Taking a joke from observational to personal

Kumail has a joke he's been doing for a long time about swiping your metrocard on the subway and how you should "swipe once, swipe strong." As I recall, it was a funny line but never really a major hook in his set before.

Then at Kabin the other week I saw him reframe it. He talked about he's always irrationally in a rush and desperately trying to get places faster. And then he threw in that line while talking about how he gets pissed while riding the subway. And there was other stuff in the bit that tied into the whole "in a rush" thing.

It completely changed the context of the joke. Before it was a quick, random, observational joke that made fun of someone else. Now it's transformed into a longer bit that's more introspective and personally revealing. It examines Kumail's own worldview instead of just mocking someone else for moving too slow. A subtle change, yet it really elevates the whole bit.

I emailed Kumail and asked him if I was on point with this theory or just talking out my ass. His response:

yeah that's a pretty good assessment of the change in that joke. Its always very satisfying to me when ideas i think are funny or interesting end up in other contexts and suddenly, now they seem to work better. I have some ideas i've been carrying around for 5 years that are only now finding their way into bits. I like to go back every now and then look up older bits or ideas i don't do anymore. Sometimes you figure out the angle 5 years after you think of an idea.

Sift through the junkyard and occasionally ya find some real gems.

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3 Comment(s)

Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

This ties into how long it actually takes to put an act together. Someone recently asked me on Twitter how hard it is to come up with 4 minutes of material.

I don't know if he had never tried stand-up before and wondered how difficult it could be or if he was going to pitch me a 4-minutes-on-a-certain-topic gig, but I had to resist going into a long diatribe about how, considering a joke's mutations and placement in a set, it could take someone years to perfect a certain four minutes.

I've never calculated, so I gave a rough estimate of how long it takes me to come up with a strong 4 minutes of hilarious, instant-classic, bulletproof material: 7 seconds.

1/25/10, 12:38 PM  
Blogger soce said...

Impressive. It generally takes me at least 10 to 12 seconds.

When I first moved to NYC in 2003, I began writing a song about my microwave oven, but I just didn't feel like it was going anywhere. Then six years later, I produced a new beat, and when I sang a modified version of the chorus over it, everything just worked.

By this point, I had become a much more experienced lyricist, so it was a lot easier to craft complete verses that told a succinct story and didn't just kind of wander about, like with the original version.

And the rest is...

1/25/10, 1:26 PM  
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2/3/10, 5:04 AM