Everyone bombs at some point. WitOut’s “Where Jokes go to Die” is where you can put your worst bits down for good.
by Aaron Hertzog
The internet tells me that Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. If Einstein’s idea of insanity is correct, then most comedians are insane. We try jokes over and over again, hoping that an idea that failed at one open mic might catch on at another, and that what we thought was funny in our own heads will be validated by someone else’s laughter. I’ve tried to cut back on doing this, and will only try a joke a few times before scrapping it or trying to rewrite it completely from another angle. But this is a story about me telling a joke over and over again about something stupid that I do over and over again, even though I never get a different result from either the joke or the something stupid.
My friends and I like to go to the Chinese Buffet. The Ruby Buffet, to be exact. We usually go, act like animals, and then somehow drag our bodies two blocks to a movie theater where we sit and try to avoid passing out into a food coma while watching something horrible. It’s a lot of fun. I noticed something about our trips to the buffet, and when I actively notice something, I try to write a joke about it. Every single time we go, we are excited. We get there, full of hope and cheer, eagerly waiting to stuff as much food into our faces as we possibly can. We get escorted to our table, give our drink orders to our waiter, and don’t even bother to sit down at our table before we attack the buffet with a learned, professional technique. Before too long, we feel awful, and promise ourselves we will never, ever do this again—kind of like someone who drinks himself sick, and from his hunched position over a toilet seat, vows to never again go anywhere near rum/whiskey/tequila/
I tried to turn this ritual into a joke about everyday life, relating the process of going from excited and hopeful for the day (pre-buffet) to feeling demoralized and sleepy soon after waking up (post-buffet). I yelled about being the King of the Day (or, the King of the “China King Buffet”), and having a seemingly infinite amount of life choices (buffet chicken choices) ahead of me to grab hold of, then becoming overwhelmed by the amount of choices, making myself sick, and just going back to bed and napping. It was a not-very-straightforward, manic depressive metaphor.
Looking at it now, there are a lot of reasons why this joke never worked, despite how badly I wanted it to. It’s hard enough to find people who can relate to one half of that metaphor—you’d have to be a special breed of crazy person (re: me) who could understand both. Both waking up excited and wanting to grab life by the balls, but then falling into a state where you can no longer stand to face the day; and walking into a Chinese restaurant excited and wanting to grab the Chinese chicken by the drumstick, but then falling into a state where you can no longer stand to face the buffet.
Talking about this bit and how it constantly failed now makes me kinda want to try it again, because I still think it should work. Louis CK hit this same idea in a much more concise, relatable way, and nailed it, because he’s Louis CK, and I’m me. His “Eating Habits” bit makes me stop everything and think, “why can’t I just express things that perfectly?” Hopefully, after another twenty years of doing comedy, I’ll be able to do that. And hopefully I won’t insist on failing the same way, over and over again, for that entire time.
Aaron Hertzog is a WitOut editor, stand-up comedian, improviser (Hey Rube, Hate Speech Committee), sketch comedy writer (Tap City) and friend.
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