This Man Is An Island

The other day Melissa and I were watching Lyla run around when she turned to me and asked very sincerely, “Where do dogs come from?” I gave my best “I-knew-this-day-would-come” sigh and began, “Well, when a mommy dog and a daddy dog love each other very much. .  .“  I knew Melissa would not think this was very funny – or rather, I knew Melissa would not allow herself a reaction that would betray that she actually really did think it was very funny – but that didn’t matter to me.  I don’t really rely on the reactions of others to determine whether something I’ve done or said or written is funny, and this instance was no exception.  I nailed it, I knew I had nailed it, and nothing could change that, not even every man, woman, and child on the earth reacting to my joke with this face:


I’m not arguing that the ability to tune out the rest of the world when assessing one’s own sense of humor is necessarily a virtue.  I’m simply telling you that the reaction of other people to an attempt at humor on my part doesn’t have any bearing on how successful I believe that attempt to be.  If I tell a lame joke and my interlocutors erupt in delighted peals of laughter, I’m never tempted to upgrade my rating of said joke from lame to funny, and the same goes for when I say something I think is hilarious but is greeted by crickets and tumbleweeds.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still very much like for you to think I am funny.  I’m sure poor Vincent Van Gogh knew he was a genius, but other people recognizing that probably would have gone a long way towards his not dying poor, alone and with a slight leftward tilt to his head.  Life is better when everyone else recognizes and values the gift that you know you possess.

A few days ago I found myself in a high stakes social situation with the chance to make a fairly risky joke – I knew that this particular joke was either going to go over big or fail terribly.  I was feeling lucky so I went for it.  Pay dirt.  I got the hot hand and I just couldn’t miss.  The crowd was eating out of my hand.  I decided to quit while I was ahead, at which point someone else decided to try his hand.  His attempts were easy, obvious, and just not very funny.  And yet the crowd – my crowd – went crazy for this guy.  They had thought I was really funny, and now they thought he was really funny.  I wasn’t sure how to process this information.

I felt like piping up and saying “Guys, you don’t know what you’re doing.  You’re still on a high from my time in the limelight, so you’re laughing at things that you just shouldn’t be laughing at.  You’re better than this, and you’re now starting to really debase yourselves and the time we shared together.”  I didn’t say that, of course, but the experience made me realize that the only thing worse than nobody recognizing your genius is having people treat you like a genius but then treat other clearly non-geniuses like geniuses.

None of this, of course, answers Melissa’s question of where dogs come from.  I really feel like I need to give her a good answer soon, though, before she gets bad information from her friends at school.

(PS:  In fairness to Melissa, she meant to essentially ask “How is it that dogs came to be domesticated when most other animals haven’t been?”)

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12 Responses to This Man Is An Island

  1. Mary says:

    they were only laughing at that other guy because you warmed them up. We have a friend that is a comedian, and he was explaining how when he performs at a club with a bunch of other comedians, if they start out lame, everyone gets bored from the get go. Then he performs and it’s hard to get the laughs, even when he’s on fire, till the end of his act. Then the next 3 semi-lame guys will go and the crowd will be dying with laughter because he had them perfectly ripe.

    At least you let us know when to laugh at your jokes by including “nailed it!” at the end of half your sentences.

  2. craig says:

    reminds me of seinfeld and bania

  3. Ryan says:

    I agree with you that it is weakness to pander. What is funny is funny, regardless of whether your audience is too dumb to recognize it. But still, there’s nothing like an easy crowd. It’s not that you start saying lame things just because people are laughing, but you start sharing things that are funny to you that you wouldn’t necessarily just start spewing if the crowd weren’t that easy. I’ve caught myself playing to an easy crowd a few times, and it’s sort of shocking to sort of pick through the havoc that is left after such an interaction. Crazy what an easy crowd will do to you.

  4. Ben Pratt says:

    In my experience, no one is better equipped (nor willing as often) to tell someone that their hilarious joke was sophomoric and immature than that person’s wife.

  5. Ryan says:

    Yeah, well, that’s pretty much the job description, isn’t it? I think Isaiah said something about how heaven’s highest and rarest creation is the wife that thinks her husband is funny. Or maybe that was Yogi Berra.

  6. Christian says:

    Tell Melissa the first dogs were a mixture of Patagonian ligers and sea otters.

  7. You guys are like a more modern, funnier Seinfeld. Seriously, how do you think of these things to write about – every time I’m laughing and thinking, he’s exactly right.

  8. Layne says:

    I’ve seen that look before. It is always such a killjoy when I see it.

  9. Azucar says:

    You know when you use a joke once and it kills but when you use it later with a different audience, it bombs? And then you spend hours obsessing over the nuances of the set-up, the structure of the syntax, trying to figure out where the joke went wrong? I mean, I heard Chris Rock talking about that during an interview one time on a channel you don’t get.

  10. Troy says:

    For some reason I kept picturing the Closer with a smug look that kept giving you knowing glances like he just stole your crowd. Drop a bomb, look at you sideways, drop another bomb, give you a private wink. Please tell me that’s how he really was.

    Mary is right the warmup theory is solid comedic science. If you think of your hardest laughs, they almost always are preceded by several smaller chuckles or laughs. A zero to sixty laugh is rare. You have to go through the gears. That’s why when someone’s on fire, anything goes. Like on Dumb and Dumber in Lloyd’s daydream he’s in the zone and resorts to throwing popcorn in his face and doing blue-darts.

    Like Steve Martin says, “Comedy is all about …. uh …. (long pause) oh –TIMING!”

  11. maweesa says:

    davis, i do know one easy crowd that is your fav to get going.. and matter how easy it is you LOVE it.

  12. Braden says:

    It is amazing to me that anyone could think we Bells are just slightly neurotic.

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