Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Funny Guy ( A Short Story)

The Funny Guy

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from making another person laugh. Some folks are born funny, and they consume and enjoy at least a little bit of humor every day. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted, and often tried, to get laughs. Growing up in my family, it came pretty easy to me, as there were several easy marks. My brothers and I, when we were very young, would crack each other up, mostly just with stupid noises, and general kid weirdness. To say that we were goofy kids would be a fair assessment. We played many games, and even went so far as to make up a few of our own. All bodily noises, smells and functions elicited laughter from us, when we were young. When all else failed, there was always tickling, which most consider cheating, when it comes to getting laughs. For the most part, I had a happy childhood.
I recall playing a particular board game with my younger brother, Jeff, which sparked an episode of near fatal hilarity. It was one of those flimsy paper games that we pulled out of a Dragon Magazine. We had spent over an hour cutting up the tiny paper pieces in order to prepare to actually play the game. As was customary during most of our games, Jeff would read and absorb the rules, and explain them to me as we began play. This particular game involved many little explorers, crudely drawn and given humorous names. It was, in fact, an elephant hunt. We laughed for a while over the Liam token, whose picture made him look special, and we fought over the rights to be him. Eventually, we got the game set up with all the little paper tokens where they needed to be, found the right dice and began to play the game. Jeff went first, since I was Liam. Throughout the first few turns, Jeff consulted the rulebook many times. At one point, he started giggling as he read. Then, he composed himself enough to explain the all-important Hurricane George rule. It stated that the person who laughed too forcefully during a game of Elephant Hunt risked causing the hurricane-like effects to the games paper tokens, thus triggering an early end to the game, and subsequently, a loss to the offending Hurricane George. Unfortunately, I was sitting way too close to the tabletop when Jeff read me the rule, and I laughed… forcefully, setting into motion a comedic Mobius strip of mirth. The little square pieces went flying. We hooted and snorted until we realized how long it was going to take to set up the game again. That is, of course, if we were even able to find all the pieces. Not surprisingly, we never totally finished a game of Elephant Hunt, but to this day, Jeff still calls me Liam every now and then.

