Thought Vomit #46: ft. The Anatomy Of A Joke

It’s a perennial bug bear of writers and comedians I’m sure, being asked “where do get your ideas?” It’s tempting to curl up your lip and snarl something sarcastic about not being the receptacle for some divine muse, but I most commonly just shrug and try and change the subject.

For once, however, I can point to the exact moment when I had an idea for a joke. It happened this morning, and whilst staring into the heat haze emerging from the first cup of coffee of the day, my friend logged in to MSN. It was his birthday yesterday, and so I welcomed him with the message, “Happy Birthday again for yesterday”. He promptly lost connection and did not reply.

A few minutes later, in he logged once more, and uncertain whether he’d seen my first message, I began typing a similar sentiment. This time it came out “Happy Day After Your Birthday Day”. The mountain of my wit is unassailable before the first jolt of caffeine has kicked in, so I dare you to climb my face. He promptly lost connection and did not reply.

By this time I was Facebook bound, and seeing the dreadfully maudlin status I’d posted in a fit of self-pity before bed last night, I decided to replace it with, “I think the day after your birthday should be called Placenta Day, and you should be given another, not so good gift.”

It’s nearly funny, and it doesn’t quite work. Here I think is why: good gift is far to soft a sound to be ending on, so I immediately regretted not typing “another, less good present.” But seeing that now, I think you lose the idea of a baby being a gift when you use the word present.

As is often the case, an audience response will determine whether a joke works, and often what’s wrong with it. Someone commented on my status with “I don’t get it.” For the past few days my chops have been groggy because I have pulled a muscle which is causing me the most painful headache I have ever had, but when I read that, I had a moment of clarity, and replied, “Afterbirthday”.

This then becomes a nice button. But it raises some questions about the use of preceding words. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to use the words After or Birthday so close together in the set up, and so I wound up trying to find a tortuous way around this. Fail.

Here though is an improved version of the joke:

The day after your birthday should be called Placenta Day, and you should be given another unwanted manky gift. An Afterbirthday.

This still has loads of problems, not least the fact it has four uses of the word Day in it, it doesn’t get around the After and Birthday problem, and it seems like such an obvious pun, I began to wonder if it’s been done before.

So I gave up and decided to vomit a thought about it instead. Forgive me for an even more self-indulgent blog than normal, but this is literally the only thing that’s happened to me today.

Thought Vomit #5: ft. Sugar

The swearing came to a head yesterday. That sentence sounds much more interesting than it really is, but it was a weird coincidence if nothing else.

Graham Linehan on his blog, often laments that swearing is used as a substitute for jokes, which I tend to agree with. And Richard Herring wrote a blog the other day about an experiment he did for ITV, in which he added swearing to one set, and removed it from another. His conclusion is obvious, but much more intelligent than what will ultimately make it on to the air. Go over to Warming Up to read it.

Then after I had uploaded this week’s podcast, iszi sent me a message asking why I hadn’t bleeped the shits. I never bleep the shits, I only bleep the sexual swear words, because that’s the way I understand the iTunes policy works if you want to be listed as a Cleaned show. There really is no reason we couldn’t be listed as explicit, but I think we both agree that restricting what we can say makes us a bit more creative with our language – and, to back up Mr Herring’s point, when we do decide to use the stronger words, it gives them more impact, and often times makes them funnier. It’s very satisfying calling Piers Morgan a c*nt.

Sometimes I wonder if I swear too much on stage, but no-one has ever mentioned it to me, so it must go unnoticed, or uncared about. I did an interesting experiment this evening as part of the Calvin & Hobbes challenge: I did automatic typing. I’m not sure what else to call it, but I definitely don’t mean I channelled spirits. Basically I sat and typed without thinking, literally typing the first thing that came into my head, without punctuation and without going back to correct mistakes. The weird thing is, there weren’t any swear words – a lot of Man Alives and Gods, but no cussing. That’s fucking weird.