Monday, February 23, 2009

Sweet Sevens: Getting Jokes 1

Seven is proving to be a great age. He can read and amuse himself. While still energetic, my son is more or less governed by his brain. The deathwish that possesses small children to stick their tongues in electric sockets, drink lye, and try to climb into the toilet has begun to dissipate. He still can be stubborn. He can still be madly emotional, but while the causes are often trivial, they are at least rational. The other day he was disconsolate, having lost a burping contest during recess. His mother, while initially nurturing, walked away when she learned the cause. As a good father I took him aside, talked to him gently, and listened to him burp.

“Son,” I told him, “You are burping from the throat. No resonance and you wear out your larynx. Bring the air down deep into your diaphragm. You can sound out whole words.”

But, best of all, he can get fairly sophisticated humor and even make clever jokes. As a one-time comic wannabe, this is heaven. For example, in the wake of the inauguration he asked me about the vice president. I reiterated McCain’s joke that the vice president’s main job is to call the president and see if he is still alive. I added that the Veep goes to meetings and events when the President doesn’t want to. I began riffing, like the second coming of Bob Newhart, holding my hand with an extended thumb and pinky like a phone:
”Hey, Vice President, this is the President. Yes, yes, I’m happy to be talking to you too. So listen, I have a really important job for you. No, it isn’t another toxic cleanup site in New Jersey. This has international implications. The President of Zambeziland died and I need you to go give a speech at the funeral in Africa. It should be a three-day traditional ceremony. You’ll need to stay for the whole thing – if we offend them they might cut off vanilla exports and we need the vanilla vote. Wear a nice dark heavy suit. What’s the weather like? Well it’s near the equator, probably no more than a 120 at noon.”

[Hang up pretend phone.]

You know who has it worse then the Vice President? Lieutenant Governors, they are like Vice Presidents – but just for states. They really have nothing to do.

[Break out pretend phone.]

“Hi Governor, it’s me… you know, your Lt. Governor? How are you feeling today, good? Not under the weather or anything? Be careful, you know, going up and down stairs – most accidents happen around the house…

What’s that, you are giving a speech out of state this afternoon? Really, so you’ll be out of state for a couple of hours? Sure, knock’em dead Governor!”

[Hang up pretend phone.]

“I’ll be governor for three hours! What will I do first? Change the state reptile? I’ll build a stadium with my name on it. I’ll start a new education program. I know, I’ll declare a state of emergency quarantine and seal the borders. Then, I’ll be governor FOREVER! And then, I can sponsor midnight basketball
My son dies with this stuff and for some strange reason, referring to midnight basketball, absolutely cracks my kids up. My son does the bit pretty well, and even my daughter tries to imitate it. Her timing and attitude were pretty good, but most of the words didn’t come out right (it was like listening to a comedian performing in Hungarian.) But her big punchline was, “And I’ll make midnight sports!”

Why this old political football from the budget battles of the 1990s (a decade before my kids were born) is a mystery to me. I don’t know why I mentioned it or why it works on this audience. It is a weird comedy synergy – but, as Woody Allen counsels, “If it bends it’ss comedy, if it breaks…”

No comments: