Comedy By The Numbers

Comedy_by_the_Numbers_2nd_loresThe new McSweeney’s book, Comedy By The Numbers by Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, is a really rare thing. It’s a book about comedy that is actually funny. Pretending to be a comprehensive guide to the 169 comic attitudes and situations ,it manages to be equal parts sarcastic snark and earnest opinion. There is actual information in the book. It’s easily more useful than a book like Comedy Writing Secrets and a heck of a lot funnier.

I recommend it, especially if you enjoy the humor of Mr. Show. Definitely not recommended if you are easily offended. In fact, stop reading now because I’m going to quote it.

Here’s one tip:

One of the masonry units of physical comedy – the chairman of the board of reactionary humor. This comedy device is to one’s repertoire what trinkets and beads were to the Native American Indian way back when – once you see it, you must have it! You will need full use of your eyes and eyebrows, mouth, neck and sometimes ears in order to get the substantial laugh that accompanies this baby.

Easy. Follow this simple example of a typical situation where THE DOUBLE TAKE reaction is set up – Picture this scene:
1. You come home from work and say, “honey, I’m home” as you’re walking through the door.
2. You hang up your fedora and coat and walk into the living room.
3. You pick up your newspaper and sit in your favorite easy chair, barely noticing your wife and dog across the room.
4. Your wife is sitting on the couch wearing a huge piece of cheese as a hat and your dog, King, is sitting next to her in a push-up bra and crotchless panties.
5. You ask your wife how her day was in such a manner that means you don’t really care.
6. You flip through your newspaper nonchalantly as she answers: “unusual”.
7. You say: “That’s nice, dear” in monotone that befits your lack of interest.
8. As you flip the paper one more time, you glance over at her and King and clearly notice what they are wearing is inappropriate, but it doesn’t register in your brain at that moment, so you look back at your paper.
9. BUT at the same moment you stop rustling the newspaper, your brain DOES finally register the inappropriateness of their attire and you pull the paper down to your lap, while snapping your neck back to look at them and raising both your eyebrows, widening your eyes and leaving your mouth agape (open). Your face is expressing how unbelievable it is that your wife is sitting on a couch with a dairy product on her head and your pet is cross-dressing in intimate apparel!!

Interestingly enough, this facial comedy began with the immigrants who brought with them to America, not only their yearnings for freedom and democracy, but also a sense of reactionary humor bred from the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Read a few excepts on their website.

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