awkward stuff - pity laughter

Pity Laughter


One of the things I love about being a comedian is when I tell people that I do standup comedy. Immediately they start with their own jokes, and the conversation becomes lighter, and happier. Which is great! I love a light, happy conversation.  But then they just keep on joking, and trying desperately to be funny.  That’s not so great.  It’s always awkward, and it always makes me uncomfortable.  We all know at least one person who is constantly guilty of this.


Think of every time you’ve ever been at a social gathering:  ice cream socials, social studies debates, or just a regular party.  No matter what the occasion, we’ve all been in the company of that guy (or gal) who just keeps cracking jokes… but they’re not funny.  In this type of social scenario, everyone feels it is their civic duty to pretend to laugh at this person’s jokes. Pity laughter is something that we are all familiar with, and most of us feel it is a nice thing to do.  However, it is not.  Allow me to explain.


Comedy being my profession, I have an alternate take on the not-funny guy, or gal, cracking unwise (you see what I did there?).  I compare it to if I were sitting at a table with real estate agents, or lawyers, and then running off at the mouth about how it’s bullshit that reverse mortgages aren’t an option for first time buyers getting a new house.  If I was like “No, no… Fuck equity, and fuck YOU!  Everyone should just get a reverse mortgage!”   Do you think a table of lawyers would simply allow me to continue my rant, or would they set me straight?  Exactly!  And I would want them to because they are the subject matter experts in that circumstance.


The way I see it, as a comedian, I feel it is my obligation to NOT laugh at people’s jokes unless they are funny.  Laughing at someone who is not humorous can have many negative effects: the skin and teeth may yellow, there may be an impulse to vomit, and loose stools aren’t uncommon.  You may have laughed at those side effects, but you probably didn’t.  In either case, please, NO pity laughs.  I don’t issue them, nor will I accept them from my audience.


Now, back to you. You know someone who cracks lame jokes.  You’re thinking of that person right now.  The next time you see that shithead I want you to make it a point to NOT give in to the urge to pity laugh.  Your sympathetic laughter is not doing them any favors- in fact, it is a grave injustice to them!  You are encouraging their self-destructive and humiliating behavior.  In public, no less!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  Fuck, already.  How dare you fake laugh at someone just to avoid feeling sorry for them when their joke fucking bombs.  You’re thinking only of yourself, you selfish prick.  Resisting the urge to pity laugh may be outside of your comfort zone, but you need to think of the greater good.  We can’t nurture the comedic growth of human beings that aren’t funny.  That’s like fertilizing weeds.


Maybe you don’t know anyone that cracks lame jokes.  If that is the case, I’m sorry to say that it is YOU, my friend.  You are the one who people snicker about behind closed doors.  You are the one who’s wearing a clown nose in a picture that is on their dart boards.  It’s funny, but it’s not a joke.  Don’t lose hope.  Rusty Fish Hook is here to help you get to the truth.  Here’s how you know if people are really laughing at your jokes: their faces will get red, their eyes will well up, they may lose their breath (if it was a REALLY good joke), and fairly often they’ll have a hard time composing themselves afterward.  That’s when you have legitimately succeeded at making someone laugh.  If a person merely smiles and goes “ha ha ha” before immediately picking up where their conversation left off, then congratulations, you’re not funny.  Those people were humoring you… No pun intended.

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