It’s Only Funny If They Laugh

Scot Nery, juggler, comedian, juggler, and maestro of Scot Nery’s Boobietrap wrote a great blog post sharing what bothers him about many magic acts. He shared it on his Facebook page with the line, “I might be offending magicians with my blog post today…”

I replied, “I’m offended that your hatred isn’t deep enough. You fully haven’t grasped the evils you address (read that line in Darth Vader voice.). But it’s a good start. “

He replied, “gimme more!” Here’s more.

“Define comedy properly.”

What is comedy? Before we begin to discuss something, it is important to define it. At this point many writers might give you Webster’s definition. I won’t. I never met Webster. You never met Webster. For all I know, Webster couldn’t do a decent five minutes at Fred’s Chuckle Hut (ask about the Tuesday Two-Fer Tickets!). He’s not writing this and he’s not reading this. So we will use my definition.

Comedy (com-uh-dee) n., actions a performer takes with the intent and result of making an audience laugh.

There. We have a definition. If they don’t laugh, it ain’t funny — it ain’t comedy. It’s not that the audience doesn’t realize how funny (or comedic) you are. The audience determines whether you are funny. They are the final and only judge. Jokes, routines and the ever popular “bits of business,” do not exist in isolation. They live in the real world. And they can only be born with an audience present and only if that audience is laughing. I repeat — If they don’t laugh, it ain’t funny. I’m sure most performers would agree with my definition … in theory. But far fewer agree with it in practice. And that’s the @#$%^ problem.

Years back I’m watching a magic act. The performer on stage is having a borrowed bill signed. He takes back the felt pen and says, “It’s a felt pen. I know it’s a felt pen because I felt it.”

The audience groans like a mortally wounded moose.

The performer replies, “Don’t blame me. I didn’t write it.”

I turn to my friend next to me and say, “The joke isn’t his. The joke stinks. Then why, pray tell, did he inflict it on us?”

Kill me.

“Groans? We don’t need no stinkin’ groans.”

It gets worse. Hack lines not only don’t fit, they frequently didn’t work that well in the original model. This is probably the case in the above example. I can’t imagine when that joke would ever have been funny. And please don’t tell me that it got a groan, and “a groan is as good as a laugh.” I’ve heard that before and I’ll give the same reply I gave then:

“A groan is as good as a laugh? That’s as true in a magic show as it is in the bedroom.”

Pardon the semi-crassness of that last sentence, but it really does sum it up, doesn’t it?

NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC:
Let’s leave behind today’s negative and rough topic and go to something a little more positive:
The Ideal Framework For A Comedy Magic Trick

Come back most Mondays for more ranting thoughtful commentary on magic, comedy, and other performance stuff.

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