On Trying to Be Funny and Failing (Iteration One)

Steve Martin: Best Fishes!

I have been preparing my standup routine, and going over the two routines I did. It’s shocking how bad they are. I have to say, despite that, I do think that my overall presentation is good, it’s just that my material was not funny. If this had been a lecture, I’d have done great.

Years of being in the scientific domain as well as just my personality has conditioned me to speak in the abstract. I’m good at that. That’s what I do. I talk about abstract things that are not me.

But we live in an era of specifics, of concreteness, of show don’t tell. Whether or not this is a specific feature of our culture, perhaps a byproduct of the movie era, it does fact seem to be the case that people connect, react, are emotionally involved, and laugh with performances the talk about specific things about oneself and how one feels about things.

God, this is so hard. I feel like one of those plate balancing performers trying to balance 20 plates at once. And failing.

In improv, too, we’re immediately drawn in by emotionality, by expressions of how the player feels about the other people playing.

A scene from Star Trek: Generations comes to mind. Data has just put in his emotion chip in. Trying to evoke an emotion within himself, he eats something that tastes very bad. He lights up: “This is awful!” It’s a wonderful, involving moment.