Comedy Equals Tragedy Plus Work

Question: Is humor writing or standup comedy harder?

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Joe Randazzo: Standup comedy is definitely harder. I mean, I like being onstage. That’s always been fun for me. Better than a… It’s like people ask how do you go up on stage, I don’t think I could ever do it and my answer is like well I’m having trouble talking to you right now. You know it’s like for some reason some people just have it in their genetic makeup that it’s easier to go up and interact with a group of strangers than it is to have any kind of meaningful interaction with a person whose eyes you have to look into and I’m not saying that I’m a cold, heartless monster, but a little sick, but standup is harder because it’s just you on your own. The great thing about The Onion is it’s so collaborative. You know it’s you almost kind of take on this group mind there and people are really willing to sacrifice their own personal pet headlines or their own preference on a joke for the good of The Onion, for the good of the product. I don’t think either that standup informs my work at The Onion very much or vice versa because they’re pretty different in style. The standup tends to be a little more of a… a little more of a… I kind of do this kind of character who… that exaggerates all of my own nervousness and neurosis and they tend to be a little more conceptual like as an eight minute set than telling a joke and then telling an unrelated joke and then telling an unrelated joke. I can’t… I sort of can’t write jokes that way personally. I have to think about how do I want this eight minutes to feel so that it is as awkward for the audience as possible while also being funny and then sort of write to that as opposed to this is a good joke that I will expand on and then find a segue into something else. For me I just can’t… It’s really hard for me to do that.

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So one thing The Onion has sort of taught me, though, is how to actually like write material and how to hit a joke as hard as you possible can relentlessly until it’s near to the point of being too much, so having that sense is something that I’ve really gotten from working at The Onion over four years, but the two are actually pretty unrelated. You know I do have website that I keep up as well. It’s called The Joe Randazzo Association, which is now that I’m saying it, it’s this sort of large, heartless corporation and it’s the kind of goings on at the office, messages from the HR representative and schedule of events for the seminar and what the lunch menu is going to be and it’s those kinds of things. So the writing for that has definitely been influenced a lot by my time at The Onion just in how to really write a joke, but it’s my own personal stuff because sometimes you just need to write your own personal stuff as well.

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Question: Is comedy fun?

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Joe Randazzo: It’s fun, but it’s also horrible. Anybody who has to… Well I don’t know if anybody, but when you have to sit down and write something it’s just the most dreadful feeling in the world for me anyway, but it’s also really fun. It’s just you forget. When you’re having the fun you forget how dreadful it is and when you’re in the dreadful you forget how fun it can be and you have to write something in order to be able to have material to perform and that’s when the fun is, so I guess I sort of actually force myself to do it and I’ve listened to other… There is this great podcast I listen to called The Creative Screenwriting Magazine where Jeff Goldsmith is his name, he is the senior editor at the magazine I think and he interviews different screenwriters every week and he always asks them if they… what do they do to… do they get writer’s block and do they… what do they do to get rid of it and every time I’m like how… I always have writer’s block. Writer’s block is the default position for me. It’s like such a struggle to get these ideas out, so they don’t want to come out even though they’re in there driving me crazy. But it’s also just incredible to be able to have a career out of making people laugh and or a job anyway. I don’t know if it’s going to… if it will be a career. Where you sit around in a room and make people laugh and then put together something that’s so great that you know I can be so proud of and you know when you see people on the street reading The Onion it’s a really… It’s a really wonderful feeling and I always want to tell them you know I’m…Look at the masthead, that’s me. I work there. So I’d say it’s got to be that the fun outweighs the dreadfulness for sure, yeah, but it’s work. It’s work.

Recorded on November 30, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Why standup comedy is harder than humor writing, and why comedy itself is fun if you like misery.

Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.


Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.

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