Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dying is Easy...

...Comedy is hard. Doing comedy while dying is even h-...ARGH!(thud).

A few weeks ago, I talked about Patrick Knight, the Texas convict who decided to tell a joke as his final words before being executed.

According to reports, he opted NOT to tell a joke.

As disappointed as you can imagine I am, I can understand this move. He obviously didn't have the right set up. Comedy is not easy, folks. So many things go into making everything just right. From the proper inflection to the proper logistical environment.

Here are some things that may have prevented Mr. Knight from attempting the high dive that is humor.

- Poor sound system. Nothing will muck up a joke more than inferior sound quality. He might have been getting feedback, the sound may have been cutting out, or he might have been getting static. Any one of these things will ruin a solid punchline.

- Second thoughts about content. If you went to his website, you saw a lot of lawyer jokes. If his lawyer had been in the audience, he may have had a change of heart and not wanted to offend his attorney. If the joke was off-color in any way, he may have backed off when he saw that wheelchair-bound mentally-challenged Polish Rabbi dwarf with the harelip in the front row.

- Poor lighting. Sometimes a joke hinges on the comedian's facial expressions or hand gestures. The words are the music and the physical accompaniment is the dancer. We need both for the joke to work.

- Lack of confidence in the material. Sure, he reportedly tried out the material on his death row neighbors, but they weren't the audience. Anything that was a slam dunk with those guys isn't necessarily a sure thing with the non-incarcerated.

- It required an accent he couldn't pull off. Hey, we can't all be Yakov Smirnoff or Larry, the Cable Guy. Patrick wisely decided to leave it to the professionals.


- He actually did tell the joke and nobody laughed, so best to play it off like it never happened. Boy, do I know this one! "I see you take the subject of dogs playing poker as serious as I do. Something must be done. First its poker, next they're chasing roulette wheels."((more silence)) "I'm serious, people. It's a problem...Dear God, kill me, now."

Let's take a look at the transcript from his final statement, shall we...

After expressing love to some friends, he said, "I said I was going to tell a joke. Death has set me free. That's the biggest joke. I deserve this."

"And the other joke is that I am not Patrick Bryan Knight and y'all can't stop this execution now. Go ahead, I'm finished."


He actually told TWO jokes! The first is that death has set him free. That's a very heady joke to open with. People might get it later as they are driving home, but you want something more straightforward and surefire to start. Since that one didn't go over, even more likely his follow-up - and closer - was going to bomb. The other joke is another heady existential barb. Or, he messed it up royally. What he may have meant to say is "I'm Patrick Bryan Knight and you're not." The fact that he says, "Go ahead, I'm finished." indicates to me that he didn't get the big laugh he expected. Just like with a sexual partner, a comedian shouldn't have to tell the audience when he's done.

Texas, as usual, leads the nation in capital punishment. But here's the real joke...also yesterday, in Oklahoma, authorities executed a terminally ill man who, according to his lawyer, has been told by doctors he likely would die of cancer within six months anyway. Who's the genius behind this one? Judge Kevorkian?

The potential for killing innocent people aside, here's what I know about the death penalty... when you tell people it's morally and ethically wrong to kill people - which it is, by the way - and you punish them by, you guessed it, killing them, there's something very karmicly f-d up about it. You might be sending the wrong message.

The punchline has something to do with condemning people to the very crime they committed, making us all just as guilty. And if I can figure out a way to work in a nun, Winston Churchill and The Lone Ranger into it, I will. Just to spice it up.