Deconstructing the funny

by Brian Clarey

Deconstructing the funny

I’m going to tell you something about yourself that you might already know, but may have forgotten: You think you are a pretty funny person. It’s okay — everyone thinks that they have a great sense of humor, just like everybody thinks they’re a little smarter than average and that their families are more messed up than anyone else’s. And now I’m going to tell you something else about yourself: You’re probably not all that funny. Don’t feel bad about it — not everyone is funny, just like not everyone can roll their tongues or type more than 100 words a minute or hit a hanging curve ball. Even people who are funny aren’t funny all the time. And there’s the matter of subjectivity. I think Woody Allen is funny, but some people genuinely don’t. I don’t think novelty redneck teeth are particularly funny, but there are those who believe them to be the height of gag comedy. And then there are things that are always funny — a pie in the face, for example, or the slow, alto tones of a high-pitched fart. But tonight at the Idiot Box in downtown Greensboro, contestants in the Ultimate Comic Challenge have to shoot somewhere in the middle. Top Idiot Boxer Steve Lesser calls the UCC “our version of ‘Last Comic Standing,’” a single-elimination round robin every Friday night through Aug. 14. Each Friday sees two rounds of 12 or so comics; the top seven are decided by an audience vote. Finalists will compete for $1,000 in cash prizes and — more importantly — leverage for backstage trash talk. Lesser and his wife, WXII traffic maven Jennie Stencel — along with their crack team of Idiots — have assembled stand-up comics from across the state and beyond for the chance to take the mic and make strangers laugh. First up is Cabell Wilkinson, who takes advantage of her status as the evening’s sole comedienne by expressing her sexuality using coarse terms in a monologue replete with references to coitus, her difficulty in obtaining any and why she sings the theme song from “SpongeBob SquarePants” as she does it. As always, SpongeBob kills — even the professionals have their go-to bits, their sure-fire laugh lines. Talking about race is sure to elicit the ha-has. Sex and dating issues are likewise fertile comedic ground. A man performing under the moniker Comedian Monte taps into the zeitgeist with a repeated refrain he applied to both kids and old people: “You gotta love ’em.” The night’s second comedian, Eric Robertson, a white guy who calls himself “Crackular Spectacular,” treads more dangerous ground, explaining why he would join the Aryan gang were he ever to find himself in prison: “If one of my Aryan brethren wants to rape me, he won’t have as big of a dick.” He closes his five-minute set with an AIDS joke.

And so it goes…. Nathan Louis whips up a bit about Fat Albert (“A morbidly obese 12-year-old.”; Larry Ratliff, an employee of Guilford County Schools, launches a “These kids are so bad…” meme; and a hipster named Steve Forrest kills with a piece about an encounter with the auto-checkout at the grocery store, culminating with the line, “I don’t know what things are — that is my problem,” which absolutely slays me. I can’t help but pull for Tom Keller, a colleague who reports on high school sports for the News & Record, but his set starts slow with a piece of hackery about drinks named after sexual acts. The kid earns some pop-culture cred, though, when he compares himself to Steve, DJ’s boyfriend from the show “Full House.” “Nicely played,” I jot down in my notebook. Then he starts talking about porn and the internet, and discusses the existence of erotica so strange and exotic, “even Google is like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, buddy.’” Directly after Keller, Marc Kennedy takes the stage as the last act of the night, in cargo shorts and a cultivated case of bedhead. He starts strong, discerning the one thing you can learn about him from looking inside his car: “I don’t litter.” But things deteriorate quickly for the young funnyman, and at one point during his set he grimaces towards the audience. “Hey, who’s talking out there?” he asks. “Shut the hell up!” Of course, he loses the bit. Dying is easy, as the old song-and-dance men used to say; comedy is hard At the end of the evening, when the votes are tallied backstage and a harried and smiling Stencel announces the winners, Kennedy does not make the cut, nor does comedian Monte. Keller, as well as Wilkinson, Robertson, Ratliff and Forrest, move on to the next round. These guys are funny. Funnier than you, anyway. But you might be right about your family.