In school, I was a covert class clown, due to the fact that I was very selective with my material. I was not like most of the other attention-seeking jesters in my class, who could effortlessly rally a mass laugh with a well-timed fart. That was too easy; cheap laughs with small payoffs. Nor, was I akin to the kids, who when they read aloud to the class, would add words and use goofy voices. I was always too self-conscious when I read aloud, unable to adlib on the fly. I thought out my lines in advance, sometimes while lying in bed at night. Patiently, I waited for those golden opportunities to arrive. I spent hours listening to George Carlin’s album Class Clown, and I could appreciate the art of good comic timing. Carlin had a comeback for everything; he has done his research, and earned my respect. Secretly, I wished for the day when one of my parents would threaten to wash out my mouth with soap, just so that I could reply with George’s gem “I’ll blow bubbles out my ass.” I was at a friend’s house one day when I overheard an actual line that begged for a Carlinesque reply. My friend’s mother had said, “I have tried to be both a mother and a father to you.” Under my breath, I pleaded with my friend, who had also listened to those albums with me.
“Tell her… do it.” I said. He just shook his head, sad because he knew he might never get the chance again.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said softly to the air that remained in the room, after his mom had left. George would not have been proud. It was an opportunity missed.
My tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Charles, was a kind, motherly woman. She was also practically round. Her students liked her a lot and saw her class as an easy A, as long as you showed up and participated every so often. I was quiet most of the time, and a little uncomfortable reading in front of the class, so I rarely volunteered. One day we were discussing metaphors and similes and, unexpectedly, she called on me, asking me to describe her in “colorful” detail. I was caught off guard, so I looked at her and had to think quickly. She was a little over five foot tall, wearing a bright purple jumpsuit, leaning against her desk with her arms crossed. She was stocky woman and I did not want to hurt her feelings, but I replied with the inspiration as it came into my head.
“Today, I could say… that maybe, you kind of look like the grape guy on the Fruit Of The Loom commercial”. I said with a shaky voice.
“OK,” she replied with a smile.
The classroom exploded into laughter, and I raised my hands as if I had just caught a winning touchdown pass. I soaked in the adulation of the moment. Mrs. Charles called on me less frequently after that, and I was pleased to receive a B for English that year.
The next year I had a French teacher who I did not like. He was a smarmy little guy that most kids hated for his tough, no-nonsense teaching style. Mr. Casorio gave quizzes every day, forcing us to recall vocabulary from the previous day. This seemed redundant to us, and we resented having to learn the same work twice. Even though it seemed successful with those students who chose to apply themselves, I often found myself, along with others, ill prepared for the daily quiz. To make matters worse, if you forgot to bring a pencil you would be humiliated further. Mr. Casorio did not accept the use of pens. He would ask if anyone needed a pencil, forcing you to slowly raise your hand in shame. His standard question was “Who put your pants on in the morning?” which was closely followed by his punch line... “Your mother?” In his nasally French accent, it was difficult to take, and the snickers of the other kids made him smile as he handed out little golf pencils with no erasers. Much to my dismay, I would forget to bring a pencil at least once a week, and have to suffer the consequences.
One day, as I walked into French class, I was particularly nervous because I realized that I did not have a pencil. When I became aware that none of my friends had an extra to lend me, I started to think that this could be an opportunity to seize. This could be the day. I was mentally prepared to throw down, and I was suddenly hopeful that I was going to get the chance. I took my seat and waited for the quiz paper passing to begin. As the class settled in, we got our papers while waiting for the question to come.
“Does anyone need a pencil?” asked Mr. Casorio. I raised my hand high.
As he came walking towards me, I looked around at my classmates noticing that most eyes focused on me. We all knew what was coming.
“Who put your pants on this morning?” asked Mr. Casorio, with a pronounced sneer.
“Your wife!” I nearly yelled in response, before he could say anything more. I was sure that everyone had heard me.
I waited for the laugh to come, but we sat there in total silence, for what seemed like forever. I looked up at Casorio’s face, which was exploding red with rage. He pointed at the door and took a deep breath, shaking visibly. I got up, grabbed my backpack and headed for the door as the surrounding silence sustained.
“Let’s go have a chat with the principal,” he said as we left the classroom and entered the hall. As we walked, his heels clicked on the linoleum floors with military precision. Right before we got to the top of the steps, I heard the sound I had been waiting for. My French class had erupted in glorious laughter, spilling music to my ears. It grew louder into a roar, and then tapered off with some applause and a few whoops. Mr. Casorio now appeared even more infuriated, seemingly split between continuing my march to doom, and a possible hasty retreat back to admonish the now elated class.
I was suspended for three days, and as I walked home from school, I became seriously concerned as to how I might sell this tale to my father. I figured that if I was completely honest, and able to enlighten him of my latent comedic skills, then even he could understand my motivation, and acknowledge my bravery and cleverness. I do not remember taking a beating for it, and I managed get a passing grade in French in order to avoid future thrashing. Kids, in French class, talked about it for years (or so I imagined).

