Punching Up Tragedy
Written by NOLAFugees Staff
Wednesday, 25 April 2007 15:33
The creators of NOLAFugees sought advice from humorist John Hodgman. It did not come.
We at NOLAFugees.com are working on enhancing our comic material, which is life in post-Apocalyptic New Orleans. In the spirit of humility and earnest advice-seeking, we turned for consultation to professional humorist John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise, contributor to The Daily Show, and “The PC” in Apple’s series of commercials touting its superior Mac products. Mr Hodgman was in town recently giving a reading along with former Daily Show executive producer Ben Karlin.
Pressed for time, Hodgman was unable to give us a face-to-face interview, but we emailed him the following comic scenarios so that he may help us find solace in our troubled, uncertain times.
Sadly, Mr. Hodgman had to respectfully decline to answer our questions, citing that a proper response would involve writing “a whole bunch of original comedy.” We understand. As we wrote to him in our inscribed gift copy of Year Zero: One Year of Reporting in Post-Katrina New Orleans, “dying in New Orleans in easy. Comedy is hard.”
Still, we offer to our readers the questionnaire we sent to Mr. Hodgman. We welcome any advice.
PART I: “Numbers”
As a professional humorist, you understand the importance of numbers to comedic rhythm and timing. For instance, you stated during your performance at NOCCA that your documentary about hobos in America was supposed to be 47 hours long. Forty-seven is a funny number.
1.) Of the following sentences, which number works best?
a.) My house took on 8 feet of water.
b.) My house took on 11 feet of water.
c.) New Orleans’ murder rate is 10 times the national average.
2.) Which is the best comic juxtaposition of numbers: On January 3, 2007, New Orleans
a.) logged 4 murders in 12 hours
b.) logged 5 murders in 11 hours
c.) logged 6 murders in 13 hours
d.) hosted the Nokia Sugar Bowl, where LSU defeated Notre Dame 41-14
PART II: “Words and Phrases”
3). Which is a funnier word?
Examples: On August 29, 2005, the levee system protecting New Orleans breached in several places causing eighty percent of the city to flood. On August 29, 2005, the levees overtopped with water from the lake and river, causing over eighty percent of the city to flood.
4.) Which phrase is the funniest euphemism for thwarting the black underclass in their desire to return to New Orleans?
b.) Urban Renewal
c.) Coastal Erosion
d.) The Bring New Orleans Back Commission
PART III: “The Setup”
We know that oftentimes punch lines are subordinate to a joke’s lead-in, or setup. In other words, it’s the journey that is funny, not the destination.
5.) In your estimation, which of the following punch lines is the most difficult to “set up”?
a.) “…so in the absence of a sharp axe, they drowned in their attic.”
b.) “…in search of food and water, they were shot by police.”
c.) “...because the doctor was not authorized by FEMA, he was helpless to stop the bleeding.”
PART IV: “Punching Up”
We seek your advice in helping us “punch up” some of the material we encounter here in New Orleans.
6.) On January 4, 2007, documentary filmmaker Helen Hill, Harvard graduate, was shot and killed at 5:30a.m. while going into her backyard to walk her pig. Should we
a) change filmmaker to jazz trombonist
b.) change Harvard to Yale
c.) change pig to ferret
d.) include the fact that her baby witnessed the murder
7.) A few weeks before throwing himself from the roof of the Omni Hotel in September, 2006, French Quarter bartender Zack Bowen murdered and dismembered his girlfriend, bartender Addie Hall. To this day, a subscription to Rolling Stone gets delivered, in both of their names, to The Spotted Cat, a bar where Hall once worked. Should we change the name of the magazine to ________
a.) House and Garden
c.) The Believer
d.) change the name of The Spotted Cat
PART V: “Metaphysics”
8.) If New Orleans is the comic subplot of the American Tragedy, then America is the comic subplot of
a.) Planet Earth
b.) The 21stCentury
PART VI: “The Assessment”
Of the eight questions we have posed, three deal with murder, two with flooding, two with the violation of the social contract, and one with New Orleans’ relative insignificance in the face of larger world affairs.
Overall, how would you evaluate this balance of comedic material?
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