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 unfunny, subversive, and game-changing comedy— “those in know” had no idea. Those in the know surely told Kaufman, “I see what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think it will 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 notion that you were being weird. It involved making some 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, on Saturday Night Live, all of those “in the know” probably warned him of the potholes that lay 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 funny in a conventional sense, but Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, and idiotic 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 get it at the time. I didn’t get it, but my excuse is I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to understand the genius of being idiotic, until I was trying to find my way, on my own path, to true idiocy.
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. We didn’t know that we could be so idiotic, until someone came along and 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 the situational humor that he created. These situations he created weren’t funny, in the conventional sense, so much as they were so unfunny that they were deemed idiotic. He was so idiotic that many believed that his shows were nothing more than a series of improvised moves where a bunch of idiotic 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 humor 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 ever become 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?”
“I would like for someone, somewhere to consider me idiotic,” will be the response of the devoted. Any idiot can fall down a flight of stairs, trip over a heat register, and engage in slapstick comedy, but for those of us that want to achieve a point of idiocy that leads others to believe we are idiotic, we know that our audience has to believe that we believe.
If you’re less confident with your modus operandi, and you’re still searching for answers, you may come up with some high-minded responses, or you may find that you enjoy it through its superiority-through-inferiority psychological base, but the only thing you know for sure is that you like it. And you will know this no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come your way.
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 intellect prowess that apparently crushed whatever characterization she had of me prior to that moment. When I turned back to her, to continue the conversation that she and I were having, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were popped wide. What she said in that moment, and in any moment I acted idiotic thereafter, was: “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, you can convince some of the people, some of the times, that you are idiotic.
So’s your mother. Most idiots prefer the non sequitur made famous by 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 a better non sequitur, so much as it is different. “That’s what she said,” thanks to The Office, is now becoming an expected non sequitur, even if it does not follow the logic of the argument, or conversation in play. Your goal, if you choose to live 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 immediately dismiss you as a person that “Says weird things”. If you are able to maintain your façade through all of the ways that people will dismiss you –and they will vary, and some of them may hurt a little— you may reach a point where some of the people you know will deem you to be a total idiot.
“What did he say?” is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, well-schooled in the art of being idiotic. This response may never receive the laughter that a well-timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response may. It’s the sequential reactions this line receives, over time, that may be better than those other two 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 ask in the manner the situation dictates.
If your audience has reason to believe that you’re a total idiot, they will attempt to determine if you are genuinely confused at this point. If you successfully complete this portion of the conversation, they will say, “I said it was a Martha that did this … ” This is the crucial point in the conversation, that which is 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 situational humor. 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?”
Seasoned idiots, that have experienced some failure at this point in the situation, 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 them in on the joke, and while they may call you an idiot for playing such a game on them it’s not the incarnation that you’re looking for, and you’ll find this characterization premature, and 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 correct. “Martha is a girl.”
To lay the depth charge of this joke, you will then want that particular conversation to conclude naturally. A deadpan “Oh, ok!” should accomplish this. You may even want to add a subtle amount of confusion in your reaction, or a subtle dash of embarrassment.
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 situational humor, 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 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 one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, 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 it may have been necessary to see this joke to fruition, and no other person has fallen for this as hard as she did. This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball and avoid swinging at it. Or, at the very least, I haven’t been able to deliver it in such a fashion that the recipient didn’t see the stitches.
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 perfect non sequitur songs that appear to have somewhat significant and poignant song lyrics to match a number of different situations.
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 is calling for some sort of analysis to perfectly 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?” And 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 the cryptic use of these lyrics is that when your 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, 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 it the first time, and in every instance they hear you do it afterward they may eventually begin to believe you are an idiot. The point, in evidence with the APP lyrics in particular, is that those lyrics are so serious, 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 in, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture a moment.
The most hilarious reaction to the APP lyrics in particular was, “I guess we grow with them?”
Most true idiots acted idiotic before they ever heard of Andy Kaufman, but whatever it was he did opened up this whole can of unfunny hilarity to us. After seeing what he did, it became obvious to some of us that the constraints we placed upon ourselves to get along in the normal world, no longer needed to be maintained.
Some of us bought every VHS tape, book, and album attached to his name, and we read everything we could about him online to try and figure out how he became such an idiot, why he chose to go against the advice of those “in the know”, and if it was possible for us to follow this indefinable passion to its bitter end, until it became a lifestyle that we could use to confuse the serious world just enough to lead to some ingenious moments in life.
If we simply wanted to be funny, we would’ve looked to the trail Bill Cosby laid, if we wanted to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted the weird-funny voice that Steve Martin used in the movie The Jerk. We knew we weren’t as funny as those two, and it didn’t really matter to us that we weren’t. When we discovered the unfunny, subversive idiocy of Andy Kaufman, however, it filled us like water in a dehydrated man.
Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they were detonated. Even when they were detonated, most of them didn’t find the humor, and they didn’t think it was funny, and they didn’t want to be our friends, or have anything to do with us, until they confronted, once again, with the question of why we would want to do it. And we may not have been able to answer that question, but we knew we liked it.
The Disclaimer: This particular line of responses should not be used by anyone that wants others to consider them funny. If this is your goal, 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 that people can identify with, and if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded with laughter.
If, however, your goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for your efforts, you will want to know the rules regarding the beats and rhythms of humor even better than the funny person. As any truly gifted idiot will tell, it is far more difficult to effectively distort and destroy people’s perception of what is generally considered humorous than it is to abide by them. As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total 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 and rhythms of humor, you may have a sympathetic soul attempt to consult you about the beats and rhythm of your deliver. For the most part, the only rewards you will ever receive are the 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 like a nice guy that’s funny.