Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Did We Draft Our Favorite Jokes?

After Kavanaugh and I finished our last draft, of our favorite Bruce Springsteen songs, I decided to move the next draft away from Kavanaugh's area of expertise (music) to a field in which neither of us has as much prowess (jokes). Here's what transpired.

FranT: I've been listening to all the episodes of Norm MacDonald Live, which aired as a video podcast in 2013 and 2014. The show consists of Norm doing what he does best, i.e., bullshitting with other funny people. His guests on the show include Bob Saget, Larry King, and Adam Sandler.

Anyways, at the end of each episode, Norm has his guests read jokes that they've never seen before. (Here's an example.) The segment is hilarious because everything Norm says is hilarious, but also because the guests can't pull off a lot of Norm's jokes. It's obvious that each stand-up comedian has his or her own style, and I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes my favorite comedians funny.

Therefore, I think we should draft our favorite jokes of all-time. If you like the idea, here are the ground rules:

1. Stand-up only. No movie or sit-com jokes here.
2. No more than eight minutes long. We'll give each comedian a little time to set up the premise of the joke.
3. It must be on YouTube. Please, let us all laugh.
4. This might go without saying, but each comedian can only be drafted once. If you take someone's best joke, I can't take their second-best.

Kavanaugh: I'm in. You're up first, since I went first on Bruce and I could use a good example of what a pick looks like.

FranT: Alright, my first selection is an iconic one, George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV".

We'll probably draft a bunch of jokes that make me laugh harder than this one, but this Carlin joke laid the groundwork for some of the smart, hilarious cursing used by the comedians who followed him. When he describes the words we use to describe dirty words, Carlin is an English teacher's dream, rhyming, alliterating, and showing off his wonderful diction.

The pace of this joke is also perfect, slowing down enough to allow you to think but speeding up right before the funniest parts. And of course, the punchline is amazing. This would be a great desert island joke because I could practice saying the "seven words" for eternity, and I'd never be as good at it as Carlin.

Kavanaugh: Hahaha, I love George Carlin. Natural No. 1 overall. Here's my first -- it probably comes as no surprise that I'm picking a Jerry Seinfeld clip, "Men and Women":

This, out of all his stuff, captures his style. That style has probably affected my life more than just about any artist or person in pop culture out there. It just gets to the core of human behavior and shows us everything that makes us unique and ridiculous creatures. Favorite line: "I bet women are wondering, 'What goes through the minds of men?' I'll tell you: nothin'."

FranT: I had a bit of an inkling that you'd grab Seinfeld with your first choice. On The HBO special "Talking Funny" (36:00 mark) that aired in 2011, Jerry talked to my next pick about the lack of curse words in his act. Jerry said that he rarely uses curse words because it bothers him when he can't make a joke work without them. He also said that he thinks many comedians swear because they fear their acts won't work otherwise. Well, my next choice has no such qualms.

If Carlin wasn't such a legend, I definitely would've taken Louis C.K. first, so I'll snatch him up now. This joke is called "Of course... but maybe...":

I love it because it epitomizes Louie's ability to make everyone laugh about really uncomfortable subjects. I've heard my mom laugh at his sex jokes, and my mom's not exactly one to laugh at sex jokes. Pay special attention to his facial expressions and perfectly-timed pauses when he gets to each "but maybe" topic.

Kavanaugh: My next one is Robin Williams riffing on golf. I really like this joke, but it's also a bit of a legacy pick because his "I Do Voices" and "Raptor Rap" bits from Mrs. Doubtfire were ineligible. The "Golf" joke is full-on Williams, great insight while shining light on something ridiculous, told with incredible energy and toggling between voices and mannerisms in a way that would make even Frank Caliendo bow down. 

FranT: Like a lot of the other comedians in this draft, Robin Williams can take an everyday topic like golf and exaggerate the details to the point of absurdity. Good pick.

My next choice is from Chris Rock's 2008 special Kill the Messenger. The joke is about Barack Obama's main handicap, his "Black Wife":

This joke is quintessential Chris Rock because of the repetition ("I said it!"), the hilarious one-liners ("No. WE president!"), and the touchy subjects defused into comedy gold ("Black women get angrier than Southern white men."). Even though many of Rock's jokes are based on contemporary issues, they almost all age well. This bit won't be an exception.

Kavanaugh: "She can fight!"

My next pick is Jim Gaffigan's "McDonald's". It's a long clip, but the best stuff is at the beginning. His signature bit is "Hot Pockets", but "McDonald's" feels more universal. I love the idea of being so embarrassed to see someone you know at McDonald's that you make up an excuse. 