As a college student, my friends and I would occasionally go to the comedy club. There was a small cover charge, and from time to time, depending on the waitress, we could even order a beer. I thrilled at the bravery of each comic, even the bad ones. They were willing to reveal themselves and banter with the audience comfortably. Between comedians, the host would always ask volunteers to tell a good joke on stage. The winner, as judged by the spectators, would win tickets to the next weeks show. It took a while for me to build up the courage and find the right joke, but I found myself one night at the Funnybone with my hand in the air. When the host chose me, my friends were all shocked as I stood up shakily. Walking between tables, as I approached the stage, I felt my heart quicken, and by the time I got on stage, it felt as though it may burst from my chest. It beat so loudly that I feared the microphone would pick it up. I took long deep breaths as I waited for my turn to come. A cute, drunk chick told the first joke. It was a corny joke but got appreciable applause, mainly because it was told by a cute, drunk chick. An older gentleman in a suit and a tie, told the next joke and it was a doozy, except that nobody really got it. There was light round of polite, golf type applause and more than a few puzzled looks in the crowd. I knew I was next, and I gulped for air as the spotlight turned and blinded me. I looked out into the audience but could not see much, so I squinted and began to tell my joke.
“OK… there was this little kid who had an older sister,” I spoke into the microphone. The silence was thick as my whiny voice echoed through the room.
“One night, as he was passing his sister’s room on his way to bed, he noticed her door opened a crack. He peered in and saw his sister, naked from the chest up, sitting in front of her mirror. She was rubbing her breasts saying, “I need a man… I need a man.” I pantomimed rubbing my chest with my left hand as my right hand quivered holding the mic. There were a few giggles from the crowd, and I took another breath and went on.
“So… The little boy ran up to his room confused, and went to bed. But… (dramatic pause) it happened again the next night. He did not want to look, but he did, and there she was, once again… ‘I need a man, I need a man.’ Once more, the boy got flustered and ran up to his room.” I paused as I stopped rubbing my chest awkwardly for the second time.
“It happened a few more times, and the boy got used to seeing it. Until one night, (overdramatic pause), he looked into her room and saw her in bed… with a man! The boy was stunned and he turned and ran up the steps, as he heard his sister moan.”
The audience was rapt and I knew, even though I could not see them, that I had their attention now. I did not want to mess up the punch line so I gathered my guts and I tried to focus. I pushed the imaginary door in front of me.
“He burst into his room and ripped off his shirt,” I said, as I pretended to rip off my own shirt. [Looking back, my biggest regret is not actually doing so.]
“He ran to his mirror, and began to rub his chest… vigorously!” I rubbed my chest with enthusiasm, as I delivered the punch.
“’I need a bike… I need a bike’, said the little boy.”
The crowd burst into ovation, as I swelled with pride, somewhat faint.
Needless to say, I won the tickets to the following week. I also won tickets the next week, and defended my crown for a third straight week after that. I remember one of the other jokes that prevailed, which was about nuns. I was gaining confidence and moving on to hard-hitting topics as I honed my comedy act.
“There was a flasher walking down the street in a trench coat. There were three nuns walking towards him single file. He passed the first nun and could not help it. He flashed her… and she had a stroke.” I put my hand to my heart, in an all too familiar pose.
“He passed the second nun, flashed her (I pretend to flash the crowd)… and she had a stroke.” Again, I put my hand to my chest for effect. There were some moans in the crowd.
“ He passes the third nun and flashes her as well.” I flash the audience and wait. Wait for it. Wait for it.
“She doesn’t even touch him.” I say softly and clearly.
I will admit there was a delay, but when the laughter came, it was thunderous. A second laugh came, I noticed, when those who did not get it were explained the joke by their smarter friends.
Each time, as I left the stage and sat back down with my friends, I felt exhilarated. My heart would beat quickly for the next half hour, and my face would remain flush for a long time. Who knew, the telling of one joke could take so much effort? I felt drained, as if I had played tackle football. It was to be the highlight, and end, to my professional comedy career.

I taught preschool for several years, and I toned my act down for kids. I became adept at doing amusing puppet shows. They usually involved the voice of Grover or Elmo, depending on which puppet I had on hand (pun intended). Admittedly, potty humor was rife, and the mention of toilets and/or diapers was varied but predictable. I could get a class of three year-olds fired up, until eventually, I ran into my usual problem. Being authentically silly in front of other adults was difficult for me. My co-teacher would often hover about in the background pretending not to watch the show, but if I noticed her attention, the farce would suffer. The same happened if a parent would show up mid-show, causing me to fluster. Usually, I would seek volunteers from the class to be part of the routine, thereby deflecting some of the glare of the spectators. I knew what made kids laugh and I knew that it did not always connect to adults (especially moms). Over those years, I honed my irreverent humor, which would grow and fester into my adulthood.
Every job I have ever had involved some element of humor. I drove a cab for a few years and joked with my fares. A good pertinent joke could ensure a decent tip. Back when the Steelers quarterback of the day was going through accuracy issues, I would ask people in my cab if they had heard about Bubby Brister’s suicide attempt, to which most would reply in alarm. “What? Are you serious? Brister tried to commit suicide?”
“Yeah,” I would reply. “He tried to shoot himself. But don’t worry, he didn’t succeed. Somebody intercepted the bullet.” Ice broken, tip earned.
I worked in a psychiatric hospital, on a toddler unit, as a developmental therapist. The psychiatrist, who headed up the treatment team, was one of the least funny people I had ever met. She approached everything with a serious, sensible flair. It sucked the fun out of the environment, and my work suffered. As humor went, these were the lean years, and I learned over time (four long years), that I needed to work in a sunnier setting.

