I’m very skeptical, but I may have written an original joke. Here it is:
I have many tattoos. I keep them on other people.
Simple. Elegant. Though not funny in this context, I’ve tried it a couple times randomly in the world of the flesh to positive responses. I’ve also done some preliminary research and have yet to find it exists as a joke among those comedians I adore and admire. This is not to say I won’t eventually. That’s where I’m skeptical. Every time in the past I thought I finally came up with an original idea for a joke, I would later learn to my dismay that someone, somewhere, wrote the joke before I did. So I could never claim it was mine. I’ve never been able to amass enough original material to memorize and try out on an open mike night, cuz I have this irrational fear that whatever I write up will later be claimed by someone else, and I’ll be branded a thief. I’m a serious student of other comedians’ work, so the scenario is very plausible, and I’m very self-conscious about not being accused of it. The upshot of this is I’ve never successfully tried to be a stand up comedian, tho at one time it was my dream and aspiration.
For example, many years ago I was working on a joke about how some people think the glass is half empty and others think the glass is half full and that somehow being optimistic is the proper response? To hell with that! If you almost get in an accident you shouldn’t feel relieved you survived! You should seriously re-examine your life choices and in the future stop doing things that almost get you killed! I never got the joke quite the way I wanted it. I couldn’t figure out the punchline. Then one day I heard it, in the voice of George Carlin.
Near miss? It’s a near hit!
Okay so much for that idea. Carlin covered the bases in far less words and to much greater laughs. I just couldn’t get my comedy writing up to that standard. Not for a lack of trying. As you can see, I still AM trying.
This weakness of mine isn’t limited to me writing stand up comedy. I used to write short stories with the intent someday getting published; where I could someday write that Great American Novel and live off the royalties for the rest of my life. That never happened. I also worked up preliminary ideas for screenplays or stage plays that never got off the ground. Why? Not an original idea in any bone of my body.
I’d be hard at work on a project, not telling anybody about it of course and doing it in my spare time so progress would be sporadic, but I’d have preliminary notes maybe even some early drafts of chapters or acts of a play written down. Then I’d go see a movie.
Shakespeare In Love was reminiscent of a work I’d been hammering out which I tentatively called Lear’s Shadow. I wanted to tell the story of a play being produced at the Globe in Shakespeare’s time but to the audience in modern day they’d see on stage the backstage of the Globe. I wanted to tell a story of a performance of King Lear being performed at the Globe during Shakespeare’s time, but I was interested in what was going on behind the scenes at The Globe. One of the primary issues of that time politically and culturally was how women were considered less than equal in some ways, more than equal in others, and if a woman honestly wanted to try her hand at acting she had to pretend to be a man, because it was customary in those days for all roles, even female roles, to be performed only by men.
The conceit of the story was that during a production of King Lear, the same actor was portraying the parts of Lear’s Fool and Cordelia (you never see the two roles on stage at the same time. Seems in my opinion intentional on Shakespeare’s part), and that same actor was supposed to be a guy, but only the actor and Shakespeare himself knew that the person playing both Cordelia and Lear’s Fool was secretly a woman, in a time when women acting was against the law, and of course Shakespeare happened to be in love with the actress in question, which would come out as the play progresses as the authorities would show up backstage during the performance under suspicions that the guy was really a girl playing a guy.. You get the idea.
Shakespeare In Love essentially told the story I wanted to tell but much better than I’d managed prior to that point, and in a way I couldn’t hold a candle to. I went with a date and she noticed towards the end of the movie I was crying. She thought it was over the romantic scene in question. I told her it’s cuz I now had to go home and throw away three notebooks full of crap. In hindsight, I shoulda let her think I was sensitive instead of vain, but I was watching months of work evaporate before my eyes.
I had a similar response to The Mask starring Jim Carrey, only I was staring at years of notes evaporating before my eyes. I had started work on Justin Graves Is The Harlequin a decade earlier. You’ve never heard of it. That’s cuz I never finished it. There was no point, after watching The Mask. No I’d never read the comic, which predates my efforts anyway.
Anyway, long story short, I don’t believe in the old adage “nothing new under the sun” but i do have evidence to support the hypothesis. Still, I am forever seeking to improve my comedy writing chops and if ever I could claim to have written an original joke, I might actually get some confidence to my ego. Maybe someday I’d be able to even call myself good at this. It’s a reason why I’ve been working on this Gene Perret workbook for many years. Maybe if I could ever finish some of the workouts in that thing I’d get better at this. I never seem to be able to finish. I’m good at starting workouts. Not as good at knowing when I’m done. It’s also just occurred to me that this joke is vaguely similar to one of Steven Wright‘s jokes:
I have a large seashell collection which I keep scattered on beaches all over the world. Maybe you’ve seen it.
Tattoos and seashells are totally different things, but in hindsight the basic idea of these two jokes is similar. It’s a question of possession of property. It challenges the assumption that if one is collecting things, one should keep it on one’s person to lay claim to it. These jokes bring the audience to a new understanding of what it actually means to own a collection of seashells or tattoos or anything, really. …or maybe I’m just thinking it through too much.