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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Night of Standup Comedy I Recently Saw, Reduced to Its Logical Abstractions, as per Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious

Teddy Wayne

Cigar = microphone
“Sometimes a cigar is a prop.” — S. Freud, at Caroline’s, 1985.
The biological and social differences between men and women are numerous, and they cause us a great deal of sexual anxiety that can be relieved through humor.

In general, men prefer to spend time watching sports and not relinquishing the remote control, which underscores their latent homosexuality and fear of dependence; drinking beer and consequently acquiring paunches, a visual signifier of their indifference to diminishing attractiveness; purchasing and comparing different types of machinery, perhaps as cathected phallic insecurity; and not expressing their emotions, which reveals a fear of vulnerability. Women, on the other hand, enjoy shopping for clothing and talking at length with their friends on the phone about trivial subjects, two activities that become frivolously absurd when mimicked by men; asking their mates if their rear ends carry excess weight, a visual signifier of their dread over diminishing attractiveness; going to bathrooms in groups, which exposes a masculine fear of irrelevance; and crying at the slightest verbal provocation but fearlessly ripping hair from their skin with wax, an emotional/physical masochistic binary. The stark gender contrasts are especially humorous since we all observe them even if we have not articulated them ourselves.

We often fly on airplanes with our significant others, which makes for a convenient comic segue.

Air travel is a fertile source of humor, since most of us consider it a nuisance and it has a deep undercurrent of death we generally choose not to acknowledge openly.

Packages of peanuts on planes are very small and difficult to open; the negative extremes in size and accessibility magnify the arbitrariness of peanuts as the standard snack on airplanes. In addition, mimicking the calm, modulated voice of the pilot but supplanting flight information with tangential or wholly irrelevant comments accentuates the godlike responsibility he carries as our airborne steward yet addresses our ensuing fear that he is not adequate to the sobriety of the task. The inequalities between business class and coach—namely the cramped seating and unfriendliness of flight attendants in the latter—highlights class tensions salient during flight. Finally, the inevitability of being seated next to a crying baby but never beside an attractive, single woman reminds us of the unfairness of life, and of the infant’s appropriate terror as he defies gravity, but of redemption in our capacity to stare into the abyss and laugh at it.

The meal service on airplanes may be annoying, but it is nothing compared to the hassles of shopping in a supermarket. Again, this is a smooth transition to a new topic of humor.

Since we all shop at supermarkets, we can easily identify with observations about it, often prompting us to reply, either out loud or in our heads while nodding, “That is so true.”

Although supermarkets stock a cornucopia of foodstuffs, one often has difficulty locating the single desired good and walks away empty-handed; this contradiction exposes the faults of late capitalism with hilarity. The purchase of certain items in supermarkets stimulates social anxiety over others’ opinions of us, and the comedian’s own narrative of these purchases eases the tensions of audience members who have suffered through similar episodes through the laughter of schadenfreude. Buying laxatives or other gastrointestinal products calls scatological attention to our bowels, a taboo source of great shame; condoms, to our sexual lives; and, most of all, the male act of purchasing tampons castrates him. Exacerbating the anxiety of these purchases of socially embarrassing goods is the frequent necessity of a loudspeaker price check.

Often someone serving you or shopping at the supermarket is of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation.

A subject usually adopted more by the oppressed than the oppressor is the contrast between the two groups, as it mitigates the anxieties and frustrations of the oppressed.

Since they do not have overall social or economic hegemony over the oppressor, the oppressed typically selects specific areas in which he has an advantage over the oppressor. One such area that can also be physically reinforced for the audience is the discrepancy in dancing ability. The oppressor’s skills, or lack thereof, in certain sports and flirting with women may also yield a comic response. In addition, the more marginalized the oppressed is, the more likely his or her marginalized demographic will find anything he or she says relatable and, therefore, funny. Being Jewish, an ostensibly oppressed and marginalized religion, inverts the conventional paradigm by allowing for unlimited self-flagellation and jobs in television comedy writing.

If any of these observations fails to provoke the desired comic response, the comedian can openly question whether his amplification device is working properly and tap it repeatedly, as if to imply that the only reason he did not provoke the desired comic response was mechanical failure. This act of self-doubt alleviates the tension of the previous failures.

Finally, splitting a watermelon open with a sledgehammer reminds us of the oedipal drive and the desire to overpower the female genitalia with a phallus-object, and incites chortles because of the untranslatable German word komimoronverspritzen, which roughly means “It’s also fucking hilarious when those jackasses in the front row get sprayed.”

The audience is flattered by being complimented on its greatness, leaving residual goodwill towards the comedian and, after he departs, leading to the butchered repetition of his jokes in attempts to prove to their friends and dates that they, too, are funny.

Teddy Wayne is a writer living in Manhattan. His work has also recently been published in McSweeney's and Time magazine. He runs a 4.3 40 and was a Southwest Conference First-Team selection at cornerback.