Hiding what you really mean

The tough part is cloaking what you're trying to say. You can't just come right out and say this or that is stupid or whatever. That's just a lecture. You need to dress it up so it's in disguise.

That way the audience gets to work for it too. They get to meet you halfway. They pull the mask off the joke in their own heads and get to feel smart for figuring it out. People like crossword puzzles a lot more than they like just reading a list of random facts. Solving things is fun.

It's kinda like symbolism in literature or poetry. It's not about saying something directly. It's about creating the caged bird or whatever other metaphor you use and then having the reader be able to deconstruct that and connect the dots on their own. By engaging them that way, you have them create the art alongside you. You do it together.

It's also like a whodunit. You need to give them enough clues to keep them engaged and make the story make sense — and yet still have the ending be a surprise.

Figuring out what to say is easy. Knowing just how much to hide it is when it gets tricky.

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7 Comment(s)

Blogger Jay said...

Giraldo is really good making the politics go down easy.

7/1/09, 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Dan Fontaine said...

i don't really follow. can you just come right out and say it again?

great points MR.

7/1/09, 4:48 PM  
Blogger soce said...

"Show, don't tell."

7/2/09, 10:37 AM  
Blogger myq said...

Good point, Dan Fontaine.

Is Matt talking about crosswords, or connect-the-dots?

Let's figure this out together!

Seriously though, isn't it the case that not everyone loves crossword puzzles or solving riddles? (Though such people might enjoy connecting dots, unless that's too much like reading and writing.)

I think there are definitely some individuals and audiences who are perfectly happy to be spoonfed everything, rather than join you on the journey of taking the spoon from you as you hand it off to them. (Everyone likes eating, so this metaphor is perfect!)

Like, some people love hearing "this is what a fart sounds like," and then you do it, rather than just giving them like half a fart sound, and letting them fill in the rest of the fart sound on their own, creating the (f)art alongside you.

(Should I have hidden those parentheses?)


I believe in his "On Comedy" interview, Seinfeld talked about this sort of thing with the "leaping off a cliff" analogy. In telling a joke, you want the audience to leap the exact right amount. If you have the two sides too close together, it's not exciting, they can see the other side, and know what's coming, boring. But if the sides are too far, then they might not make it.

Everyone loves cliff-jumping. Especially if there's a crossword to do on the other side. Or a fart.


Someone else said once (sorry I don't remember who exactly), and I don't know if I believe them about this ratio, but it's potentially useful or inflammatory for discussion: half of comedy is telling people something they weren't expecting to hear, and the other half is telling them exactly what they are expecting to hear. And the other half is farts.

(That last part is all me.)

7/2/09, 4:16 PM  
Blogger Matt Ruby said...

Yeah, I love that Seinfeld analogy. My twist on it: I think of it as an Evel Knievel jump over a line of buses. Too few buses and you're like, "That's not that impressive." Too many buses and he breaks every bone in his body. A good joke has just the right amount of buses.

7/2/09, 5:42 PM  
Blogger myq said...

I imagine I'd be fairly impressed with one bus.

And also it would probably be hilarious to see someone wipe out over too many buses.

But I know what you mean.

7/2/09, 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Hank in Chicago said...

Wrong. A good joke has just the right
amount of busboys.

7/3/09, 10:23 AM  


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