Mon. Aug 13th, 2018

There’s No Science to Comedy

I was listening to a national show last week. They were talking about Super Troopers 2, which came out this past weekend. If you aren’t familiar, the original Super Troopers came out 17 years ago. It’s really funny, so you don’t have to be high to enjoy it, but clearly, that is the audience the original movie is intended for.

So the show I was listening to is hosted by two guys around my age, which means they were in college when Super Troopers came out. They obviously had a strong connection to the movie and were going to be in the audience for the sequel during the opening weekend.

Their conversation centered on two things: “remember that part where…” and “then he says…”. Maybe it was entertaining to someone listening, but that someone certainly wasn’t me. Frivolity and jocularity have become such important parts of sports radio, that I feel like it is worth taking some time to make sure on air personalities really understand what comedy is.

I am not claiming to be an expert, and I know that nothing is more boring than an academic or clinical breakdown of why something is funny. Hell, I am probably no funnier than most people you know. I am merely approaching this from the standpoint of someone that likes to laugh and wants to be entertained.

What these hosts were doing wasn’t comedy. It was reminiscing, and in short spurts, there’s nothing wrong with that. I was with them for the first minute of this discussion, but these guys kept quoting lines and describing scenes from a nearly 20 year old movie for what had to be six or seven minutes. I love Super Troopers and found the discussion boring. Imagine what someone that doesn’t like the movie, or worse has never even seen it, was doing.

I can tell you what they were doing. They were reaching for the radio to change the channel.

It’s good to want to make listener’s laugh. Nothing we talk about on a sports radio show is so important that there can be no room for jokes. The thing is, you do actually have to have jokes though.

Reciting lines from movies doesn’t take you very far with listeners. Most men in our target demo love Caddyshack, but that doesn’t mean shouting “It’s in the hole!” in your best Carl Spackler voice will win you their loyalty. Certainly there’s room to do that upon occasion, but if that is the full breadth of your comedy arsenal, you have a problem.

Comedy is a great way to make a meaningful connection with your listeners. Your jokes and observations say a lot about what you value and what you think is funny. So, if you think of yourself as funny, make sure your jokes are in fact jokes.

Next, make sure your jokes are accessible to everyone listening. One of my close friends in this business used to have a partner that would bring the station’s dirty laundry and in-fighting on air. As you can imagine, this guy wasn’t very popular with his bosses or co-workers. He wouldn’t fully explain his points or the drama he was referencing. He would just say key phrases or words that would signal to the people that he was talking about that he was indeed talking about them.

Let’s all put on our critical thinking hats on this one. Do you see any win in this? As you read that explanation, can you fathom that anyone was entertained by that? Of course not! These comments were just a bitter guy making sure everyone around him knew he was bitter.

Even if he was referencing moments and interactions that grew the admiration he already had for co-workers, there is still no win. Nobody listening is going to laugh at a joke if you make it clear that it is not for them. It is the same principle behind why we reset and over-explain topics. Not everyone knows what we know.

Finally, if you want to make me laugh, prepare to make me laugh! Most of us reading (or in my case writing) this are not professional stand up comedians. We haven’t tested a punchline in front of different audiences night after night. If you’re on air, you’re trying everything out on the fly.

I know our format strives to keep it real and always be honest in our opinions and interactions, but there is nothing wrong with writing down a joke you thought of earlier. I do it all the time. If I have a funny thought while watching a game or reading an article, I’ll jot it down in some form or fashion on my prep sheet. There’s a lot of thinking out loud on a talk radio show. If I come up with a little bit of gold to punctuate the conversation, you can bet I am going to make sure I have done everything I can to make it as funny to the listener that it is to me.

There is no science to comedy. It’s all subjective. There isn’t a punchline or voice or reference that’s guaranteed to always make everyone laugh. As the host of a sports talk show, your only comedic responsibilities are to be original and to be inclusive. Remember that, and you’ll have more success in those moments that you’re trying to make listeners laugh.

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