A co-worker of mine, named Joey, struck out three times in a fun, little slow-pitch softball game that our company organized, and he got so mad that he took a bat to one of those insulated Gatorade coolers with a beverage dispenser. If he hit this Gatorade cooler once or twice that would be a thing, but he was over there, doing it. I’ll bet you he hit it six, seven times, calling this inanimate object a different profane name each time. My question, walking away from the incident, and for you tonight, is am I evil for finding this absolutely hilarious?
(Pause for audience interaction.)
Thank you for trying to ease my pain, but it is a just little bit evil finding joy in one of the worst days in another person’s life. The Germans have a term for this, for taking joy in another person’s pain. Schadenfreude is what they call it. Leave it to the Germans to develop a term for laughing at the destruction of another person. And for any offended Germans out there, I’m part German, so I can say that. We laugh when someone trips and falls in the hall. It’s funny, and we all know it. Even when we fall, we know it’s funny, no matter how painful and tragic it is. We know someone, somewhere will be stifling their giggles.
I laugh at other people’s pain. The more painful the better, I say, as long as it doesn’t involve some sort of debilitating injury of course. As a person who laughs at other people’s pain, I know I’m going to get mine, and if you’re anything like me, you know you’re going to get yours too.
We’ve lovers of pain have experienced some levels of karma, but we know that ain’t it. There’s more to come. We know we’ll get ours. We know there will come a day when we’re old and decrepit, hooked up to machines that sustain us for a little while, when someone will come along and find our desperate attempts to get one last breath hilarious. We’ll probably yell something like, “What are you laughing at? I’m dying here, for Cripes sakes!” We might say that in the heat of the moment, but when our emotional hysteria subsides, and we don’t have the strength to fight death anymore, we’ll either acknowledge that we deserve it for laughing at so many others during the worst days of their life, or we might see the humor in it.
“You should’ve seen your face,” they say, “You were all like …” Barry mimicked a desperate gasp for breath.
‘I know,’ we say, chuckling, ‘but you gotta remember I am dying here. No, I’m not saying it isn’t funny. I’m just saying that when you’re trying to take your last breath, and you’re wondering whether it is or not, the idea that I might make some weird faces seems appropriate for the situation.’
“When that day comes, we might regret laughing so hard at a grown man beating a Gatorade cooler with such intense frustration, or we might not, depending on sadistic we are.
I don’t know how women operate, but when a guy to strike out three times at a slow-pitch company outing, in front of other guys, guys he works with every day, forty hours a week, it’s our version of a Promethean hell. The story of Prometheus is that the gods wanted to find a creative way to punish him for introducing humans to fire. They decided to bound him to a rock and have an eagle eat the liver out of his body for the rest of eternity. Have you ever seen a bird eat? It’s anything but clean. Even a large eagle has a small mouth, and they cannot make their mouths bigger. They have a hard beak. So, they have to rip little bits of meat off the body. Then, as the tale of Prometheus goes, once this eagle is done carrying out that torturous punishment, Prometheus’ liver grows back the next day, and the eagle rips it out again, and again, for the rest of eternity.
As horrific as that punishment is to picture, I’m willing to bet that most men in the audience here tonight would choose that torturous afterlife, for the rest of eternity than striking out three times in slow-pitch softball, before all of your friends and drinking buddies.
Joey was the big body builder type. Most of us go to the gym what two times a week. I’m betting Joey was a five-to-six-day-a-weeker, so we all thought he was built for athletic accomplishment. Joey thought that too. He was on my team, and I was behind him in the batting order. I wanted him to do well, of course, because I wanted our team to win, but I didn’t want him to do so well that my little blooper singles would be an afterthought. The ropey muscles on this guy’s forearms made me think I was in trouble. The outfielders backed up for him. We all thought Joey was going to put on an absolute clinic. He had brand new batting gloves that it looked like he purchased just for this company outing. He even had wrist bands. Who wears wrist bands to a company outing? Between pitches, he adjusted the fit of his gloves and fiddled with his wrist bands, just like Major Leaguers. It was so shocking to see him strike out on three pitches the first time that I laughed a little. We all did. The other team teased him a little. Not much, but it was gamesmanship.
The second at-bat, he swung so hard on the third strike he fell down. The third time up, the pitcher, sensing that Joey might be unraveling served the last two pitches the way we might a five-year-old,” Barry said mimicking the soft toss, “and in a scene that will probably play in Joey’s nightmares for the rest of his life, he missed both of them. Would you laugh at this man who is self-destructing right in front of you?” Barry paused for all the laughing yesses in the audience. “You would laugh while witnessing the worst moment in someone’s life?”
“We all say yes at a comedy club, three to four drinks in, but when it’s someone you know, someone you see at work every day, forty hours a week?” Barry paused to survey the crowd. “We all would. We all do, because we have grievances. We all have grievances, real and perceived, against everyone we know. If you don’t find failure funny, let me add this. After Joey’s second strikeout, I heard some groans. Even the men who saw how easily he picked up women, dropped that grievance and began rooting for him. We were all cheering for him. Even though he fell on his ass after the third strike of his second at-bat, someone yelled out, “That’s all-right Joey! Get ‘em next time!” The other team was even saying stuff to cheer him on, being good sports and all.
