It's been four years since I dressed up as a Cuban dancer to help the American Cancer Society in Crane, subsequently losing an all-male fashion show to an 18-year-old whose upper regions leaked when the Jello he had stuffed in his makeshift bra made of gym socks began leaking. By the end of the night, he was just another flat-chested boy, but he smelled fruity. And he was funny.
My feet and calves killed me for weeks after dancing around the stage to "Man I Feel Like a Woman!" while wearing 6-inch stillettos. That night grew even worse when I had to listen to a 70-year-old man dressed like my grandmother spend the entire evening talking about his horribly painful shingles. But still, it was a fun and funny evening four years ago, and Thursday night was as well when I had the chance to do the dress-up thing for the Casa de Amigos' Celebrity Waiter fundraiser (Celebrity was questionable at best; waiter was an outright lie).
Funny is really the key thing here. If you can't laugh at yourself, life can become perfectly dreadful after a while.
Robin Williams did the drag thing. Dustin Hoffman too. Tony Curtis made a beautiful woman. Jack Lemmon was hilarious as a dame. And of course Uncle Milty was the drag queen to end all drag queens and until me, the ugliest.
But if you do everything right, bringing home a few laughs while dressed as a woman is almost guaranteed. Next to a pie in the face, it's one of the most certain ways of getting a chuckle out of people.
And I do think I made a heck of a geisha girl. Until my wife showed up with a similarly printed geisha gown. That's Karen in the green, I'm in the blue. (Now I know how real women feel when they show up and someone else is wearing the same thing they've spent hours shopping for, buying and getting in to.)
Our table, themed after the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," won for best table of the night, but it likely had more to do with the mostly live koi fish in our centerpiece than anything I was wearing or doing.
I think I actually looked better four years ago as a Cuban dancer than last night as a geisha. I was much younger then. Nothing sagged in those days. My feet don't hurt as much as they did after a night in stilletto heels, but at least we helped a great organization.
And if you've ever wanted to know what my sister looks like, just check out the picture above. Sis is not Japanese of course, but dressed as a female, we look disturbingly similar.
One thing's for sure: I could never actually BE a woman. It's way too much work, and I could never hope to remember to keep applying lipstick throughout the evening.
I know Gerald Ford helped heal the nation after Watergate and it is for that which he will be remembered most by historians. But he also fell once, in Helsinki, I believe. And it is because of that fall that a lot of people will remember him, too.
Rich Little did a good Nixon ... but it seems to me that with Ford's fall and Chevy Chase's play off of that tumble that Ford became the first president to be immortalized by contemporary comedians. The business of poking fun at our leaders through impersonating them seemed to take off after Chevy Chase's bumbling, stumbling take on the prez.
After Ford, Dan Aykroyd did Carter, everyone did Reagan, Dana Carvey did Bush I and Ross Perot, the late Phil Hartman got in on the act and comedians everywhere took off on Clinton and Bush II.
Thanks, President Ford, for giving us a few laughs along the way, for being such a good sport about it, and for helping usher in a new breed of political impressionism.
To commemorate the only day set aside to honor funny people, here are a few tips on how you can make people laugh heartily. And if they don't work, don't blame me. :)
There’s a lot of opinion about what makes something funny and there is really only one hard and fast rule: I cannot tell someone else what is funny and be 100 percent sure that I am right. What I think is funny may not be funny to you. I may like Letterman, you may like Leno. What makes us differ in what we like is interesting and it depends on a number of factors, including the personality of the comedian, his or her delivery, whether the comedian is cerebral or slapstick, what the joke is about, who the subject of the joke is and even what kind of mood the listener is in when he hears, reads or sees the joke.
How do you make people laugh. Here are a few common sense tips:
Keep it Simple. Words can mess up jokes. Write bare bones.
Use funny words. Some words, by their very nature, are funnier than other words. Kalamazoo is funnier than Midland. Lollygag is one of the funniest words ever. And it’s a heckuva lot better than stroll. Flabbergasted ... better word than confused. Simple test: If you are writing something funny, go through and focus on words that have a lot of synonyms and change them to words that sound funnier. A lot of laughter out there is easily missed just because the proper words aren’t used. I’m not suggesting to try to make every single word funny. That’d just make for a big mess. Often just make the payoff words, the punchline word, funnier.
