Last night I went to a comedy show called "50 First Jokes" where 50 pretty great comedians got up and told one joke each — the first new joke they'd written this year. 2013 is one week old, so these were mostly brand-new and untested. (Or tested maybe a handful of times, as many stand ups work every night. But still, very new jokes!) I was expecting this show to take foreverrr, right? But it went pretty quickly. I was also expecting a lot of one-liners — had I been one of the comedians, I'd have gotten up, farted in the mic, and sat back down. But most of these folks did well-thought-out bits that were around a minute or two in length. It was actually one of the best comedy shows I've been to in a really long time. Everyone seemed to take it pretty seriously, which in comedy means it felt like just the opposite.
Out of curiosity, I took notes on the topics they covered – in a notebook with a pen I chewed on as I scrutinized each performance, like a jerk, hoping none of the comedians would notice. In fact, my biggest fear was that someone would think I was taking notes in order to steal their brand-new jokes, which would be hilarious given that it's so much easier to just record something like that discreetly with your iPhone. Also given that I wouldn't know what to do with their jokes once I "had" them. Anyway! Here's what 50 comedians are thinking about this year:
5 jokes about utter nonsense. These were actually hilarious, but in a "you had to be there" kind of way. And that is the difference between us and comedians: regular folks can't describe a comedian acting like a weirdo and have it sound funny, at all. "She just, like, stood there being all... with this voice... I was dying! No, but it was funny! It was." There are few things cringier than relaying, for example, a bit like this, so I won't.
5 "jokes" weren't jokes. These are called "bombs," I think?
5 jokes about sex, the act of. Penises. Lesbians. Penises and lesbians!
5 "men are like this and women are like that" jokes. I always get mad at myself for laughing at these, but you know what? They're funny because they're maybe sometimes a little bit true, when told by the right smart people.
4 "I'm so crazy and/or lazy" jokes. Write what you know.
3 jokes making fun of family members.
2 physical comedy jokes! These were the most unexpected and involved very little talking. One made me so uncomfortable I had to cover my eyes, so I'm not actually sure how funny it was.
2 jokes on each of the following topics: trying to be famous, porn, breaking up, current movies, getting old, race, and drinkin' & druggin'.
1 joke on each of the following topics: the holidays, poop, Instagram, puns, Ke$ha, rednecks, and diets.
Does that add up to 50 jokes? Hm, in hindsight, maybe this should've been called "A Handy Guide to Writing Stand Up."
Photo of Johnny Pemberton by Barbara Gray.