Now with the third and final strikeout, let me ask you what do you think is the worst possible reaction you can think of? Seriously, think about it,” Barry asked the audience. A few people shouted some reactions out. “More teasing? Laughter? Wrong. Utter silence. You probably can’t see it now, because your sitting in comfy chairs with drinks in hand, but I heard it that day. Silence. Total and absolute silence. The type of silence Joey probably still hears in his nightmares. I have to imagine that Joey hears that silence every night before he goes to sleep, his hears it in his dreams, and he hears it when he wakes up. He probably doesn’t associate his newfound preference for some kind of noise for what it, but he now tries to drown out even momentary silence with music, TV, or anything that makes noise in his background, because of what happened after that third and final strikeout at that company function. You’ve no doubt heard the cliché deafening silence. Yeah, that’s the type of silence that puts an exclamation point behind one of the top ten worst moments of his life. You could almost hear the facial muscles of the players, on both sides, twitch into a cringe.
So, was it hilarious when Joey broke that silence by taking his bat to a plastic cooler? He messed up my at-bat with his shenanigans, so I didn’t think it was too funny. But you obviously do, now, in comfy chairs with drinks in hand. Laugh it up fuzzball. In the moment, we didn’t laugh though. No one did. It was a grown man unraveling, screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs while taking a bat to a plastic drink container. It’s not funny in the moment, it’s sad humiliating, and altogether cringey, but later, we laugh like stoned teenagers.
It’s funny to see our teammates do it to lockers when we’re kids, and it’s funny to see major leaguers do it, but when it’s a full-fledged thirty-something adult you know doing it, you look away. You try to convince yourself that it’s not happening. It’s one of the funniest things we’ve ever seen, but we look away. Some people enjoy it. Some cold, heartless bastards like you,” Barry said to the woman laughing hysterically, “laugh about it in the moment. You can’t get enough of it. And you know what, we probably should. We should probably force laughter just to inform these idiots that they should never put on such a display again.
Kids love it in the moment. They think it’s hilarious. They repeat all the swear words he screamed at the Gatorade cooler, and they laugh. “Is he joking dad?” No, now try to look away. We try to cover their eyes, but they fight it. This isn’t something they see every day, so they fight to watch it. “Why is he so mad?” they ask far too loud. “Was he mad because he struck out?” Yes, now for God’s sakes quit staring and join those of us who are pretending this never happened. The other parents in the audience don’t even laugh at our boy’s innocent, loud questions. They maintain the silence.
Kid won’t let stuff like this go either. “Why did Joey do that?” they ask on the drive home.
Son, Joey had no idea he was a commoner. He thought he’d be a contender, a somebody, some kind of prodigy. He probably thought he’d be playing Major League Baseball by now. He thought that when he was your age, and he held onto the dream that he was special for a long time. He had no idea that by the time he was thirty, the only thing anyone would pay him for was data entry. Missing those slow-pitch softballs, told him that he’s no better than the rest of us losers.
There’s nothing special about Joey, and everybody but him knew that for most of his life. Everybody in the company likes Joey, he’s a good fella, and everyone in his family loves him, but nobody thought he was special. Joey thought this softball game would be his big chance to prove everyone wrong. You could see it in his second at-bat, when he swung so hard that he tripped over himself and landed on his keester.
When Joey saw that major leaguer crush a home run, he probably thought hell, I could do that. With my muscles and my low-level body fat, all I need is a chance. When he saw that shortstop make an error, he laughed harder than anyone in the room. “I could’ve caught that,” he said. Then he strikes out three times in a slow-pitch softball game, and kids giggled at him when he falls down. Hell, I laughed impulsively, at first. I couldn’t help it, it was slapstick comedy, something we’ve been trained to laugh at our whole lives. If Lou Costello saw him do that, he might’ve been taking notes.
Some of us played sports when we were kids, and we played softball in recreational leagues, and we all made plays people laughed at. Joey never did. We even made those errors that are so awful that people don’t even laugh at them, because they’re so pathetic. They don’t even try to cheer you up after a while, because you’re so awful. They allow you to go back to the dugout in silent shame. After that, you realize that you aren’t half as good as we thought we were. Everyone who plays any sport goes through that, but Joey never did. Joey preferred sitting on the stands, laughing at us losers, thinking about his potential for greatness. That softball game was his big chance, the moment he thought he’d realize all his hopes and dreams of being a prodigy that no one ever heard of before. Joey believed the mythology of Joey that Joey built, and he thought he had potential to be great at something, anything, but he didn’t really do anything about it. He believed something would come along, something would happen, and when it didn’t, when he realized that he was no better than the rest of us losers, losers he secretly laughed at for working so hard at stuff, he looked for the nearest inanimate object he could find to humiliate and destroy.