectrum. And like most things, both ends aren’t appealing: one so out of touch with what is generally considered appropriate, and one who doesn’t have material that is creative enough to surprise you. In my opinion, Jay Leno is a performer whose material is lacking bite. I find it too broad to really strike a chord with me. It’s not like I’m a fan of needlessly offensive comedy, but I have more admiration for a comic who can toe the line of dangerous than the one who purely plays it safe.

As someone who frequently performs comedy and is audience to other performers, all I’d ask of people who watch anyone perform comedy is to try and see the person’s intention, not like it or appreciate it. Comedy is an art form and like any art form, it’s up to interpretation. But personally, when I try to interpret a piece of art, I always try to look at it from more than just one angle.

 By David Lukashok