Writing funny is by far and away one of the most difficult styles of writing.
It’s hard. It’s hard to sit down and craft words into a way that will build up a setting and then knock you down laughing. Ideally in a way you never saw coming. That is why most of my blog is not funny. At least not intentionally. It’s much easier for me to write about something I am thinking about naturally or a burning issue of the day.
It’s not so easy to write comedy. See that sentence wasn’t even remotely humorous.
But today I get to write about comedy and a burning issue of the day.
Indeed the furore that has erupted on twitter between @pattonoswalt and @prodigalsam. That is between comedian Oswalt Patton and Christian, college campus minister Sam Rhodes.
If you are unaware of the story let me bring you quickly up to speed. Sam Rhodes on twitter as @prodigalsam tweets some very funny things. Alas said funny things were apparently already tweeted by other people before. Other people who actually wrote them. Some professional comedians trying to make a living out of comedy in fact. Some people are annoyed and start a tumblr. Oswalt Patton writes an open letter on the subject of stealing jokes from other comedians. Sam Rhodes takes time out from twitter to think about his ministry. Sam Rhodes comes back to twitter presumably after thinking about his ministry.
Actually I can readily identify with Oswald Patton on this one. I have lost count of the number of times I have said something in a social setting that will range from quite funny to mildly amusing, only to receive a deathly silence. Then to make the moment even more frustrating someone else will make my exact same joke, in front of the same people and you guessed it. Laughter and tears and pats on the back and lifting up and parading around on the shoulders, heralding this guy as the funniest person in the room.
And they’re not.
Nothing…nothing is more frustrating than having someone else steal your joke especially for someone who’s whole self identity and self esteem is very unhealthily associated with being the funniest person in the room.
(The best revenge for this is to find the people that steal your jokes and then say something completely controversial just loud enough that they hear and no one else does and watch them recite your ‘joke’ to everyone else. Now that’s funny).
Now, I am not a professional comedian (yeah I know you’re surprised right?!).
But writing comedy is difficult and when you discover that the comedy that seems so effortless on stage takes many, many attempts at figuring out the structure and the exact words which will be the funniest; then you’re not laughing when someone takes your hard work and credits it as their own.
In this case it seems that there was probably a bit of what Sam would call ‘parallel thought’ at play, i.e. people having similar thoughts on a subject and therefore saying the same thing; but also a bit of what I would call the ‘hey that was funny so I am going to say something identical or at least somewhat similar so I can also get the same laughs that that person did…just there now…….when they said what they said…………….to all these people…………………………………………………….in this room………………………………………………………………………………………….who are gathered here’ effect. Ok it needs a bit of trimming but you get the idea.
But for me and I would say a lot of other people who are actually comedians much of the joy is not just in the delivery and reaction from others but in the work to construct a joke. Like writing, much of the joy I get is not in having people tell me what a good article I wrote or how much it helped or effected them (although this is lovely and rewarding) but in having an idea and working on it, painfully and frustratingly sometimes. The sitting down with a blank page not having an idea what you are going to write about and extracting words and a thought from somewhere unknown to me and forming it into a hopefully coherent piece.
That is rewarding.
Comedy is no different.
Yeah a lot of comedy is observation on things around us and other comedians will have the same raw material to work from but coming to the table with something different is the challenge not the burden.
As Christians we don’t hold creativity and the hard work it takes to a high enough esteem.
We don’t want to take the time to work hard at something and watch it grow. We want to be on the New York Time Bestsellers list today not build a readership by getting up at 6am everyday to write for 3 hours. We want a church that is ready to go today, not starting with 6 people in a living room. We want a soundsystem, lights and a website. People can come after.
Building something worthwhile takes work.
And a joke is no different.
Sometimes they will just come to you and sometimes you need to work at it.
Ultimately the ones that remain are the ones that take time to create. Which is why the story that Oswalt tells about a comedian that stole his and others jokes, but was lost when he met with tv execs because he had no ideas of his own to show, is one we need to head.
It’s one thing to be inspired by someone and it’s another to just copy.
It took Jesus 33 years to build his ministry.
He was not an overnight success. In fact it seemed it was an outright disaster. But that was not the end of the story as we know.
What if we worked at our craft rather than steal from others?
What if we didn’t think we are above the rules?
Maybe Christianity would receive better press.
And maybe we would be funny in our own right.