Fast forward to the present, where I find myself employed at a resort on Maui. I work at the pool, as an attendant (which is what you call a lifeguard that has no legal life guarding skills). However, every day I get to use my comedic skills, if I feel like it. Throughout the day, I rotate positions around the activity pool. There are seven connecting slides, a water elevator and a Tarzan swing. Depending on the time of the day, (since I am not at all funny before noon), my jokes and banter could start anywhere. At the top of a slide, I am the one holding the walkie-talkie, who says “OK… you can go now.” Or, sometimes I liven things up and say “Now… don’t go!” which usually makes them go, and I yell, “I’m telling!” as they slide away. Kids get a kick out of it if you say something funny as they leave, such as “Go if you like to spend money” (the kid goes)… then I add “on Teletubbie toys!” Other gems, such as “Go if you like to drink (the kid goes)… from the toilet” and “Go if you’re married” always come off well. Those kids have a propensity to get back in line and taunt me for more verbal abuse. Every now and then, I bring rubber animals such as lizards and snakes, which I throw behind, or in front of, a kid as they go down the waterslide. I make them promise to bring back the toy, but inevitably, they all tend to get lost (or stolen). I have thrown a little Dora the Explorer plastic toy (that I found while cleaning the beach) down the slide about a hundred times. Kids try to catch her on the way down, but she sinks to the bottom if they do not catch up, and it becomes a challenge, and a new game, for the older kids with goggles.
I work on the water elevator about once a week and I try to add some fun to it, as it can be pretty dull. Up to fifteen people get in the basket and sit on a big, round wooden log. 18,000 gallons of water fills it up as we rise slowly to the surface. After reciting the requisite speech about it being the only water elevator in the world (to which I add “except for the one at my house”), I usually warn people about the snake problem. I look around for the person who appears the most concerned and I toss the rubber snake, hidden in my back pocket, at them. Hilarity often ensues. So far, no one has really freaked out, and the few who have come close were too embarrassed to really complain. It is all fun when you are on vacation. I remind people of the number one safety rule on the water elevator: no peeing. I inform them as they exit the elevator that it is free to get on, but that it does cost twenty dollars to get off (and that we can do a room charge). I tell them sometimes about the water escalator currently being built, from the top of the hotel to the ocean, which is estimated to cost forty-three million dollars. Hardly anyone believes me.

