Have you ever read the book 'The Interrogative Mood' by Padgett Powell? Would you be interested to read it if I told you that the book's main claim to fame is that every single sentence in it is a question? Would you believe me if I told you that it is really quite good, so good in fact that I have decided to steal that poetic device for my article this week? Do you think that constitutes plagiarism or intellectual property theft? Do you think I care?
What is your general opinion of stand up comedy? Do you enjoy watching it live? How would you rank your appreciation for live stand up stacked against other forms of live entertainment like theatre and concerts? Is it fair to associate those forms of entertainment together? Do you listen to comedy albums? Do you buy them? Have you ever listened to the same album multiple times? Have you ever played it for friends? Have you ever memorized another comedians' bits? Are you a fan of any comedians, in the same way that some people are fans of musicians or actors? Have you ever gone to a comedy show to see a particular comedian, as opposed to just see "comedy"? Do you consider yourself to be a "comedy nerd"? If you said yes to that last question, are you proud to be one? Why?
Are you aware of the subtle but long-standing feud between stand ups and improvisers? Is the common stand up's criticism that improvisers hide behind characters, surround themselves with others to diffuse failure, and are unable to craft substantial comedy that is worth repeating justified in your opinion? What about the common improviser's criticism that repeating the same story night after night is insincere, that stand ups only present an illusion of actual conversation, and that they do not have the courage to be funny without meticulously planning their every word? Would you agree that there is just as much bad stand up in the world as there is bad improv? Would you be surprised to learn that many of the best stand ups working today have a history in improv, and vice-versa? Is there any benefit to dividing the already small numbers of people who enjoy live comedy into choosing one over the other? Can't we all just get along?
Has a comedian ever changed your mind on a subject? Do you like comedians who have that ability, or do you not like to be challenged by your entertainers? If a comic points out a hypocrisy in you, are you likely to be taken aback or defensive? Are you open to honesty from a comedian? If they expose a shameful part of themselves, how do you as an audience member react? Do you feel inclined to laugh with them, or at them? Do you even laugh at all? Is all entertainment escapism for you? Is there entertainment to be found in personal struggle? Do you consider comedians to be artists? If not, why not?
Did you know that public speaking is still the most popular fear in the world today? Why do you think that is? Is the idea of embarrassing yourself in front of a large group of people really still the most horrific thing imaginable to most people? Using this as our gauge, do you think there is an element of sadomasochism in the enjoyment an audience member has while watching a comedy show? Do you think the thought ever goes through an audience members mind that they are entertained by something they are unable to do, and would never want to do? Are there some people who go to comedy shows for the same reasons that another person might go see a daredevil? Or a magician? Or the guy at the circus who bites the heads off chickens? Do you think that this is where a large percentage of heckling stems from? Aside from people being too drunk or stupid to understand they are being disruptive, do you think a person who yells at a comedian does so because they feel an obligation as an audience member, or because they enjoy seeing someone who can do something they can't in peril? Would you agree with me that these people are universally assholes? Have you ever heckled a comedian? Why, asshole?
What is the worst joke you have ever heard a comedian tell? Why was it the worst? Was it in poor taste, or just executed improperly? Was it bad in subject matter, or bad in presentation? Are you of the opinion that any subject can be made funny, and that it is at the behest of the comedian to find a way to make it funny? Is anything sacred to you? Are certain words or topics off limits to you? Are you easily offended? Do you think that a comedian has ever wanted to personally offend you? Is it their job to entertain you, or to satiate you? Are you aware of the risks, be they emotional, personal, and in many cases financial, that a comedian who addresses taboo and unpopular subject matter takes? Do you think the decision to talk about these things comes easily to them? Is it worth it for a comedian to take those risks? Would it not just be better for them to make jokes about benign topics that everyone can get behind, rather than talking about what is really on their minds? Is even the most articulate comment about an obscene subject still obscene? Where is the line? Is there a line? How soon is too soon?
Do you think some comedians use the stage as cheap therapy? Have you ever heard the quote by Harry Shearer, that "The reason people do comedy is to try to control why people laugh at them"? Does a person who chooses to get into comedy does so because everything in their life had been perfect up to that point? Would a comic with that attitude not be the most unbearable jackass you're ever heard? Do you ever think a comedian is trying to communicate with God? Is a great comedian not just a master of articulating their own delusions? What do you think of the analogy of the comedian as catharsis salesman? Is being a comedian a noble profession, or a selfish one? Does any comedian ever really figure that out? Can't it be both?
I've probably over thought this, haven't I? Is it cool if we go now? Want to get something to eat? Is that milk in your fridge still good? You don't think Padgett Powell has this site in his RSS feed, do you?
J.D. Renaud is a writer, comedian, producer, and visual artist originally from Oakville, Ontario. You can follow his weird thoughts on Twitter at @jdrenaud.