It’s a cliche that you hear over and over in various forms:
• Comedy is serious business
• There’s nothing funny about comedy
• Dying is easy; comedy is hard
But the cliche exists because it conveys an accurate point: The best comedy requires from the performer total commitment, strict self-discipline, and a willingness to go beyond the usual bounds of tact and good taste.
Consider the following, which was rejected as the Richard Brautigan Poem of the Day, and justifiably so:
Ode to My Woman (excerpt)
by Steve Martin
Every man needs a woman, and I need you
To lift me when I am sad
To comfort me when I am down
To clean me when I am drunk
To walk beside me when I want to look like I’m not gay
To walk in front of me when I need someone to act as a human windbreak
To kiss me when I’m horny
To massage me when I am tense and/or horny
To make me horny when I’m not horny,
and then to watch me fall asleep.
Now, that’s rude and disrespectful, but it’s also goddamn funny. Wait, no; it’s funny because it’s rude and disrespectful; that is the whole point of the joke. To make this kind of joke you have to turn off the part of yourself that worries about what people will think.
Which is difficult for us sensitive types. I think this is one reason that Steve eventually quit standup comedy: His onstage persona — a ridiculously overconfident, go-for-the-jugular Wildman — was just too different from his real personality.
Actually, it wasn’t just onstage; Steve was basically playing the same guy in everything he did until 1984, from “Saturday Night Live” to Cruel Shoes to The Jerk to The Man with Two Brains. I think it just burned him out eventually, which was why he found it such a relief to play less edgy characters starting with All of Me.
Good for him. But man, we loved that Wild and Crazy Guy. The guy who wasn’t afraid to tell a joke that had as a punchline, “So I shot her.” They guy who told Iron Balls McGinty, “Sir, you are talking to a n****r!” The guy who wrote this:
You feel a little sorry for the guy who has to compete with him. The aging, mellowed novelist, playwright, and art collector. The guy who said this: “All I want now is small and perfect and beautiful pictures…. The ideal thing to own would be one of those Winslow Homer watercolors.”