Regulars and Shorts, Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center

By Dennis Hinkamp

Funny you asked.
by Dennis Hinkamp

This has never been explicitly designated a humor column; I just use that description to give myself license to lie, make stuff up and generally disregard any journalistic code of ethics. That, and the fact that humor is so ill-defined and misunderstood.

No matter what other things Robin Williams did in his personal life and career, he will always be thought of as a comedian. This is one of the traps of comedy; you can seldom be thought of as an ex-comedian no matter how much serious work you do.

I actually am an ex-comedian. I never made it big but I was professional in the sense I made money doing it for about 10 years. I think at my peak I was pulling down as much as $3K a year. The bonus was that I got to spend a lot of time in bars and associate with deeply troubled people. Anybody who has even dipped a toe into the comedy business would not be surprised that someone like Robin Williams would take his own life. All you really need to know can be gleaned from the lyrics of the two Smokey Robinson songs, “Tears of a Clown” and “Tracks of My Tears.”

But hey, don’t listen to me try it for yourself. Here are my comedy pro tips.

1. Two guys walk into a bar; bartender says “What is this, a joke?” Comedians don’t tell jokes. Telling jokes just means you have a good memory and are good at telling stories. To be a comedian, you have to come up with original material that tricks the audience into thinking you just made it up on the spot, even though you many have done the bit 100 times before.

2. Observe: You really can’t be the life of the party and be a comedian. Comedy is mainly an observational skill. You look at something and think “That doesn’t make sense.” For instance why is that store called Old Navy when nothing in it is old or related to the Navy.

3. Exaggerate: Don’t confuse exaggeration with sarcasm. Sarcasm is best used in small doses because it gets annoying and relies too much on inflection. You can add humor to any situation by coming up with obscure comparisons when describing anything as bigger than, faster than, dumber than, etc.

This tip is about as useful as a DVD for an iPad.

4. Work on your inflection and facial expression. Start with this simple phrase. “I didn’t call you an idiot.” Put the inflection on a different word each time you say it. Or this one: “Are you just married, or just married?”

5. The rule of thirds. Just like a photo is more pleasing when the main subject occupies only one third of the frame, things are funnier in threes especially when the third thing is a surprise. For instance: “The most abused drugs in Cache Valley are crystal meth and marijuana” is not as funny as “the most abused drugs in Cache Valley are crystal meth, marijuana and Aggie Ice Cream.”

6. The Heisenberg Principle: Studying humor changes it and may make it unfunny. Humor is all about sleight of hand and the unexpected. It’s about making the rehearsed seem spontaneous. The worst thing you can do is say “Okay class, now I’m going to be funny.”

So go forth and be funny, but watch your step, it doesn’t always end well.

Dennis Hinkamp will be appearing at no comedy club near you soon.

This article was originally published on September 27, 2014.