Payoff words are the most important words of a joke – and they really should be at the very end of the joke. Preferably, the payoff word is the very last word. Move that last word up just a couple of words and the joke’s impact becomes lost or watered down. If the last word the audience hears is the payoff word, they don’t have to devote any more energy to listening … and can more easily laugh and let the joke sink in. EXAMPLE: What’s funnier?
Skeleton walks into a bar and says to the bartender: Gimme a beer … and a mop
Skeleton walks into a bar and says to the bartender: Gimme a mop and a beer.
Timing. Timing and delivery are critical elements of stand-up comedy, elements that can also easily be utilized in written humor. Use the same skeleton-mop joke. If you write it without punctuation it would be a lot like telling it with lousy timing and a bad delivery. But throw in an elipsis – or a period -- between beer … and a mop, and you insert a sense of timing in the delivery.
Remember the Rule of threes: Never come back to a joke for a fourth dip in the well. Three can be stretching it if it's a weak joke. For instance the Dick Cheney deal. Four jokes in a row on Dick would've exceeded the maximum allowable total in a monologue. I know for a fact without even watching Jay Leno that he went back probably six or seven times in a row. Case in point: the man told Michael Jackson jokes for about three months straight. Jay often resorts to cheap and easy jokes, and he can be demeaning and do the lowest-common-denominator joke. All bad. The wider your audience, the easier it is to write bad jokes to appeal to more people. Bad.
Compound jokes use two elements brought together in the same joke: for instance, the Cheney deal and the Texas Longhorns visit to the White House. What do they have to do with one another? On the surface, nothing, But with a lot creative thought … a lot.
Last week, the Texas Longhorns were honored by President Bush at the White House for winning the NCAA National Football Championship. Did you hear what happened? Texas quarterback Vince Young actually left screaming when President Bush asked Young if he wanted to see Dick Cheney drop back in his shotgun formation.
Little words matter.His shotgun formation personalizes the joke more than the shotgun formation.
The Set Up. You’ve got to put a visual in your reader's or audience’s head if you hope the punchline to be funny and make sense. Take the Cheney joke above. Not funny if you just say, “Hey, d''you hear Cheney told Vince Young he wanted to drop back in the shotgun formation.” Not funny for several reasons: No surprise, no payoff word at the end, no timing, no set up; and no mental scenery around which to build the joke.
It’s gotta make sense. Skinny guy walks into a bar and says Gimme a beer … and a mop. Doesn’t work.
Your audience has to be knowledgeable. Nothing kills a joke more than four words: I don’t get it. But you have to tell the joke with the assumption that you’ve got an intelligent audience. EXAMPLE: Three legged dog walks into a bar, says to the bartender, “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.” Helps if your audience has some knowledge of western movies to really get it.
The surprise element and irony are other reasons comedy, especially one-liners, work so well. EXAMPLE: Bag of French Fries walks into the bar. Bartender says, Sorry, we don’t serve food here.
Other standards that can be helpful:
Memoirist James Frey can't exaggerate. Comedians and humorous writers MUST. Comedy is about two things: surprise and embellishment. While there are plenty of examples of reality humor like what my son said, more often than not things are funny because we embellish. Exaggeration is particularly important in written humor because you have more space and more words to tell a story, and when you are trying to write a funny story, it is essential to exaggerate.
You will probably get much disagreement in today's world about this next point ... but two things make comedy funnier: avoiding profanity and avoiding impugning someone’s character. Jay Leno always used to say that anyone can make someone laugh by using a curse word. Making people laugh and keeping it clean is the hardest -- and most honorable -- form of comedy. Same with being mean-spirited. Anybody can joke about gays or minorities or Muslims and THINK they're funny. If you can be funny without crushing someone's value as a human being you're on to something. What's lasted longer: The Andy Griffith Show or (fill in the blank with any sit-com you dare to mention in the 21st century).
Nothing is funny. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld. Nothing is actually a wellspring of humor. Because nothing is really about all of us. Nothing is about life. The little mundane things. Everyone goes through similar circumstances. Good comedians just take notes.
Everything is funny. If you look at the world with a joyous eye, Steve Martin was wrong: Comedy cannot only be pretty, it can be beautiful.