Yesterday was a mistake. I adore Whoopi but that’s just it. I picked her and not a joke. In hindsight I wouldn’t want to write a joke about a surfer girl in trouble. It’s not even a joke. It’s a monologue that I think only Whoopi can pull off. This ongoing project is about my favorite jokes. Using this as an excuse to also talk about my favorite comedians is the gravy. It shouldn’t be the meat. Great now I’m doing cuisine analogies. And my stomach’s growling. I just ate two days ago.
I’m losing sight of the purpose of this ongoing project based loosely on a comedy workout suggestion found in Gene Perret’s Comedy Writing Workout. I’m supposed to “gather a collection of 25 jokes that [I] think are top drawer” and it’s understandable I’d get these instructions wrong because I keep my socks in the top drawer. Next to my shoes. And my feet.
Rewind it? I can’t even scrape it out of the trunk!
Rather than just pick jokes, I’m being lax and picking entire comedians. And then I tell myself if I can just pick my favorite routine by that comedian, that’s almost like picking a favorite joke. It’s not and I’ll tell you why. There’s a reason why there’s no such thing as Buddhist cuisine cuz all you can do is go up to the chef and ask him to make you one with everything. There’s no repeat business that way. Can’t ask for seconds, either.
I talk in my sleep. I’ve been told. By the phone company.
So for days now I’ve been wanting to do a blog post about Wendy Liebman, because she is one of my favorite comediennes. Every joke she tells is like something Bob Hope wishes he coulda pulled off in his hey day. Her delivery is flawless. Her timing is impeccable. As comedians go she is better than Buddhist cuisine. She is definitely top drawer and a joy to watch. Every subtle hand gesture and pause and movement seems to be a choice and yet to the someone-not-dissecting-every-second-like-me person it’s natural and comfortable.
My grandmother always said never marry for money. Divorce for money.
It’s as if she’s never uttered these words before in her life. Every. Single. Time. And yet it’s a conceit too. She knows she’s said them a million times. She knows many in the audience have probably heard these jokes before, and that’s part of the beauty of her performance. She doesn’t care. She still pretends this is the first time and you still buy it. That’s part and parcel of her amazing presentation.
Okay. So. All comedians do this. Not all comedians do it meta. There is an added sarcastic attitude that’s more pronounced in her younger days, it’s more subtle now, but it’s letting the audience in on the joke while simultaneously knowing with a wink and a big ass toothy grin that the joke is really on the audience, “you guys actually think this shit is funny you really do i can’t believe it i’d never break bread with you people okay maybe i would if you share the joint with me cuz you guys are fucked up really you are and i should know cuz i’m fucked up too.”
I don’t come from money. I come from coupons.
But I have to pick one joke. To make this silly workout project, y’know, work, I can’t just pick “Wendy Liebman” and call it done. I can’t just pick one of her routines, because she has one routine with a bunch of jokes that she pulls in and out as it suits her for that performance, but some of her jokes she hasn’t retired. When something works she sticks with it, unlike some comedians who throw all their jokes away every year or two and start over. That’s wasted effort. If a joke still gets laughs, why chunk it? So I’m going with this one, which is about two thirds of the way into the video below. I call it “Forty Something” but she probably has a different name for it, cuz I know she’s been using this joke since she was twenty-something.
I just turned forty-six. I don’t feel forty-six cuz I’m forty-seven, so I uhm.. for two years now and I’ve been.. uhm telling that joke for five but I don’t feel forty-seven. Forty-eight! Final answer! I’m very immature, for a forty-nine year old woman. According to my pediatrician. Okay I’m fifty..
Now she’s told this joke many times. I could go dig up older videos and you can see subtle differences in delivery and word choices, and also how she goes into and out of this joke with other jokes as if they all belong together but they don’t. Her jokes are like building blocks in her head and she moves them around, but this joke here is pretty set and only the numbers have really changed. The basic idea is the same. And this isn’t necessarily HER joke per se. I could probably dig back into routines by Phyllis Diller or Joan Rivers or other comediennes and find similar examples. The stereotype that a woman is vain about her age is not novel and ground breaking. It’s not just the content of the joke itself that I like it’s how she presents it, and the construction of it. The engineering. What makes the joke go.
Every joke is a premise with a punchline, but many of Wendy’s jokes are more like a funny premise (sometimes itself being a punchline) and then anywhere from two to ten punchlines in rapid fire succession. She’s actually mellowed with age which is welcoming. Sometimes her jokes are classic and standard now but in her hey day she would not let up. Her delivery hinted that just before walking on stage she had like maybe twenty coffees and wild passionate sex with heroin addicted rottweilers. She wouldn’t give you a chance to breathe. She’d kill you. Well not literally. You’d have had auto-erotic asphyxiation by the time you left the comedy club. Was it good for you? Don’t tell her husband. He’s the jealous type. And a mean drunk. Lock up your liquor cabinet. I just stole from Lily Tomlin.
What’s the premise of the joke? “I just turned forty-six.” The audience assumes she’s telling the truth. Whenever anyone volunteers their age we don’t go rummaging through their purse to confirm it with her driver’s license. She says she’s forty-six we’re gonna run with that. We didn’t really care how many times she spun around the sun anyway. I mean I dunno about you but I’d still hit dat. Mega Milf. I’m just sayin’. Don’t tell her husband. My point is we don’t care about her age it’s just a social grace thing. Women don’t usually volunteer their age. There’s no reason for her to do it here. We didn’t ask her to. She’s presumably bringing up her age because of whatever she was just talking about (practically ANY previous joke can lead into this one and I don’t know why) made her think about her age. So okay. She’s going somewhere with this and we’re taking the ride with her.
“I don’t feel forty-six cuz I’m forty-seven..” then she keeps talking “so I uhm..” cuz she knows it’s gonna take a beat for her audience’s brains to catch up with her mouth. Now when she was younger she wouldn’t always slow down. You’d find yourself laughing at the first joke when you’re hearing the third one cuz here they come. “for two years now..” bam! “and I’ve been telling that joke for five..” bam! If she’s been on a roll up until this point and this is the first time you’ve heard it, you’re reaching for an oxygen mask right about now. That’s like four punchlines in one run on sentence, and she’s just getting started! “..but I don’t feel forty-seven. Forty-eight! That’s my final answer!” Bam! Bam! Rhythm for some comedians is like music. For Wendy Liebman it’s more like a roller coaster. If a premise is going up the hill and punchlines are going down, she just uses a rocket. Fuck it. And okay now we’re going down and there’s twists and turns and oh gee another little hill you okay that was a little rough wasn’t it and here we go down again woah lost your lunch back there hope it tasted good the second time and here we go again. Look ma no hands. No stomach. Full pants tho. Depends.
So I like her Forty-Something joke cuz it’s damned funny. I wish I had written it. I adore the formula. I steal it often. It’s a classic example of Liebman at her level best form. It’s simple, elegant, and it can hit you a half dozen times when any other comedian might hit you just once. Figuratively speaking. Comedians don’t actually hit you. Unless you been naughty. And you pay extra. Bring your own whip.