Most days, I do a quiz show at the Tarzan Swing, which has become my tropical, topical stage. Kids stand in line, waiting for their turn to take the rope from me, to swing out and drop into the water. At the beginning, or if they appear unaware, I coach them on the question to come. I tell them that I am going to ask them a simple question, which they have to answer by the time they land in the water. It is also implied that they must let go of the rope, on the first swing, in order to be considered correct, (and to avoid smashing back into the faux rock wall like a stuntman). I start with easy questions to build their confidence.
“What month is the Fourth of July?” I might ask.
“June… er, I mean July… SPLASH!”
“What color is the red Power Ranger?” I could ask. That is a really easy question that usually gets some answer. The same would apply to “What is the name of Spongebob’s snail?” or “What does Cookie Monster like to eat?” If they answer wrongly, it provides laughter from the line and the other poolside onlookers. Moms and dads watch with cameras and video. The more the kids’ respond, the quicker the answers come, and the questions tend to get harder and edgier as time goes by.
“Have you been married more than twice?” is a question that tends to throw off most eight year olds. Better yet, I could ask about a kid’s sibling (who is often standing in line behind them). For example, if you ask a ten year old if her six-year-old brother is potty-trained, no matter what the answer is… there will be laughter and some degree of discomfiture. When kids laugh, they loosen up, and after they loosen up a bit, they laugh even more.
My Tarzan Swing shift is about an hour long so I tend to save some of my better questions for when I know that there are many people watching, as the crowds tend to shrink and swell like the tide. When there are bunches of loud, laughing children, the line has a tendency to get even longer. I ask a lot of normal quiz questions like “What’s the capital of Hawaii?” or, “Is there a volcano on this island?” Some children are competitive as well, and they are the ones who strut up to me and make demands. “Ask me something about Star Wars,” might elicit a “What kind of creature is Chewbacca?” question. Surprisingly, there are kids who seem to know all the answers and it shocks both me and the crowd, often garnering applause. I have asked five year olds jokingly “What is the square root of 81?” only to be astonished as they yell out “Nine!” right before they hit the water. I asked a man “What is the capital of Somalia?” and he answered “Mogadishu” so assuredly that I had to go home and Google it, just to check if he was right.
About midway through the hour, the kids who are digging the quiz show have stuck around, and those who did not have fled. The swingers get more comfortable and begin to request specific question topics. Ask me about Hannah Montana. Ask me how many Webkins I have. Many times I have heard a kid say “Dude, I’m on vacation, lay off the math.” It is, of course, just what I want to hear, the familiar knock of comic opportunity. Brave, older teens will also try to steal some thunder by answering snidely. For example, if I were to ask a teen “Who is the Vice-President?” he may choose to answer “Chuck Norris!” or maybe even “Your mom!” Touché. Bring it on!
There are a few sacred questions that I wait to dole out with a certain degree of discretion. Some of my favorites have no good answers, only admissions to lesser levels of shame. “Have you gotten rid of your explosive diarrhea?” will undoubtedly draw out some form of response. Answering “Yes” admits that you, indeed, had explosive diarrhea, yet you were able somehow to get rid of it. Answering “No” implies worse, that you still have it.
“Did your Grandma shave her mustache?” is always a crowd pleaser. I regularly crack up, when some little kid standing in line doubles over laughing, as if it is the funniest thing he has ever heard. However, this question can backfire if Grandma is amongst the audience, (which has happened only twice). Ask yourself “Does your Grandma have a motorcycle?” or “…a crush on Dick Chaney” or “Spiderman pajamas?” Try to answer it in the three or four tense seconds you have, as you swing on the wet rope, while letting go to land awkwardly in the eight-foot deep water.
“Why do you like Dora the Explorer so much?” works for most boys.
“Who would you rather marry? Zach or Cody?” works for Girls.
Attractive ladies are prone to get probing questions such as “Is your boyfriend still in jail?” or “Do you think Clay Aiken is cute?” Older women get “have you ever had a dream about George Clooney? Dads are likely to be asked “Do you find Hillary Clinton attractive?” The kids are the ones who think these jokes are the funniest, as adults tend to just blush and play along.
My personal favorite question is actually a kid-friendly joke. What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids don’t eat broccoli.
By the time I am about to finish my hour at Tarzan, there are usually a core of five to ten kids who are really into it. Some ask to ask me questions, or for me to ask their brothers and sisters loaded questions. “Ask my brother if he does ballet?” “Ask my sister if she eats Play-doh?” Some days are funner than others are, depending on the players, and some days, if I have to start at Tarzan, it can be downright quiet.
As my replacement arrives, I usually slip in a few questions about him or her. “Does Braden look like Shrek to you?” “Does Earl have three grandchildren?’ “ Does this guy ask better questions than me?” With very few exceptions, my coworkers hate following me in rotation, especially Tarzan. Not only does nobody else ask questions, most of the other pool attendants just scowl at the kids. Such is my competition. I find that if you are friendly with families, they tend to follow you around during their typical weeklong stay. They begin to expect fun daily and demand it even if I am in a lax mood.

Last winter, my parents came to Maui to visit me, and they got a chance to stay at the resort for six days. They got a kick out of my Tarzan comedy show and they sat back on lounge chairs each day, sipping their Lava Flows, watching intently, like I was starring in an off-Broadway play. When I spent time with them in the evenings, we would constantly bump into other families that recognized me from the pool. Typically, a kid would whisper to a parent and then point to me. “That’s the funny guy,” they commonly say. If I am close enough to hear, I usually ask, “Do you mean funny looking or funny ha-ha?” They laugh and answer. I am not all that sure that my parents are very proud of me. I am not a doctor, a lawyer or an electrical engineer. I went to college, got a degree in Social Work and I now work at a pool.

I am the lost comic standing.

I am the funny guy.

1 comment:

annie said...

Hey funny guy-- Fricken hilerious story. Loved the nun joke! Could picture you doing the Tropical Topical. If they watched (and listened) to your "act", I am SURE your folks are proud. Thanks for sharing, my cheeks officially hurt:)