Please laugh

Off the Beat

When I tell a bad joke and you don’t laugh, try to have some pity. I don’t like it any more than you do.

Like the long line of nerdy, overweight Jews before me, somewhere in middle school or high school, I quickly picked up on the fact that “dark and mysterious” and “effortlessly cool” were not the descriptors that stuck to me. What other options does that leave? You can be artsy, but I don’t look good in a scarf and was told I’m color blind by my fourth-grade art teacher (I’m not, I’m just very very bad and uninterested in painting), so that was off the table as well.

Music could have worked: I’m obsessed with it, and in pretty much all of its genres, so I wouldn’t even have to be picky about where I land! I can’t blame this one on lack of trying; pretending to casually toy around with friends’ guitars while actually desperately trying to learn was almost as embarrassing as setting my high school’s record for “Most Amount of Time Spent in Orchestra Without Promotion.”

From the long, passed-down tradition of self-deprecation you’ve been reading above, you might see that I finally settled on the humorous arts as my self-identifier. What a joke of a choice.

Here’s where you might ask how my attempts at doing improv, or open mic stand-up, or even writing scripts have worked out. Wrong! I’m far too much of a coward to try anything public like that. As I’m typing this, I’m imagining myself doing stand-up, and the mental image of flop sweat and stammering already has my chest tightening with self-hate.

When my roommate and I went to see a movie about improv comedy, and he told me I should come try out with him, I think I lied about having a Daily Cal commitment. Do I resent the fact that he, as a junior, despite having no comedy background at all, immediately joined the best improv group on campus and would get uproarious laughs at all of the shows I attended? Of course, but just in the way that I’m resentful of any successful (and tall) person, it’s not jealousy.

My ambitions are so much lower than any of that. I don’t want to be publicly celebrated or put myself out there; it’s just that if someone asks my friend what I’m like, I’d prefer they say “funny and short” rather than just “short.”

I’m too conservative and nebbishy to be a full blown smartass. It’s not like I was being sent to the principal’s office for making fun of teachers in class; I’m such a nice Jewish kid I was almost trying harder to get the laugh from teachers than kids. Isn’t that sentence so pitiful it makes your skin crawl? Imagine that being your personality.

But making people laugh is such sweet vindication. There’s genuinely nothing in the world that feels better to me. It’s a complete high, and there’s no end to my craving. I don’t push the envelope, I just try too hard and look like a moron. And I’ll try anything.

Do I tell one person the same story twice in a day because, when something funny happens to me, all I do is think about who I want to tell and how? To the point that it overshadows the conversations themselves? This happens almost every day.

This week, I started my sports department meeting with a monologue from The Young Pope about how I don’t value friendly relationships. I hoped it would work as a joke because I consider myself to be friendly with all my writers. It was pretty clear it wasn’t working out halfway through, but I hadn’t transcribed the scene that morning to just quit. The stoic reaction seemed to indicate I might have been wrong about my own friendliness. I’ve stooped to the plain hurtful. After sending out acceptance emails to freshmen hoping to join the sports department, I took way too much glee in following up by telling them they received the wrong message and leaving them hanging for a few minutes. Sorry Leo.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sorry. To those around me, when I talk to you, think of it less as a joke and more as a Jewish interpretation of existential dread and self-loathing. Also, please laugh.  

Off the Beat columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.

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