As part of our global expedition exploring what makes things funny, we’re grilling humorists about the science behind scoring laughs. (Previously published on Wired.com)
You’ve likely spotted Jordan Brady in small roles on television shows like Baywatch, Dream On, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Who’s the Boss? Or maybe, years ago, you caught him hosting the MTV game show Turn It Up! or the Saturday-morning staple Name Your Adventure. Surely you’ve seen a few of his commercials. Over the last 10 years, he’s directed more than 700 of them.
But if you’re in the comedy world, you know Brady from his 2010 cult documentary, I Am Comic. As a comedian, Brady infused his film about stand-up comedy with equal parts pathos and pain, and convinced acclaimed comics — from Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr to Tim Allen and Jeff Foxworthy — to open up about the highs and lows of the trade. It’s the insider’s version of Comedian, dissecting everything from comic burnout to hecklers and the best color for stage curtains.
Need more proof Brady is a stand-up pro? He’s apparently the first person to describe porno-film music using “Bow-chicka-bow-WOW!” — in one of his bits from the 1990s (third video below). That has to count for something, right?
Humor Code: How do you define humor? What do you think makes things funny?
Jordan Brady: Humor is anything that elicits an involuntary laugh, giggle, chortle or spit take. The ultimate response to a funny thing is to make another person pee his or her trousers. “Trousers,” by the way, is a funnier word than “pants,” despite the hard “p.”
I find things that are incongruous but linked in an unexpected way to be funny. Or an old lady falling off a boat.
Humor Code: Were you born funny, or did your funniness come from practice and development? Does good comedy have to come from a screwed-up childhood?
Brady: I was born breech, which is to say ass first. I got a laugh, except from my mother, who was not humored at all. My childhood was not that screwed up, and I don’t think that matters. You are born funny. You can learn the mechanics of being funny; you cannot be taught to be funny.
Humor Code: Describe your comedy creation process.
Brady: I carry a pen and scribble on paper, or nowadays use my phone’s notepad. Revision is hearing the joke aloud and trimming words.
Humor Code: How is technology changing comedy for the better — and how is it making it worse?
Brady: Folks texting and recording during shows sucks. It takes away from the intimacy of a unique, live experience. Technology helps a comic gain exposure. Technology is not really a funny helper.
Humor Code: What, for you, is the toughest kind of audience to make laugh?
Brady: The hardest audience to make laugh would be folks that are non-English-speaking old folks who are eating shellfish, and got in for free. Shellfish is a known laugh suppressant.
Humor Code: Can you give an example of when one of your jokes failed badly?
Brady: I told a joke that always works nicely: Basically, when my 17-year-old handsome son and I go out together, people don’t know that we’re father and son, but, rather, they think I am a gay cougar. A “gougar,” if you will.
I told the joke with my son in the crowd and made the mistake of pointing him out. It was creepy and confusing to the crowd.
Humor Code: How could the comedy industry do better at finding, fostering and promoting new talent?
Brady: Stop free shows. And stop being so fucking supportive. I went to an open mic where the other comics made up 96 percent of the crowd. They clapped for each other and laughed. That is not real, not supportive. It’s false. The system works pretty well because it weeds out those who suck or lack the tenacity to stick it out.
Humor Code: What are the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
Brady: People are right that stand-up comedians want the attention. Any stand-up who denies this is full of shit. But most good stand-ups know what’s funny before the audience hears the joke. We don’t need the audience to tell us.
Humor Code: In your opinion, what makes a good comedic performance space? What makes a bad space?
Brady: I like a small, dimly lit space with a spotlight on the comic. The theater shows are great for established comedians, because they are performing for you. But a great club experience is best served dark and intimate.
Humor Code: What are the characteristics of a good comic?
Brady: A good comic must have a healthy ego, a point of view and clean trousers.
Humor Code: How far would you go to get a laugh? Is anything off limits?
Brady: I’ll never say something derogatory about a group of people just to get a laugh. Baby rape is off limits.
Humor Code: How will comedy be different five years from now? Who — or what — is the future of comedy?
Brady: The RoboComic 4000 will dominate the Internet. Jokes will be fresh every 12 minutes
Read full post at The Humor Code
For more about the Humor Code, check our:
Huffington Post blog.
Psychology Today blog.