You may have seen this video. Within one week in late June 2010 it has been featured on BoingBoing.net, Metafilter, Laughing Squid, Discover Magazine, and a dozen other geek sites. And yes my dear Nerdists, that is yours truly, a virtual unknown on the stand-up comedy scene telling jokes in a video with over 100,000 views.
I’m going to assume you’ve watched it for the sake of this post, because I’m not here to brag. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled and have gotten good things as a direct result already. I’m here to say, with no desire for pity: okay, I had a joke go crazy viral all over the internet. Where the heck do I go from here?
Because I am a relative unknown, I am just beginning to headline clubs. This bit often takes up a lovely 3-8 minute chunk of my set that I can completely customize from night to night, a great gift when you’re trying to do your best 45-60 minutes and need to feel some audiences out. And when I’m a featured act it does wonders for bringing energy up for the headliner. So it is an asset to me for sure.
Now, however, I am receiving a lot of unsolicited feedback from people who don’t get the joke. I’m sure you guys do. I like YOU nerds. But not all nerds are gifted with kindness and social graces. Many nerds just see FACTS and want to consume and process these FACTS as quickly and humorlessly as possibly. Never mind that this bit is full of obvious lies and general windbagging. I’m getting tons of emails (I don’t even bother to read the internet comments on those previously mentioned sites) picking apart my inaccuracies and literally threatening to come to my shows and teach me “a lesson.” What kind of lesson does a geek with Aspergers have to teach me? Not a physically violent one, thankfully, but I can’t count on them to not ruin the joke. Even though, if you put the clip in context, this clearly has little to do with facts. They are at home in front of their computers, sifting through the internet’s resources, culling the most obscure opinions to contradict me and waving it in my face like it is common knowledge. And I know it isn’t. Because I’ve cruised Wikipedia, and the facts about stegosaurus on there are never the same.
This is not just any joke. This requires spontaneity. I believe one of stand-up comedy’s biggest enemies is an audience member who will not leave their baggage at the door. One of the worst kinds of hecklers is the kind who hears something they don’t like and shouts out a retort demanding the comedian feel shame or admit defeat regarding the thing they just said. Never mind whether the comedian is funny or not, this audience member’s aunt was devoured by rabid tapirs, and so when you compared that politician to a tapir you were asking to get shouted off the stage. Even if it’s believable baggage, like comedians and their rape jokes and the sad victim in the audience who wants none of it, a comedian hopes and pleads with fate that the audience came to let their worries go and will not derail the show. So what do I do when people come to the show expecting this bit? The shock element plays a large role- part of the gimmick is that I am trying to confuse the audience with my ridiculous agenda. Why won’t I just be nice? Why won’t I let them just have their dinosaur? Surely I could find a way to adapt, but the game has changed.
Most key is that this bit requires audience participation. They must know it. Are they going to come to shows with pre-loaded dinosaurs? This does not freak me out. I have gotten Baryonyx and Therizinosaurus from unprepared audience members. But also, this is unnecessary. I have never needed “plants.” Comedy nerds are smart! Otherwise they would not be haunting my inbox with their nitpicking. Are they going to try and stump me, even though stumping is not the point, because their brain works like a spreadsheet? Are they going to pull out their iPhones and correct me with internet facts as I go? That sounds miserable, and I can only hope comedy nerds are smart enough not to do it.
I am intentionally writing this before I do another show. I’ve not been onstage since this happened. It’s plenty likely that I can keep doing this bit and it will only get a better response. This post is an exercise in ego, but this phenomenon might not lead to anything at all. So why not meditate on it. And I feel I have to try this bit at least once more if not over and over until something goes especially awry. I can’t resist tempting the chaos that may follow. I mean let’s say something happens onstage that makes me feel like I got hit with a meteor the size of Texas. Oh well, right? The joke still might not die. Perhaps it’s time it evolved into a… well not a goose but something else.