Thursday, May 19, 2011

And Boy, Are My Arms Tired ... The Rapture, Part II

"Houston, this is Orion three-seven-nine heavy, we are requesting a change in altitude."

"Orion, this is Houston, say again?"

"There are a couple dozen people floating in the air just ahead. Most of them appear to be dead."

"Copy that, Orion. You are cleared to descend to twelve thousand feet on your current heading."

"Descending to twelve thousand feet, Houston, thank you."

"Uh, Orion, you say there are only a couple dozen people up there?"

"That's affirmative."

"Huh. Verify your location, Orion."

"Houston, we are directly over downtown Dallas."

"Huh. You'd think there'd be a few more ..."

Okay, now, I think this is funny on a couple levels, but since I made the joke up, I might be somewhat less than objective ...

I might have mentioned this here before, probably in my how-to-ebook, but years back,  I took a comedy writing class from the late Danny Simon–that's Neil Simon's older brother. He came to Portland to visit a daughter who lived here, and did a weekend seminar at a local U. It was kind of spendy, but I figured since this was the guy who got his brother and Woody Allen into the biz, and taught them the ropes ... ?

It was a great class, he was an old pro and he knew his stuff. Worth every penny.

I was, at the time, writing for a couple of animated shows on the tube, and some of them needed to be funny now and then, and how many opportunities was I going to get to take a class like this in Portland? (Turned out, Simon eventually moved up here, but by then, was ill, and I don't know if he did any more teaching.)

Simon–who claimed he was the model for Oscar in The Odd Couple–liked to use old TV shows as part of the instruction. He'd run a vid of a B&W sitcom or sketch show to give us a set-up, then pause the vid and ask us what the punchline was going to be, and why they used it. Much of this was to illustrate the difference between a joke-joke and one that came from character, the latter being funnier.

Joke-Joke: Three men walk into a bar ...

Character: Mary, Rhoda, and Lou Grant walk into a bar ...

Some of those old shows were classics. Some of the humor was side-splittingly funny. Some of it was too on-the-nose, and he wanted us to see the differences, and why and how they were what they were. 

I make it one of my better moments as a writer that I was able to nail the punchline most of the time, on shows I'd never seen. And there was, after a few of these, one of my most egotistical and heart-warming memories as a word-worker: After a bit from one of the old Texaco Theater or Sid Caesar shows whereupon I delivered the ta-dump! punchline correctly, Simon looked at me and said, "You're in the biz, aren't you?"

Man, you should have seen my shit-eating grin ...

1 comment:

The Daring Novelist said...

Was it an old SNL sketch about an evangelical stand up comic, that had the punchline "... and my arms aren't tired because I flew with the lord!"

Jokes will get me to click that subscription button every time.