5 Comedy Techniques That Have Stuck With Me

by ANDREW HICKS

While on the phone with my dad the other night, we were talking about comedy and my history with comedy, and he asked me, “Well, what are some of the early types of humor you liked that still stick with you?” I was a little tired, a little brain dead, and my immediate answer was, “Uh… as a kid until now, I’ve always enjoyed silly stuff. But not all silly stuff. Some of it’s stupid silly, some of it’s intellectual silly, and there’s good and bad examples of each, which kinda makes it all more silly.”

I stopped right there, as I was making not a single lick of rational sense, but my dad’s question led me to think a little bit about which forms and methods of comedy I appreciated early on and still carry with me. So I wrote this:

5 COMEDY TECHNIQUES

THAT HAVE STUCK WITH ME

1. DEADPAN

At the age of 11, after seeing the 1989 Tim Burton movie, I became obsessed with all things Batman. The ’60s TV show, in particular. I took it rather seriously at first, but as I grew into my sense of humor throughout adolescence, I started to appreciate the deadpan genius of Adam West and a few of the veteran character actors on the show.

Neil Hamilton, who played Commissioner Gordon, was a master of finding the super-serious side of funny in the often-outlandish dialogue he was given and performances he was surrounded by. The man was a brilliant straight man, whether he realized it or not. The style and rhythm of his dialogue delivery influence me to this day.

Also, I fell hard for Airplane! at an impressionable age. I loved the combination of obvious, elementary-level jokes and straight-faced performances of Leslie Nielson, Peter Graves and Robert Stack. I recently learned that the studio balked at the casting of dramatic actors in those parts and wanted Chevy Chase, Dom Deluise and Bill Murray instead. Which would not have been nearly as sublimely silly.

2. INSIDE JOKES

This is more tried and true in real-life conversation for me than in written or performed comedy, but when I connect with someone on a comedic level, I relish developing and sustaining inside jokes with that person.

The magic of Facebook has allowed me to create and expand a central group of writers and comic thinkers, and we stumble on new inside jokes every day, lending a sense of inclusion and continuity to our humor.

As an occasional stand-up comedy performer, I strive to create shared references with an audience early on and cash in on it more and more as my routine unfolds. I’m not quite consistent at achieving this, but I get better and better, IMHO.

3. IMPRESSIONS

As mentioned numerous times in this blog, I have a lifetime devotion to Saturday Night Live. I started watching at 11, in the apex of the Carvey/Hartman/Hooks/Jackson/Lovitz/Miller/Myers/Nealon period. Immediately, my favorite SNL thing to imitate whenever I got the chance was Carvey’s George Bush.

Then and now, I have a soft spot for SNL’s comedy characterizations of famous people from pop culture, politics and sports. Most of the impressions I’ve been doing for 15 years or more — Carson, John Travolta, Ed McMahon, Paul McCartney, Tom Brokaw, Pat Robertson — owe their existence to old SNL.

Since being married and having a wife who straight-out tells me most of my stable of voices sounds pretty much the same, I’ve started to downplay that amateur SNL side of my comedy… Aw, who am I kidding? I’ll spend the entire night doing bad Jerry Seinfeld if someone’s there to laugh. Even if that someone is 2 years old. Actually, especially if that someone is 2 years old.

4. MUSIC-BASED COMEDY

When I’m not writing about daytime dad things, a lot of my humor revolves around music. Pop music, hip-hop, rock,old stuff, new stuff. Funny observations about songs and artists. I like song parodies as a genre, though most of them aren’t that great. I never liked movie musicals, but I liked a lot of older TV show theme songs, which are funny for reasons right and wrong but decidedly very geeky.

As a mid-teenager, I went through a brief but pretty intense “Weird Al” Yankovic phase, and now still think he has a couple dozen songs I’ll take to the grave. Only one of my standup bits relies on rewritten pop music for its humor, but right now I’m wishing I would have learned to play guitar in my youth. My father-in-law has contributed a spare acoustic guitar to the cause. Have not yet gotten around to doing anything with it. Unfortunately.

5. POP CULTURE/TOPICAL COMEDY

I’m sure it started with being in junior high and trying to figure out what current events SNL was parodying and Dennis Miller was cracking his lofty, obtuse jokes about, but I also got into David Letterman for several years as a teenager. The peak of it was during the O.J. years, where Letterman first declared sanctimoniously — to HUGE applause — that he wouldn’t do O.J. jokes because “I don’t find anything funny about double murder,” and later devoted hours of monologue time to the Juice.

Anyway, there’s something fascinating yet revolting to me about our celebrity culture, irresponsible government and corporate-owned media that makes me want to stay current enough on the news to instantly crack wise about whatever’s going on out there. I still strive to stay on the level of Stewart and Colbert, “Weekend Update” and late-night talk show monologues when it comes to current events. Some of my jokes are far better than others in this respect.

There’s more, of course, but these five things formed a pretty wide base for much of my humor over the years and still now. If you’d like to share any of your old favorites and comedic influences, please hit up the comments section.

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