January 6, 2012
Most New Year’s resolutions don’t make it past the first week of January, let alone to the end of the year. At least one study found that 88% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will break them, including the study’s authors, who’d made a resolution to not conduct any more ridiculous studies. The reasons are pretty simple: people often make resolutions on a whim, rather than planning well in advance, and often their resolutions are too abstract or unrealistic. I think there’s another problem: people forget their resolutions. If you’ve made a resolution for this year will you still be thinking about it in, say, June? Chances are you won’t, although there are now dozens of computer programs that can send you reminders so that in the middle of June you’ll get a pop-up message in the middle of your screen that says, "Have you lost twenty-five pounds and quit smoking yet?" just as you’re eating your third doughnut of the day and lighting up your ninth cigarette.
I’ve decided I want to try and make a more unique, more personal resolution, one that will be fulfilled at a specific time and in a very specific way. I want to challenge myself, step outside my comfort zone. I want to test boundaries, push the envelope, cross a line, do something edgy, be out there, take a risk, take a chance, take a powder, blaze a trail, dive into the deep end, and skip to my lou. That may seem like an overly abstract resolution, but I already have an idea of how I’m going to keep it. I’m going to take a class on stand-up comedy. If that doesn’t seem particularly risky then it has the advantage of setting the bar low, but it is actually kind of scary. I have no idea what this class will involve. I’m not even sure if I’ll pass. In most classes if you fail you just get a bad grade, but what do they do if you fail a stand-up class? Maybe they’ll make me get on stage and pour a bucket of water over me to give me the experience of flop sweat. I’m looking forward to this class and yet at the same time I’m absolutely terrified I’ll be a complete failure. I’ve taken a couple of classes in improv comedy, and learned, among other things, that I’m not fast enough on my feet for improv. I knew I was in over my head within the first five minutes of one of the classes when we were just going around doing introductions. The guy next to me said, "My name’s Rick, I’m a waiter, and I also sell drugs." Everyone laughed and that gave me an idea, so I said, "My name’s Chris, I’m an undercover cop and I’ve been trailing Rick." A few people chuckled and Rick had this panicked look in his eyes, so, almost immediately, I added, "but seriously…" I love to tell jokes, but because of my poor delivery and timing people often take me seriously. I once said to a friend, "I put a skylight in my apartment. The people upstairs are furious." She frowned and said, "I didn’t know you lived in an apartment."
There’s a story about a time when Mark Twain was playing pool, missed an easy shot, and swore profusely. His wife heard him from the other room, walked in, and calmly repeated back every swear word he’d just used. He looked at her and said, "You have excellent vocabulary, but your delivery needs work." Sometimes when I tell a joke I feel exactly like Twain’s wife. And then there’s the fact that everyone else in this class will be a stranger to me. There’s an old joke that more people say public speaking is their number one fear than say their number one fear is death. The joke is that this means more people are afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying, although I don’t think this necessarily follows. If you tell someone "You can give a public speech or you can be put up against a wall and shot" I seriously doubt the first thing most people would ask is, "What kind of bullets would you use?" It might be easier to do stand-up in front of friends, preferably with a big sign behind me that said, "LAUGH" that would come on whenever I finished a joke, although usually when I’m hanging out with friends there aren’t very many opportunities to get up on a stage and, say, do a ten minute bit about why Sherlock Holmes would be the world’s worst Jeopardy contestant.
And stand-up is something I’d like to try, so, in spite of all my anxieties, I’m going to take the plunge, or, to be more accurate, take the class. And I can hope that the experience will be like a dream I had some time ago, a dream which put the idea in my head of trying stand-up. I dreamed I was doing stand-up comedy at a science fiction convention. Offhand I don’t know if there’s much call for stand-up comedy at science fiction conventions. It’s been twenty years since I last went to one, and I don’t recall anybody getting up on a stage and saying, "A tribble, R2-D2, and a Dalek roll into a bar…" Still, this was a dream, so anything’s possible, and to make it even more bizarre I was talking about furries, who are people who like to dress up as animals. Anyway, I said I understood that they creep some people out, but that science fiction from Star Trek to Firefly teaches us we should embrace and try to understand differences rather than fearing them. Okay, War Of The Worlds teaches something completely different, but that’s another story. I asked if there were any furries in the audience, and one guy stood up. I asked him what his animal was, and he said, "A gecko." I replied, "Wow, I didn’t realize furries could be reptiles.* Wouldn’t that technically make you a ‘scalie’? I’m just kidding, I appreciate you being brave enough to stand up. By the way, after the show I’d like to talk to you about my car insurance." That last line killed. Yes, this was a dream, so technically I was completely in control, but still it’s kind of reassuring that my subconscious not only recognized that I was telling a joke but knew when to laugh, although, in the dream, there might have been a big sign behind me.
*Actually I don’t know if this really is true or not, since my research in this area has been mostly limited to an episode of CSI in which a furry was a suspect.**
**One of my other resolutions for this year was to use a footnote. Also I’ve always wanted to footnote a footnote, something which I don’t think has ever been done before, although my research in the area of footnotes has also been extremely limited.