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Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

No Joking

When introduced to new people, it’s the Curmudgeon’s view that one ought to at least try to form a favorable opinion. For the more discerning among us, this often requires substantial discipline and effort. Nonetheless, prematurely deeming someone to be unlikable can derail potentially desirable social opportunities. Perhaps these people will become new friends . . . or at least tolerable acquaintances one wouldn’t dread to see again. Such things are possible.

For me, there is only a short, scant, negligible, minuscule little list of traits that serve as immediate indicators that the encounter is one I’d hope not to repeat and that there is not even the remotest chance of a friendship. These include grating vocal qualities, a tendency to giggle, a habit of standing too close when speaking, complete self-absorption, unchecked machismo, “networking,” an insistence on performing magic tricks, and . . . dear me, it seems I’ve forgotten the rest at the moment, but as I say, the list isn’t extensive; there are maybe thirty or forty dealbreakers, eighty, tops.

One group I avoid religiously is comedians. Now, this aversion may seem counterintuitive; comedians are often entertaining, usually interesting, and occasionally clever. But consider this: The pianist practices on the piano; the painter practices at the easel; the ballet dancer practices at the barre. The comedian practices on people. Ah, now you see it. If you’ve never had a one-on-one chat with a comedian, I urge you: don’t. But if you have, you will recall all too well the slowly dawning realization that the person with whom you were attempting to converse was not so much conversing as trying out bits. Often, the “tell” is a series of strained segues that artificially steer the discussion to the topic of each joke.

What’s most awkward about this is the pretense. Comedians often work to appear conversational on stage, even as they repeat their well-rehearsed bits. So they use new acquaintances as unwitting test audiences of one, scrutinizing our reactions to see not only whether we laugh, but also whether we’re convinced by their attempts at casual behavior. And upon realizing we are targets in this particular brand of target practice, what are we to do? Are we to laugh obligingly again and again until the comedian mercifully finds a new mark to con into acting as an involuntary market research participant? Are we to pretend we still believe we’re talking to a normal person? Are we to carry little red lights to indicate the comedian’s time is up? It’s understandable one might resent being involuntarily pressed into duty as an object of experimentation; it’s rather a dirty trick.

Comics tend to be dedicated—perhaps even obsessive—individuals. While the required commitment is more than admirable, it is nevertheless annoying. And like any addict who has yet to realize his or her addiction and the affect it’s having on others, comedians are unable to resist trying out new material. Thus, each person they meet presents a new opportunity for a fix as the comedian sinks further and further into the bottomless pit of stand-up’s thrall.

And when they’re not testing out material on you, they’re handing you postcards advertising their upcoming gigs and pressing you to commit to attending. Heed this warning: Do not go. Attend once and you’re marked down as a fan, added to a mailing list, and expected to attend whenever your new pal is performing. These events invariably wind up taking place in back rooms and basements of seedy bars in the most dangerous parts of town, where you will pay to sit through seventeen sets by the highly mediocre comics who precede your friend, who has been given a three-minute slot at 2:15 in the morning. Worst of all, there’s usually a two-drink minimum, which isn’t nearly enough.

This is the risk one takes by not immediately cutting things off at the first indication one is speaking with a stand-up. Comedians are fine in their place, which is on stage or on television. But fall into their clutches when you think they’re off-duty and you’re doomed. This is why they’re prominent on my list of people to vigilantly avoid.

That’s my time. You've been great. Be sure to tip your server.


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