As a lifelong fan, and student of comedy, my definition of humor was forever changed by the unfunny idiocy of the late, great Andy Kaufman. Those “in the know” have now certified Kaufman a comedic genius, but back before Andy Kaufman was Andy Kaufman –indulging in his unique brand of unfunny, subversive, and game-changing comedy— “those in know” had no idea. Those “in the know” probably told Kaufman, “I see what you’re trying to do, but it won’t play well in Omaha. They’ll just think you’re weird, and weird doesn’t play well on the national stage … unless you’re funny-weird.”
Being funny-weird usually involved going so far over-the-top with your weirdness that people felt comfortable with the idea that you were being weird. It also involved making culturally accepted weird facial expressions that cued the “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” into the idea that you were being weird. One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage, all of those “in the know” informed him of the potholes ahead of him if he didn’t find some way to let the audience in on the joke. Kaufman obviously didn’t listen. For whatever reason, call it confidence, perseverance, or the lack of talent required to be genuinely, and traditionally funny, but Kaufman maintained his odd, weird, and unfunny characters and bits, until he was eventually declared by those “in the know” to be one of the funniest men that ever lived.
Most people didn’t immediately get it, I didn’t get it, but I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to understand the genius of being an idiot, and that I could be an idiot too, if I could only find a strain of idiocy more suited to me.
Andy Kaufman may not have been the first idiot on the map, but for those of us that witnessed his idiotic displays, they opened up a whole new world for us. We didn’t know that we could be so idiotic, until he broke that door down and showed us all his furniture.
For those that never saw Andy Kaufman at work, his claim to fame was not jokes, so much as it was situational humor that he created. He was also not funny, so much as he was so unfunny that he was idiotic. He was so idiotic that many claimed that his shows were a series of improvised moves where a bunch of stuff happened, but what even most “in the know” did not know was that everything he did was carefully, and meticulously, choreographed.
Being Unfunny in Situations
Like the knuckleball, situational jokes can get better or worse as the game goes on, but if you’re going to have any success with them, like the knuckleballer, you’re going to have to devote yourself wholly to the pitch. People will hit the occasional home run off you, and you may occasionally knock a mascot out with a wild pitch, but for situational jokes to be truly effective they can’t just be another pitch in your arsenal. They require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to you will have a difficult time understanding.
Why would you purposely try to confuse people?” they will ask you. “And say things that aren’t funny?”
Your answer, if you are truly one of the devoted will be, “I would like for someone, somewhere to consider me idiotic someday.” If you’re less confident with this modus operandi, and you’re still searching for answers, you may come up with some high-minded responses, or you may simply enjoy it from its superiority-through-inferiority base, but if it is a fundamental part of who you are, all you will really know is that you like it.
I had an acquaintance that learned of my devotion to this lifestyle firsthand, when she overheard me inadvertently contrast it in a conversation with a third-party. What she heard in that conversation was a brief display of intellectual prowess that apparently obliterated the characterization she had of me. When I then returned to the conversation I was having with her, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were popped wide. The unfortunate result was that from that point forward, any time I attempted to be idiotic in front of her, she would say, “Whatever, I am onto you now.”
The point is that if you devote yourself to this lifestyle, and you try your hardest not to let your opponents see the stitches of the pitch coming at them, you can convince some of the people, some of the times, that you are an idiot.
“So’s your mother.” Most idiots now prefer the non sequitur made famous by the television show The Office, “That’s what she said.” A non sequitur is defined as a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement. There’s nothing wrong with “That’s what she said” of course, and “So’s your mother” is not better, per se, but it is different. “That’s what she said,” thanks to The Office, is now becoming an expected response, and it reveals your intention too quickly, even if it does not follow the logic of the argument, or conversation, in play. Your goal, in living the non sequitur, situational lifestyle of the idiot, is to seek that response that exists outside the patterns and rhythms of the norm. Another key, as expressed in the knuckleball analogy, is repetition. It takes patience and perseverance, to become locked in, but if you do it right, often enough, you can become a “So’s your mother” guy, until those around you begin to believe that you have such unique rhythms and patterns that they’re irritated by you, and they dismiss you as a guy that “Says weird things,” and eventually –if you have the confidence and perseverance required to maintain this mentality through all of the mentors advising you to let people in on your joke a little more— a total idiot.
“What did he say?” This is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, well-schooled in the art of being an idiot, and it will likely never receive the laughter that a well-timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response might. If you are a total idiot, however, your goal is not laughter, but the sequential reactions such a line can receive, over time, if you strategically place it in your conversations often enough.
All non sequiturs should be delivered in a carefully, measured tone that leads the listener to believe that you believe in what you’re saying –and that you’re perhaps a little damaged— but none of them require the practice and diligence that “What did he say?” requires.
This response is not a joke to you. You genuinely believe that when someone introduces a story that involves a decidedly female name –like Martha, Barbara, or Beatrice— that they are speaking of a male.
What did he say about that?” you will ask in a tone carefully suited to the introductory portion of the conversation.
At this point, they will pause in their story to determine if you are genuinely confused. If you complete this portion of the conversation properly, they will say, “I said it was a Martha that did this … ” This is the crucial point in the conversation, and that which is commonly referred to in idiotic parlance as “crunch time”. You cannot smile, or let them in on the joke in anyway, at this crucial point in your joke. This is the punchline for you, and you are required to keep a straight face and deliver the next line in the most convincing manner possible:
I heard you,” you will respond. “What did he say to that?”
