Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
I understand why they keep publishing diet books: People are fat and worried about it. But books like How to Be Funny, which purport to offer the magic key to becoming Mr. or Ms. Comedy, are a mystery. Because people keep getting fatter, the market for diet books will continue to, uh, grow. But the humor supply is basically constant. You are born funny or you’re a Republican. That’s it. Author Jon Macks admits in his introduction that his book “won’t help you become a standup comic, and it won’t help you become a comedy writer.” Instead, the point is “to teach you to be funny in everyday life.” (In case, like me, you were unaware of Macks: He’s apparently one of the legions of comics who contribute the 1,500 or so jokes that Jay Leno considers each day to find the 20 he’ll use in his monologue, as well as a writer for Hollywood Squares and “politicians, corporate leaders, and sports commentators.” In other words, a comedy hack.) In trying to support this faulty premise, Macks states, “Funny people get noticed at work.” Yes, but not in the way he implies. Competent people get noticed at work and earn promotions. Funny people get noticed at work and bring in the doughnuts on Friday. And, like doughnuts, they’re nice to have around but not really essential. Besides, sections such as “Topical Celebrity References: Career Versus Peak Value,” with specific comedy-geek insights into the relative merits of such 15-minute icons as Paula Jones, Joey Buttafuoco, and Tonya Harding will not help anyone seeking to add to his office hip quotient. If you don’t know what to talk about with your co-workers, maybe you should find another job. (I hear the post office is hiring.) Having a good sense of humor does not automatically mean having the onstage finesse of Jerry Seinfeld; nor does it mean forcing a few chuckles out of your buddies at the water cooler. It means being able to laugh at the world and at yourself. It means being able to appreciate the absurdities of life, not necessarily work up a solid 10 minutes on bad airline food and “What’s the deal with these ads on TV?” Many people with wonderful senses of humor cannot and do not tell jokes. And they do not study joke books for insight. Most of the examples Macks offers would work much better on stage than in a personal setting. They’re aggressive, they mock, they attack—they keep people at a distance. That’s what real jokes do, the kind professionals tell in public. The deeper they mock, the harder we laugh. But this is not the best strategy for seriously winning friends and influencing people at home or work. Try Macks’ style of comedy with Helen in Accounting and be prepared for a harassment suit. —Dave Nuttycombe