Memory In Comedy

I am amazed at all the news storeis that pass on a typical day.  I’ma also amazed at all the experiences I have and how many of them aren’t remembered.  Sure, a select few are remembered as the “significant” ones, but for the most part, many of my experiences are not remembered.  I can remember some of my most cherished memories with the most accurate detail you could imagine, but some things that just don’t seem to matter, like when my friends ask me, “What did you do today?”  I usually can’t remember that.  I think the problem is that my short term memory is very lousy, but my long-term memory is pretty awesome.  So if you were to ask me what I did yesterday five years from now, I would be able to tell you in great detail what I did yesterday.

So how does memory relate to comedy?  Sure, there area obvious things, like remembering your lines or omitting certain words, but there is so much more memory applied to comedy.  Memory is a very important part of comedy.  You have to be able to visualize what you are talking about.  Once you do that, you have to remember what kind of mood you were in when you first thought of the joke.  And you have to apply it. You have to really think the way you tell the joke.  You can’t tell a joke and be thinking about if you left your stove running.  You have to remember the creative process that led to that joke, which will make it seem more spontaneous than if you just rehearse a bunch of words.  Sure, you still get the gist of it that way, but it’s not as authentic to the way you first came up with it.

For example, I did a joke once about how I had a dream that I worked at my job and I went to my boss and said, “I worked nine hours last night in my dream.  Don’t you think I should get paid for that?”  And he was like, “No, unless you want to be paid in dream dollars.”  And I was pissed off.  “You’ve taken my life, my freedom, and now you want to take my dreams too?  For no pay?  Fuck this, I quit.”  I remember when thnking up that joke, I put a lot of emotion into it.  I was really mad about how I had a dream about working.  I want my dreams to be pleasureable, not about work.

The only real reason I’m working at a supermarket is because I want to do research of a script I’m working on about working in supermarkets and how irritating that can be.  Like I want to get the real feel of the place.  So I’m carrying around this little notebook that fits in my pocket.  Every time something funny or something that kind of pissed me off happens, I write it down and i later look back on it and see if it strikes an emotional chord with me.  It can either be funny, frustrating, or just plain awful.  But if it does strike that kind of chord with me, it has a good chance of striking the same chord with the audience.

Emotion is a key component to memory.  If something makes you really mad or really happy, you’ll be sure to remember those incidents more than the things that mkae you indifferent or mundane.  If something makes you laugh really hard or makes you so mad you can’t think straight, you’ll tend to put that in the emotional part of your brain, which make you remember it more.

Another way I try to remember jokes is through intense visualization.  Like if I have a joke about, say juicers, which I do, I visualize this scene in which I’m frustrated as hell because every apple I put intot he juicer either gets stuck or only produces a small amount of juice.  Then there’s the pulp flying everywhere and the machine is so loud I feel like I’m at a concert near the speaker.  And then I finally put fifty apples in the damn juicer to get five ounces and it tastes terrible.  That’s the whole visualization, and it only takes about five seconds to go through all that, but it helps me with the order of the sentences of the joke and the ideas flowing correctly.  And finally, it leads to the findal conclusion.  All that work and it tastes awful.

Lsstly, I’m sure we’re all familliar with mnemonics.  These are basic memory aids, such as PEMDAS for order of operations, or the “Please excuse my dear aunt Sally.”  Whatever.  I’m sure some conedians have a long list of words or letters to help them memorize their jokes, but I find if you do it that way, you may come off as amateurish because it’s jsut kind of disorganized or too organized, whatever it is.

If you’re that afraid you’ll forget the lines, put a piece of paper in your pocket.  Write some emergency jokes on it, or just put some emergency jokes in the back of your mind.  Jokes that you know will kill.  Jokes that you know are great.  Jokes that you wouldn’t normally use in that environment.  The audience loves surprise.  And if you ever find yourself where you can’t remember things, just pull the paper out and do some stuff from there.  That’s what I’ve done sometimes and it worked out pretty good.

I never go up there with a set list, though.  Here’s why.  If I ever forget material, there will be this awkward pause.  And during that awkward pause, I’ve got to go in my pocket, then look down a list to figure out where I left off and that takes even more time.  Just a couple of jokes handy could allow for a great turnaround.  But affter that, it should get you back on track.  If not, just get off the stage.  You’ve told a couple of your best jokes already.

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