Yesterday, in the first act of the show, we did a piece called “New State Quarters.” In “New State Quarters” Conan unveils new, fake, state quarters—complete with graphics. I really liked Jose’s quarter (Jose is a writer on the show). It was the Oregon quarter, featuring a picture of Lewis and Clark embracing. The caption: “Oregon: Site of Lewis and Clark’s Other Discovery.” All around, it was a good show. A comedian named Tom Papa was the third guest. He’s a friend, also a good person and comedian. I know him from doing the clubs around the city. Tom’s set went well. I loved a bit he did about traffic (it turned on the concept of schadenfreude).
Tom’s bit passed the “I wish I’d thought of that” test. For me, that’s kind of the ultimate comedy barometer. It goes beyond “That’s funny” or even an actual laugh. It’s when you laugh at the joke and then immediately wish you had thought of it. My friend Leo and I always talk about this. Some jokes are very short and elegant—like a mathematical proof or a midget in a ball gown. There is an almost obvious simplicity to them. But naturally, comedy is subjective. So, the test is different for each person. That’s part of the fun (and the not-so-fun).
As a comedian, you can hang out in the back of any comedy club in the city. When you’re just starting out, that’s a great thing, because you can see how the room works (the audience, hecklers, waitresses, etc.). You also get to know all the other comics. You quickly realize the stand-up world is tiny—like an even smaller midget (with or without a ball gown). And you get to know everyone’s material. That’s why when a comedian steals from other comics it is obvious to everyone. In fact, a few days ago I received an e-mail from a comic in Virginia. We don’t know each other, but he’s seen a couple of my TV spots. He wrote me to tell me he was doing a show in Richmond and saw the opening comic tell one of my jokes, verbatim. In his e-mail he included the joke along with the thief’s name and phone number. I guess I’m going to call the guy. I don’t know what it will achieve. You can’t punch someone in the balls over the phone. If I were a really persuasive guy, I guess I could call him and convince him to punch himself in the balls. But I’m not at that level yet.
Most of the people I hang out with are comedians. Most of the comedians I know are passionate about what they do. And all of them like to talk about comedy. It’s wonderful. There is a special camaraderie that comes from the shared experience of bombing in front of groups of strangers. Because, while it’s great to see one of your friends tell an “I wish I thought of that” joke, it’s hilarious to watch them tell an “I’m glad I didn’t think of that” joke. (Ah, sweet schadenfreude—which I believe is a delicacy in some parts of Hollywood.) And on any given night, you don’t know which one it will be. This seems true of TV writing, too. With stand-up it’s just more immediate.
After the show, we had dinner. Lamb chops. Good. I also had a bottle of grapefruit juice I had frozen earlier in the day. That was good, too—once I finally managed to get the contents out of the container. I freeze one just about every day. And every time I do, I have to pound it against things (doorframes, chair arms, desks) for about 15 minutes to get the stuff out. It’s worth it, though. Grapefruit slush is way better than grapefruit juice. The down side: Banging frozen plastic grapefruit juice bottles is really annoying to other people—even if you make the banging rhythmic or offer them some of the slush. So, now I do my ice cheffery in private.
Today is Friday. We’ll tape a show, a little earlier than usual. Then, a week off. I’m going to spend it performing in Ireland. I will do four shows at the Kilkenny Comedy Festival. But before that: Tonight I have to write 80 percent of the music for the one-man show, 90 percent of the words, and then perform 100 percent of it tomorrow night. Sunday I’ll do a couple of shows around town, locate my to-do list, and fail to finish it before getting on another airplane. But first, I have to go to work.
I never kept a diary before. And I will probably never again. This week has been fun, but long (unlike aforementioned midgets). Writing these five entries has taught me two things. 1: I am simple—I like to write jokes and tell jokes. For better or worse, that’s how I’m made. And, 2: Like grapefruit slush, it’s worth the work, but probably better when prepared in private.
I love what I do. I’m tired, but, in the words of Pablo Picasso, “I am exhausted if I don’t work.” I wish I’d thought of that.