A Journey of Redemption
After a quarter full of hard-hitting, weighty op-eds touching on serious topics such as houseboats and the benefits of drinking cheap vodka, I couldn’t wait to get to work on my next slate of articles for The California Aggie. But when I pitched my stories to Eli Flesch, the Opinion Editor, as part of my application, he sort of went quiet on me. Like, “read receipts turned on” or “your anonymous animal is on my Google Doc and not commenting” sort of quiet. He even reposted the opening for the Opinion Columnist position — because nothing inspires confidence like your potential boss posting your job as “open.” After multiple calls and several dozen Snapchat messages, he finally got back to me.
He hired me as a humor columnist.
My first reaction was absolute gratitude and astonishment that someone would find me funny and articulate enough to write nine to 10 columns for them this quarter.
No, that’s a complete lie.
I am a small, petty man. I am a writer. I write to shine a light and reveal truths about life. So what if I pitched a story about Kanye West’s poop, and so what if the first Google Image search to my name is a bottle of Burnette’s plastic vodka? The New York Times wrote over a thousand words about the three dots that pop up when someone’s about to text you.
That wasn’t in their “Humor” column — it was in their “Cultural Studies” column. I am not some dancing clown meant to entertain the lowbrow masses. I am a serious clown. Not a scary clown, no, but definitely a low-key and focused clown who has a lot to say about “cultural studies” such as read receipts and pre-gaming.
And then I told my mother, who reminded me that this is the first time in my life that anyone has actually found me funny. I started realizing this curse was actually a blessing. I can say whatever I want under the guise of it being funny. Even Eli gave me the go-ahead in his offer letter: “When people are able to meld comedy and tough issues — as I believe you can — it’s enormously effective.” And it doesn’t even have to actually be funny — I am now a Humor Columnist at The California Aggie, the official student publication of the University of California, Davis. According to the law and university policy, people are actually forced to laugh at every single one of my jokes now.
As someone who’s formerly not funny, I want to share some insights with anyone who wants to make the leap, like I did.
Step one is to always laugh at your own jokes. Sometimes people can’t hear your joke, especially at a party, and they don’t want to be impolite so they’ll laugh along with you. Studies have shown that we have mechanisms in our brains called mirror neurons, which trigger people to have the same reaction as those reactions they observe. It’s why if you see someone else yawn, you’ll yawn too, and why that video of that old man laughing like “huehuehue” is so hysterical. If you can’t use your own sense of humor to make them laugh, use mind control and psychological manipulation.
Step two is for when people aren’t laughing at your jokes. Comedians call it a “bomb.” I don’t think I ever bomb, but my audiences certainly bomb sometimes by not laughing. When it happens, aggressively own it. Point out what a horrible joke you just made. Make your telling of a god-awful joke… the joke. So then, when people aren’t laughing, they’ll think you’re pathetic and horrifically not funny. Which is exactly what you want because then they lower their expectations of you, so when you do say something funny, the bar is set much lower. It’s a win-win, really.
Step three is to figure out your style. I have some friends that are incredible at coming up with absurdly specific analogies that compare mutual acquaintances. They’ll say that a friend dresses like a forty-five-year-old Midwestern woman on her way to put the family dog down. And it’d make perfect sense. I have another friend whose brain is wired for puns and witty, clever one-liners. Coupled with his neurotic, Larry David-ish vibe, he’s able to own that lane. Another one of my friends exclusively makes stupid poop jokes, but they’re hilarious, and sometimes you don’t want to ponder deep, philosophical satire. Once you figure out which flavor of jokes comes easily for you, just run with it, and run with it hard.
I’ve held a lot of responsibility in my time at UC Davis. I’ve spotted people lifting weights at the ARC and I’ve watched over people’s stuff at the CoHo, so I know what it means to have a lot riding on your shoulders. This humor column is by far the most serious and impactful responsibility I’ve held, and I am — all joking aside — pumped to explore different topics every week. I doubt I’ll get laughs from anyone besides my grandma, but if I get a chance to make my sweet Savta happy, I’ll take it.
Written by: Yinon Raviv –– firstname.lastname@example.org