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A Guy Walks Into a Bar 

Wednesday, Jan 31 2001
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Hector Schechner is no longer a gas. Myriad epochs passed before he even made it to trilobite. But then he went from fish to amphibian to mammal in what felt like seconds flat, and now here he is, Hector Schechner, human being, fired.

And the sun burned and the wind blew and the waters churned and roared. Hector Schechner is on a mission to tell people he’s never met before that he‘s been fired, for he believes that sharing bad tidings with strangers lessens the tidings’ badness and the strangers‘ strangeness. “They fired me!” Schechner says within a few seconds of his entrance, eyeing the five of us who sit more or less evenly distributed around the U-shape bar. “Those pricks! Can you believe it?”

I don’t know what to believe. I haven‘t seen or heard from Schechner since our trilobite days, and only recognize him by his ridiculous toupee and cartoonic mustache. Neither the bartender nor any of the other bar patrons -- a rabbi, a priest, a monk, a midget, a talking dog -- seem to recognize or even acknowledge him, nor does anyone respond to Schechner’s query. I figure someone sharing intimacies with strangers, even someone with a silly mustache, deserves at least a for what.

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“Fired you for what?” I say.

“For this,” Schechner says, and he places, with a thump, a manuscript on the bar before me.

Ten years ago, Schechner looked much better than he does now (he tells me). And (he goes on) a thousand years ago, he looked even better than that. (Pause.) But now his skin‘s too tight, you see, his hair’s too thick, you understand, and his clothing‘s too clean and too pressed. He’s not yet 30, but (he says) he looks closer to 50. (Pause.) Says he was fired three days ago and spent all day yesterday sitting almost motionless (pause), staring at a huge, expensive television set for which he could no longer afford the cable fees.

(Pause.)

After each microrevelation, Schechner pauses, yes, and exhales once loudly through the nose, and waits for me to react in some way. To laugh or cry or scream, I suppose.

I‘m afraid. I don’t know what to say.

So Schechner gestures toward the manuscript -- photocopied, letter-size, bound with brown plastic spirals -- and begins staring at everyone around the bar, one at a time, three or four seconds each, with such intensity that I fear his corneas might hurt someone when they pop. Scary white man with a mustache. Hope he‘s not armed. Now he stares at me. No. I give him a What? look, and he returns it with an impatient Open the book! look, so, all right, don’t hurt me, Hector Schechner. I‘ll open the book.

I open the book.

How To Be Real Funny

By Hector Schechner

©2001 SchechnerBooks

All rights reserved.

I close the book. “They fired you for writing a book?” I ask.

“No,” says Schechner. “They fired me for reading it at work, over the P.A.”

“The whole book?”

“Just chapter one,” Schechner says, still (or again) staring. Hard. And smiling, almost. “Read it. It’ll make you feel better.”

“I feel fine,” I say. “You‘re the one who got fired, remember?”

“Open the book,” says Schechner, with just a hint of threat.

Chapter One: Basic Principles

I. Bars

Historically, the easiest place to be real funny is in a bar. All you have to do is walk in and say something. For example, you might say, “They fired me!” and then curse, and then ask, “Can you believe it?” This gives other people in the bar, especially the bartender, the opportunity to respond with invigorating, often humorous comments of their own, as they prepare you, or “set you up,” for your punch line.

In the above example, for example, someone might respond by inquiring, “Why were you fired?” This is your signal to reply with something that is real funny. If you know something real funny to say, this is when you say it. If you do not know something funny to say, you might wish to consider a prop.

A prop is a portable, inanimate object. For example, a book. You can move a book, but a book cannot move by itself. In our example, you might bring a book into the bar with you, and then, when someone asks you why it was that you’ve been fired, rather than respond verbally you might simply present that person with the book. Or you might present him with the book and say something. Continuing with our example from above, you might hand your unwitting “straight man” your book and say, “Because of this!” or “Read this book!” Often, it is this combination of a prop and a witty verbal comment that will yield something truly real funny. You can find props at specialty stores, or you can send away for them through mail-order catalogs.

If, despite the combination of your comment and your prop, your “straight man” does not laugh, you may pretend to have a conversation with him. Discuss your personal appearance. Reveal your age. Claim to be experiencing some sort of chronic pain or terminal illness.

Usually laughter will ensue by now. However, if your “straight man” still does not laugh, he may be suffering from a form of mental illness such as depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anorexia, schizophrenia, or gout. In this case, you might try simply smiling and staring at him, as if to say, “I am your friend! Won‘t you laugh toward me?”

More often than not, he will!

Horrified, I very slowly look up at Schechner, who no longer stares or smiles. “Please?” says Schechner. “Please?”

* * *

When you think funny, think the Monks of Adoration (www.monksofadoration.org), “a contemplative monastic community dedicated to Eucharistic adoration following the Rule of Saint Augustine which emphasizes a unity of heart and mind among the monks” and also “voted the #1 site on the internet.” One uncredited monk (who I suspect is Brother Craig) has created a brief, succinct guide to being funny that he calls “How To Be Funny” (www.monksofadoration.orgobohbro42.html), which includes such pointers as “It is easier to pay people to laugh when you say something funny” and “There has to be a pause before the funny part . . .”

“How To Be Funny,” by volunteer Warner Bros. spokesmen David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard (http:rinkworks.comfunny), leaves off where the monks begin. “Pain,” they state, “is the basis for all humor. It’s a simple fact that if nobody gets hurt, it isn‘t funny.” (Example: Tweety and Sylvester.) “When something happens that you do not expect to happen, that’s funny.” (Example: Wile E. Coyote.) “Lies are inherently funny.” (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.) “Saying words in funny ways is funny.” (Sylvester, without Tweety, lisps. And: “If you‘re with your girlfriend, and you call her ’Cathy‘ when you meant to say ’Tina,‘ that’s funny.”) And there‘s so very, very much more, including a multiple-choice quiz.

“HOW TO BE FUNNY -- Free Jokes, Comedy, How-To Humor Books, Funny Movies, Jokes! CDs, MP3, and the Kitchen Sink!” (www.bishart.comhowtobefunnyhow_to_be_funny.htm) has so many links to so much real funny, zany, amusing, jocular, frolicsome, whimsical and comedic entertainment, you’ll think you died and went to Exclamation Mark Heaven!

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