The hit you get in the beginning gives you this high. It’s the kind of high where you can smell the flowers without having to put them under your nostrils, a fluid in-touch-with-yourself floaty high, cooler than a cucumber and smarter than a smartie (but only the orange ones).
The thing is once you’ve tasted it, you want it again and again. But when you get the taste again , it never quite seems the same. It’s cool, but not quite as cool as the first time. So you take a risk, you say something off-script, you riff with an idea that’s not in the plot line.
It’s the mixture of words, knowing the order that they should go in, of holding yourself in a particular way, of knowing which inflection to use, of pausing, of waiting, and then waiting just a little bit more, then the delivery – the beautiful delivery – of a beautiful punch line. You come out the other end and wonder, can you do it all again? Can you take yourself somewhere else again, just by making people laugh?
After a while you realise that it’s actually not just the hit that you want, it’s an understanding too, an understanding of why one word, rather than another word works, of why a pause is often better than a word, of how allowing the audience fill in the gap is sometimes better than saying the whole joke out loud:
She arrived with two lemons in her suitcase.
It’s true, it happened. The details though, the back story, doesn’t matter. The image of someone arriving with only two lemons in her suitcase shimmers with opportunity. Do I tell the whole story, or just say the line knowingly, letting the audience fill in the gaps? It always depends on what the material surrounding the line is. Sometimes the whole story needs to be told, other times the sentence is suspended, held there as an offering of what might have been, before and afterwards as a consequence of arriving with two lemons in her suitcase.
I’m five shows in. Themes appear again and again: the not for profit sector, local, state and federal government funding, the kitchen bench, motherhood, marriage.
I work and rework the material to make it fresh, funnier than the last time. I spin it drier than the last time, weeding out more and more words, making each one count. Sometimes it’s really hard to get to the delivery end of the joke, the set up seems to take an age. I want to give the audience permission to laugh, but they have to wait, they have to be given the warp and the weft of each word, they have to wait for me to build the picture, to set the scene. I tantalize them with these words:
I remember this day, because this was the day I sneezed a piece of carrot out of my nose.
Pause. A very long pause.
I was working in a fruit and vegetable shop at the time. I looked at her, the woman I sneezed the carrot onto and she looked at me and I said:
We’ll not charge you for that piece of carrot.
Other lines open up saying one thing:
I got on a plane once –starving.
Finishing with something unexpected:
Because I had an eating disorder.
Comedy has to take you somewhere you don’t expect to go. The more I write, the further away from the starting point I want to go:
for the hit, for the funny, for the pleasure of finding the word that is seemingly unrelated to another and bringing it right back around again and linking it, to create the alchemy that is creating a great joke.