My crazy grandma died when I was 10. I didn’t get to see too much of her the last few years because she was...well, she was crazy. I never really noticed, but I was young. And anyone who knows my wife knows I’m still not really good at spotting the crazy ones.
For years after my grandma passed, we didn’t really talk about her. I always figured it was for the same reason people didn’t want to talk about Reagan when he died--because she was wandering around the neighborhood in her cowboy hat and pajamas claiming she was president.
But I recently discovered why my parents didn’t want me to know about loony grandma’s last days. Because at the same time she was going insane, at the same time she was swinging between deep depression and hallucinatory highs, at the same time her brain became a tumor and she slipped into the realm of madness--at that very same time--she actually enrolled in a mail order comedy writing course.
My crazy grandma spent her last years trying to be a stand-up comedian.
It’s genetic. But no one told me. If I’d known, I could have got help when I was young. They could have put me on something. Instead of me having to do it myself.
So, It’s not my fault. I’m living grandma’s little black dream.
I have her notebooks from that mail order comedy company. Not much worth stealing, unfortunately. My grandma worked clean. Not like today’s foul mouthed female comedians...
And grammy was not shy about passing judgement on comics she felt were crossing the line. Here's what she wrote about some of her peers:
JACK BENNY--TOO MEAN
I have similar lists, of course.
JAY LENO - BORING HACK!
JERRY SEINFELD - NASALLY HAS-BEEN!
DANE COOK-WHERE'S MY GUN?
CARROT TOP - DRAG QUEEN
KATHY GRIFFIN - LOOKS TOO MUCH LIKE CARROT TOP
LIZ MERRY - UNDISCOVERED GENIUS (yes, we do help write each other's columns...)
My grandma was not afraid to go up against the comedy establishment, but she paid the price. Couldn’t get a gig anywhere. She used to write her own bits, perform her own material, record her own songs, and hang her own posters just like me. The only difference is that I never made it big because I never left Northern California and she never made it big because she never left her living room. Still, sweet gig if you can get it.
After reading her notes I realized that what that lonely old lady was trying to find in those pay-by-the-lesson comedy how-to pamphlets, I have found in real life. Writing for people like you. Friends and strangers (I like to think of you as strange friends) who will take time out of their busy lives to join me in laughing at my dead grandma. It’s the reason I was put here. That and a bad rubber.
I couldn’t do it without you and I’d like to share a few insights from Ron Carver's 1966 Hollywood School of Comedy Writing-Lesson 36, Section One: Audience Psychology.
(I thought you’d enjoy it because it’s about you...)Establishing the intellectual capacity of an audience for understanding 'sophisticated', 'satirical', 'cultural', or 'inside' topics or references will result in giving the audience the feeling that they are 'in the know', that they are 'hip', that they are clever or shrewd--in short, that their knowledge of the world is securely above average, and therefore 'superior'.
And all this time I thought we were pandering to the lowest common denominator. Here’s another insightful quote about you guys...The average comedy fan is a twenty-eight year old single white male with a drinking problem.
But you knew that already, didn't you? These how-to-be-funny books also give a list of taboos--things you shouldn’t talk about in comedy.
1) Physical Deformity
: This can be treated in a straight story, but is difficult to handle with humor. Avoid this area. (Unless you’re talking about hook-handed environmentalpest Kelly Meagher scratching his balls--’cause that’s funny)
2) Mental Deficiency
: Be sure the word “crazy” is used lightly to mean “wacky” or “stupid” and is not a reference to your poor dead grandma. Noted.
: Go easy in this area. Do not suggest in your material that every Irishman is a drunkard. (Unless you’re talking about Kelly Meagher scratching someone else’s balls. Which is hilarious until it’s you.)
4) Repugnant Action
: Avoid sight gags or actions that are repulsive to the average man or woman. Example: A comedian eating from a salad bowl, then sneezing into it, then wiping the bowl with his tie. (Are they kidding? That is classic! If it wasn’t for fake snot, I would have been washed up years ago instead of now. Sometimes I think these people don’t know what they’re talking about.)
5) Death of a prominent person
: Avoid this topic. Unless you’re talking about Kelly Meagher digging up Michael Jackson to have him hum "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" through that hole in his face. I wasn’t going to use that, but it combines two of the taboos--physical deformity and death of a prominent person. Plus it’s almost baseball season, so it’s topical too--works on three levels. I couldn’t help it. I’m just that good. No extra charge.
After culling all the information I could use from Grandma's books, I felt closer to her than I ever did while she was alive. I picture her sitting up all night, pouring over the pages, making notes...
AARON STANDISH--DISRESPECTFUL LITTLE BASTARD
It makes me feel good to know I'm living the rest of the dream. CommentReturn To ArchivesReturn To Merry Standish Standard Main Page