Quiet Desperation

The funny thing about humor is how often it isn’t funny


An ice cream truck used to appear every day at the parks where I played when I was a kid. Its infectious little tune made my mouth water. I think now it would drive me to distraction.

On each side of the truck it said “Good Humor.”

I think I have a good sense of humor. Mine is mine, and it’s sculpted, and it’s not universal. Mine is lean, free of meanness and ribaldry. And that excludes me these days from comedy clubs and White House Correspondents’ Dinners. No more stand-up for Craig.

I am too old for Michelle Wolf’s humor. I was too old for it when I was her age (32).

I can’t remember the first time I saw Don Rickles on Carson, but I know I wasn’t crazy about him. He’d pick at every scab, and then wind up by saying it was all just a joke, and he loved everyone.

Joan Rivers did the same thing, but she never said it was all just a joke, or that she loved everyone.

Maybe you remember celebrity roasts? I thought they were imbecilic. Now they’re so raunchy they only appear on cable.

My father never told a joke in his life, but he was the funniest man I knew. He was witty right now, and he didn’t need a writer.

I found out what humor was, or what it was thought to be, when I was in grade school by watching television.

These were a few of my choices: Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. For reasons I could explain if this were a comedy dissertation, I rejected all of them.

Along came a curiosity named Ernie Kovacs and I brightened somewhat.

Kovacs was off-center, and his humor was constructed piece by piece, not thrown at me in a predictable punch.

I haven’t watched situation comedies in 40 years. I will admit, however, to an appreciation for Barney Fife (portrayed, of course, by Mick Jagger). Fife might have been television’s last genuinely amusing, reoccurring character.

Fife looked and sounded like they located him in Mayberry, North Carolina, not in a script room in southern California.

My alma mater’s extension school offers a course I briefly considered.

It’s called “Beginning Writing for the Half-Hour Spec I.” You “learn how to identify the unique spin shows put on their stories.”

You learn how to spin on Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m., and it’s $570.

I can tell you how to spin a situation comedy for free.

Come up with some quirky characters who have quirky neighbors and quirky bosses. Be sure one of them says crude things, and one of them is stacked.

No matter what anyone says, every third line gets a laugh, provided by a laugh machine.

“I went to see my doctor today. I asked him if I needed glasses.”

“What did he say?”

“He said, `You sure do. This is a bank.’ ”

This is where the engineer comes in with a pre-recorded laugh. It’s intended for anyone who doesn’t know if the character was kidding or not. It’s the manipulative equivalent of multiple exclamation marks. Anyone who strings together exclamation marks gets deleted from my will.

What do John The Baptist and Winnie The Pooh have in common?

The same middle name.

But seriously.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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