Dwight is my good friend who, ironically, didn't become my good friend until we lived in separate states. Dwight is a Presbyterian minister and also a stand up comedian. I recently saw him at a comedy club, and was most impressed by his ability to read the audience and improvise. A true artist.
I sat down with Dwight in cyberspace and asked him a few questions.
J: How long have you wanted to do stand up comedy, and how did you discover you liked to do it?
D: I have wanted to perform stand-up comedy since I was nine or ten. I used to memorize comedy routines from Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, and Robin Williams and deliver the jokes that didn't have cursing in them back to my sisters who were a great audience. The albums or eight tracks belonged to my sisters and I would listen to them secretly and then deliver the lines later. It was effective. I didn't perform on a stage as an intentional comic until I was 35 years old. I found out I liked it because I enjoy(ed) the attention of course. I also love(d) to laugh and help make others laugh. It feels empowering and is really pleasureable and is ultimately about playing and having fun. I don't have as much of that as I would like in my full time calling as a pastor. But I'm working on it.
J: Name one or two comedians you admire and why.
D: I admire anyone who is clean and who can be funny without cursing every other word. I think it takes more creativity to do so. Steve Martin is one of my favorites due to his broad range of talent and the longevity of his career-and he's relatively clean. Mike Birbiglia is a more recently successful comic who also is pretty clean. I also admire comics who tell the truth about society and are bold in doing so. Chris Rock and Bill Hicks are two examples-they're filthy in terms of cursing-but they name realities and call out the BS that they see happening. So clean comics and comics who are honest and not afraid to go places others fear to tread are my favorites. If you're clean and hold people's feet to the fire-then that's the best combination in my book.
J: Funniest joke, or else why there is no "funniest joke"
D: Humor can be very subjective. In part it's because I think a sense of humor is learned. Some examples of what many people find funny involve jokes that demonstrate: originality, authenticity, misdirection, the unexpected, the absurd and that which is blatantly incongruent. Sometimes even human pain can illicit a laugh-slapstick for instance is often absurd-for instance The Three Stooges when Moe used a saw on Curly's head. Another helpful explanatory statement about what's funny I heard Mel Brooks say "If I have a hangnail it's a tragedy...if you fall down a manhole it's hilarious. That's comedy."
J: A brief reflection on when a joke doesn't fly.What is the talent to read an audience and improvise?
D:The talent is listening to a crowd-you know how they're feeling because you hear instant feedback in the form of laughing, clapping, silence, or "oooooooooooo" when they're disgusted. If you're honest about that feedback it shows confidence and vulnerability which helps the crowd want you to succeed.
Some pros have standard responses written before hand for when a joke falls flat. You can't cover all possibilities before you go on stage but having something prepared for situations that are bound to occur can give you a better shot at getting a laugh. You want the crowd to be rooting for you-feeling like they're on your side-being honest or quick witted helps facilitate that. If you aren't willing to name the obvious though then the crowd calls you on it by not laughing and you've lost them after that and it can be difficult to get them back.
At this point in my development I'm just as likely to wilt when a joke falls flat as I am not to miss a beat and move forward.
Any talent I have in this area comes from ten years of practice in worship when things go wrong and having to name it-and then move on to the next portion of worship. People are already talking about or thinking about whatever just happened-naming it releases the tension and enables the comedy act or the worship service to keep going. The difference is in worship if you mess up a lot it's viewed as incompetence in comedy it helps the crowd like you more.
J: Any closing thoughts?
D: Just that there is more to comedy than meets the eye.Being a comic is one of the most difficult pursuits I've ever undertaken. It is also something that brings me a lot of joy and fulfillment.
J: Thanks, Dwight, for being my guest. And to you, the reader, I'm posting a link to his blog. Why don't you hop over for a visit?