FranT: I love the idea that getting a male hooker is less shameful than eating at McDonald's. There's a kernel of truth in there, somewhere. The psychology behind not wanting to pass up a fast food "deal" is also funny and fascinating. The segue into pop culture as the "McDonald's of the soul" is a good extension of the joke.

With my penultimate pick, I'm taking peak Eddie Murphy, from his Delirious special. Delirious came out in 1983, a few years after Eddie joined SNL and right around the time when he was perfecting his raunchy humor. In honor of that astoundingly smart gutter humor, I'll go with this bit, called "Chinese People":

It's about different languages and masterfully interweaves sodomy and pop culture about halfway through the clip. From the time he does his first Chinese accent until the end of the clip, I'm doubled over every 10 seconds. Holy shit, his impersonations are dynamite. (My favorite is an Elvis imitation from earlier in Delirious.) Eddie was some kind of talented.

I'm no expert but I think Eddie trumps Gaffigan. Actually, Eddie should be insulted that he wasn't picked by either of us until now.

No jokes were selected between March 22 and April 10.

FranT (after about seven IPAs): C'mon, Brian! You have two more jokes to pick...

Kavanaugh: My participation in this draft has been the real joke! My moderately sincere apologies...

Getting back to it -- I realized that with comedy I have a sweet spot (nerdy white guys making wry, fairly straightforward remarks about everyday life) and not much else in terms of breadth or variety. So I'm going to stock my roster with these specialists and try to run teams out of the gym with that one skill.

Next up is Demetri Martin's "These Are Jokes". (Note: We couldn't find the original clip to embed. Click on the link if you want to listen to it.) Has a little meaning for me because I was kind of coming into my own in terms of a sense of humor as he was getting his start, whereas Seinfeld, forever my touchstone, is obviously from a previous generation. 

FranT: Your white-and-nerdy team sounds suspiciously like the 1950 NCAA champion City College of New York hoops squad. Go Beavers! I had never listened to Demetri Martin before, but he's pretty funny. A little disjointed but definitely funny.

With my last pick, I'm taking the comedian who I mentioned in the first e-mail to get this whole draft started. Norm MacDonald is my favorite comedian, but many of his greatest jokes came in talk-show settings (including my two favorites, jokes about Oscar Pistorius and a moth). Since we're confining this to stand-up, though, I'll select Norm's "Cheese Sandwich" joke. 

It's got all of Norm's best qualities -- hilarious tangents; a slow, rambling cadence; psychotic attention to detail; and an affinity for unsavory topics.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, the magazine ranked Norm as one of the worst SNL cast members ever, saying:

"Macdonald clearly thought he was hilarious, and that counts for something -- confidence is essential for a "Weekend Update" anchor. Unfortunately, he was just a Dennis Miller clone with no mullet and no jokes. Stare into the camera a little longer, Norm; maybe it'll get funnier."

As if we needed another reason to hate Rolling Stone...

Norm is one of the funniest people I've ever had the privilege of hearing, and he's the perfect final starter on my Comedy Dream Team. I'm thrilled to have him and his "Cheese Sandwich" joke.

Who's rounding out your team, Brian? My starting five of Carlin, Louie, Rock, Eddie, and Norm looks pretty damn formidable.

Kavanaugh: At long last, here is my final joke. I've kinda been in exile much like my next comedian was. The only difference is my exile was only within the context of this email thread, and his was after making millions of dollars and turning the comedy show game on its head.

Hard to pick a signature joke from Dave Chapelle, at least from what I can tell. He has two epic specials, For What It's Worth and Killing Them Softly, but the world of YouTube has yet to compartmentalize them into joke-by-joke clips.

I'm going with this joke, "The Secret", because it makes fun of two things I also like to make fun of and analyze: cliched idioms and self-help books:

FranT: Nice work, buddy. I was afraid that you really were going to draft only white guys. Now, let's turn it over to the public...

So who won the draft? Whose joke team makes you laugh the most?

1. George Carlin ("Seven Words You Can't Say on TV")
2. Louis C.K. ("Of course... but maybe ...")
3. Chris Rock ("Black Wife")
4. Eddie Murphy ("Chinese People")
5. Norm McDonald ("Cheese Sandwich") 

1. Jerry Seinfeld ("Men and Women")
2. Robin Williams ("Golf")
3. Jim Gaffigan ("McDonald's")
4. Demetri Martin ("These Are Jokes")
5. Dave Chappelle ("The Secret")

Please leave a comment or vote in the poll on the right side of the page.

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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

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