Some people are funny. They just are. What they do makes us laugh. This is organic funny. It’s natural. Robin Williams is organically funny. On Inside the Actors Studio, with nothing more than a girls scarf, he had me falling out of my chair in stitches.
There is also processed funny. It’s still funny but you know they work really hard at it. They do jokes, skits, song parodies, etc. Jerry Seinfeld is like this. He’s a stand up comic that prepares material and delivers it. But you don’t expect him to be funny walking down the street. That’s fine, but we don’t look at it the same way.
What’s not apparent to you or I and what I didn’t notice until recently is that many of the people that seem organically funny are actually just very skilled in what they do. They appear to be organically funny. The interesting thing (to me at least) is that when we are told that they aren’t organic, we feel bad. The funny goes away. Perhaps because we feel duped, that the joke was on us. Two examples of that happened recently that really made me wonder if what we see is real or just a very well done magic act.
The first was on Jon Stewart’s show. He showed a series of Robin Williams interviews in which Robin was being his outrageous self except he was using the same lines over and over again and just inserting the host’s name. What appear spontaneous on Leno, appeared spontaneous with Katie Couric and with Regis and Kelly. This quickly gave the appearance that he isn’t spontaneous and witty, just practiced and skilled at looking so. He’s acting like a comic genius, he isn’t actually a comic genius. Pulling back the curtain like that on something you have believed in for years, well quite frankly, stinks. I’ll never look at him the same way again. Now I know why they don’t show you how they do the magic trick. Because not knowing what’s really going on is the key to the entertainment.
The second example was brought up today as a speaker was describing how to use humor in a speech. This was planned humor, not improv. He mentioned that the best part of the Carol Burnett show was when Harvey Korman and Tim Conway were so funny they would bust each other up laughing. Which of course the audience, me included, loved. But, he went on to say that was all planned!
I can’t remember the last time I felt the air leave the room that fast. It was like he told everyone that Santa Claus wasn’t real, the Easter Bunny is fake and the money from the tooth fairy came from mom and dad. We were crushed.
He went on to tell us how back stage they would collude to make sure that they were on the same page about what part they were going to crack up.
“Tonight, you crack up in the third skit on the fourth joke, okay Tim?”
“Okay, Harv. Got it.”
I don’t think anyone could breath for three minutes. That’s just not right. There is too a Santa Claus! You shut your mouth!
If there was ever a good reason for denial, this was it. Don’t ruin my beliefs and don’t rain on my parade. I want my money back.
This got me thinking about all that we see that appears real but is really an act. We all know that the pundits and politicians aren’t really saying what they think. They are playing to their audience. We certainly know that advertising isn’t telling us the truth and we have no problem accepting that without ill will.
But when people pull the curtain back and expose us to the errors of our real beliefs, things that we hold to be true and above reproach, that’s a killer. That really takes the wind out of us. The mere idea that Robin Williams is just a stage act and that he goes home and practices this stuff deflates us. We know not to trust the other people, the “sales people”. We are in it with them. We’re inside. We know the deal. But when we feel duped; when we feel betrayed; we feel despair and emptiness.
Is Robin Williams just a public face on an otherwise completely different guy? Is that even possible?
Does Tim Conway even think Harvey Korman is funny? Do they just sit backstage playing cards, then come out, fake it, and then go home? Tell me it ain’t so, Joe. Tell me it ain’t so.
You know what they say, anything is possible.
I thought I was getting organic and I find out it’s all processed.
I am so depressed.
On the other hand this does explain why right before the tooth fairy came my mom would say she needed to get some change.