Jokes or Attitude?
This article belongs to In Search of Laughs! column.
When you are laughing with a stand-up comedian, it
may not make much difference to you whether the comic is a joke guy or an
attitude guy. But for those on the way up the showbiz staircase, it could be
the deciding factor between a three year career, or a great gig that may last
At this point, it's fair to say that all comics tell
jokes, and all comics usually have some type of an attitude. The telling sign
is what each use to keep their momentum with a crowd going. The real key to a
comic's durability is like-ability. Face it, if the crowd doesn't like you, it
won't matter what style you use.
In the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit I
am a joke comic. I never asked to be rich and famous, and funny enough, things
have worked out that way. My standup career has spanned some thirty-four years.
It has clothed me, it has fed me, and it has joked me around this old planet
three times, so I have no complaints.
What is a joke comic? What is an attitude comic? The
differences between each are vast, as vast as the differences between a
fastball guy and a curveball guy in baseball. Contemporary examples can
hopefully compare and contrast to help make each style apparent.
Attitudes and jokes are the yin and yang of stand up
performance. Joke comics tell jokes. Well, what is a joke, you might ask? A
joke is a short, declarative statement, surprising with a funny twist at the
end, and elicits laughter. Have you heard any of the late-night comics talk
about our president? Their short statements are usually jokes.
Have you ever heard Jon Stewart do the same? With
all his facial mugging and clever smirks, he proves he is an attitude comic.
Oh, Mr. Stewart tells a lot of jokes, but mostly, it's his attitude that pulls
in all his laughter. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel uses virtually the same technique, but
his writers are simply not as skilled as Mr. Stewart's!
Remember Emo Phillips? Emo's attitude was so
dorky, we couldn't help but laugh at his weird antics. Do you remember Sam
Kinnison or Andrew "DICE" Clay? I knew both very well, and lived in Mitzi's
Comedy Store house with them. I watched as each willingly chose to perform an
attitude act, instead of learning to tell jokes. All of their careers are over
now because of those choices.
Remember Elayne Boozler? Brassy and blond, Elayne
was the best female joke teller I've ever seen. She still makes a nice living
some thirty years later.
I also cite Jerry Seinfeld, who is the finest joke
technician in comedic history. His skill with jokes led him to unimaginable
riches in live performance and situational comedy on TV.
Comparing Jay Leno and The Tonight Show to Dave
Letterman and The Late Show showcases some vital differences between joke
tellers and attitude pullers. Jay Leno is undisputedly the best at telling
jokes since Johnny Carson relinquished the crown. In Mr. Carson's tradition, Jay
has hired some of the best joke-writers on the planet and his opening
monologues show it. (Unless it's Friday) Jay even finds jokes in reality with
his Headlines routine.
Whereas Dave plays the same opening gambit, it's
just a matter of time until he repeats a punchline for effect, which is the
classic move attitude guys use to maintain the audience's attention on said
Also, Will It Float? as a routine does not
contain any jokes whatso-ever. But it is funny! And that funniness is
entirely due to Letterman's attitude that this bet (Will if float or not?)
and this bit, should be taken absolutely seriously!
Attitude comics can't shift their attitude to
reality, they manage to shift reality to their attitude. It's my opinion that
although audiences may accept certain abrasive attitudes for a while, they will
eternally laugh at good jokes. An attitude comic may bitch about our current
president, but joke comics will always make you laugh with truth and
supposition, as in the following:
There are three Howdy Doodys in existence. One is on
display in The Smithsonian Institute, the second is owned by the heirs of his
Bob. The third Buffalo
is serving his second term in The White House!
The one thing I like about George Bush Jr. is that
he has a worse arrest record than I do!
Did you hear that our president had his second
colonoscopy? All the Doctors found was an impresssion of his own head!
No matter which style of comedian you follow, the
one important fact that carries the day is: "Laughter is the vital oil that
keeps the gears in the human machine from grinding down our souls!" If you feel
down, or have the blues, a visit to your local comedy club can work wonders.