Those of us that have failed to execute this idiotic response, through trial and error, will tell you that the key to making it through crunch time unscathed can only be accomplished by emphasizing the word ‘you’ in this reply, as opposed to the word ‘he’. Emphasizing the word ‘he’ lets your audience in on the joke prematurely, and while they may call you an idiot for doing this, it will not be the incarnation that you’re looking for, and you’ll find this characterization far less rewarding. Emphasizing ‘he’, to go back to our analogy, will reveal the stitch in your knuckleball, and it will likely result in an eye roll, or some other form of dismissal that allows them to avoid stepping further into the trap you’ve laid out for them.
It’s a girl,” they’ll say if you emphasize your response correctly. “Martha is a girl.”
To lay the depth charge of this joke, you will then want to proceed into the third portion of this conversation adroitly to allow it to come to a conclusion as naturally as possible. A deadpan “Oh, ok!” should accomplish this. You may even want to add a subtle amount of confusion in your reaction following this, or a subtle dash of embarrassment. If they laugh at you, or mock you in any way at this point, you will know that they are primed for the depth charge.
This line of responses will not bear fruit immediately, and you may want to skip the next story involving a decidedly female name, like Barbara, to avoid them seeing the stitches of your idiotic bit, but when they eventually tell you a third story about a person name Beatrice, you will say, “What’s he doing now?” The payoff will arrive almost immediately after that, and it will occur on their face, as they begin realize that your response to the initial, Martha story was not a one off, and that you’re not as dumb as they thought. You’re just an idiot.
“What’s that?” This should be a conjunctive sentence that follows the first sentence, and is followed by a repetition of the first sentence.
Example: “I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed main street. What’s that? I said, I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed main street.”
Needless to say, you are the one that says all three sentences. Your third sentence should be followed by some fatigue, or some tone of urgency that suggests that you’re tired of repeating yourself. The most hilarious reaction I received to this was:
I did not say what. YOU DID!”
The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was totally uncalled for. I was only afforded the opportunity to pull this joke on her on one other occasion, due to time constraints, and she was more adamant the second time through, but I was never afforded the opportunity to do this as often as required to detonate the depth charge, and no other person has fallen for this as hard as she did. Even though I like to consider myself a total idiot, this one has proven too difficult for me to pull off. Most of those that I’ve tried it on, have seen the stitches of this knuckleball far too quickly.
Issue a Seemingly Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment
It’s a cultural trope we’ve probably picked up from the movies, that when situations dictate, the perfect song lyrics can capture a moment. This can be done in business, politics, and most often in romance. It’s become such a staple of our culture that some idiots have developed the most imperfect, non sequitur songs that appear to be poignantly capture a moment.
This was performed to perfection by the show The Simpsons when Millhouse Mussolini Van Houten said “So this is what it feels like … when doves cry,” to capture his feelings of utter hopelessness and despair in one particular episode of his life.
In every person’s life they reach a point of despair, or hopelessness, that they share with another. In every shared moment of despair, the two parties will inevitably reach a lull in that moment that calls for some sort of analysis to capture the moment. In previous generations, people sought Shakespeare and The Bible. Modern consumers seek song lyrics and chunks of TV dialogue. My personal favorites are the song lyrics of an Alan Parsons Project’s (APP) song: “Where do we go from here now that all of the children are growing up?” Ween’s lyrics: “What can you do when your world is invaded by a reggae junkie jew?” and Motorhead’s lyrics “All right, all right I hope you son of bitches see the light.”
The purpose of using these lyrics in such a fashion is that when a listener first hears you use them –and they know the cultural trope of using song lyrics to capture a moment— they may initially believe that you have a firmer grasp on the situation than they do, and they may believe that the lyrics you use poignantly capture the topic of concern, until they hear you use them again in a similar situation. When they hear you do it again, they may feel foolish for having believed in you the first time through, and in every instance they hear you do it afterward they may eventually begin to believe you are an idiot. The point, as evidenced by the APP lyrics in particular, is that some lyrics are so serious, and so over-the-top, self-indulgent serious, that they are ripe for ridicule. The point is that this ridicule is so poignant that it not only mocks the hopelessly dire situation you find yourself in, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture a moment.
The Disclaimer: These responses should not be used by anyone that wants others to consider them funny. If your goal is to be considered funny, you will want to learn how to incorporate your responses into conversations by paying close attention to the beats and rhythms you use when delivering. Good humor, like good music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms, and patterns that people can identify with, and if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded with laughter. Those that want to be funny at the office, in school, or with friends will also want to pay acute attention to the beats, rhythms, and patterns in situation comedies, funny movies, and commercials. Commercials may be the primary source for your studies, for they are not only so ubiquitous in our society that most audiences have memorized the lines, but they are market-tested and market-approved. Those that make commercials often have a better read on the culture than most novices, like us, are unaware of, and they know how to create quick, pleasing funny lines that can be delivered in a number of situations.
If your goal, however, is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for your efforts, you will want to study all of these facets of humor even more than the funny person does. As any truly gifted idiot will tell you, it is far more difficult to effectively distort and destroy people’s perceptions of what is generally considered humorous than it is to abide by them. As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a genuine idiot are far and few between, but if you ever manage to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what is generally believed to be the beats, rhythms, and patterns of humor, you may eventually have some sympathetic soul attempt to consult you about your delivery. For the most part, however, the only rewards you will ever receive are: damage to your reputation as a funny person, others dismissing you as a strange and weird person, and the fact that most women won’t date you, because most women prefer a nice guy that’s funny, and they think that you’re a total idiot.