The Great Comedy Recession has affected us all

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Pictured: AM radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

Island PacketDespite what I’m sure it looks like to people with real jobs, it is not easy to come up with funny ideas these days, especially in a writing landscape where anyone with an inside-joke phrase and a working knowledge of the Bloggers can more or less become a published columnist, circumventing the old methods of getting published, which was either getting someone in management super-drunk or waiting until everyone else on the copy desk had gone home, and surreptitiously swapping out some other loser story with your column, and then, the next morning, acting all like, “That could have been anyone who put my extremely handsome mug shot on there, I AM NOT GOING TO STAND FOR THIS INTERROGATION!”

But in what may be a historic first for this column space, I’m going to be perfectly honest (although I’m pretty sure Farrell was honest in her piece about screaming at the checkout dude at Publix, which, by the way, shame on her): It has become more and more difficult to think of Funny Column Ideas with the soothing regularity to which my readers have become accustomed, and by “readers” I mean my Mom and the folks who scour each line looking for anti-Rush Limbaugh jokes looking to write blog comments about, such as this one: Rush Limbaugh sweats canola oil, rocks 38 lbs. of neck fat and bleats feeding-trough noises like the Walrus Man who mouth-snorts at Luke in the “Star Wars” cantina scene. No, Rush, I don’t like you either.

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http://bit.ly/9xh7II

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Anyway, this idea-drain thing has been going on for some time, and I’ll tell you why. But first, a preface: I’m generally loath to let people know my wildly successful and increasingly lucrative means for drawing up column ideas. In this way I am like the magician who guards his secrets with the fierce jealousy of the tigress, lest the world learn how it is possible to make a ping-pong ball become a pigeon, which would just be a nightmare. But here’s basically how it goes:

  1. Scour Web for funny story ideas, which is less effective now that most quote-fingers real news sites are more or less dumping grounds for Wacky Headlines anyway (actual headlines on CNN.com right now: “Five human heads found in ice chests,” “Campbell Brown: Chris Brown up for kids’ award” and the uproarious “Natasha Bedingfield has designs on marriage.”)
  2. Throw a basketball at the head of the guy who sits next to me, see if he does anything funny I can document. (Note: I just tried it, and he went “Glaaaha!” which is pretty good but not enough for 18 column inches.)
  3. Write about funny thing son did; if son did nothing funny this week, make up funny story about what son did, hopefully set in the bathroom.

These guidelines have worked for a few years or so, but something happened lately that has caused the comedy rivers to dry up. At first I suspected burnout and an unusual level of sobriety, but then it finally hit me, like an Acme anvil dropping off a cliff: We are in the throes of a severe comedy recession, a laugh shortage the likes of which haven’t been seen since people got all up into Urkel.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Go outside right now (if already outside, walk directly into traffic) and look around: Do you see anyone laughing? Smiling? Busting even the vague beginnings of a gut? No, YOU DO NOT. You see grief and sorrow and, if you’re looking at a picture of Limbaugh, gynecomastia. (See? There were probably better ways to make that joke, but I went with the most medical-sounding option, because earlier this week the paper’s comedy budget was cut, and I now have to be 6 percent less funny than before.)

Experts disagree on where and how the comedy shortage began, but the effects are everywhere now: People began lengthy jokes they couldn’t dream of finishing. Most knock-knock jokes now end in bankruptcy. The past year alone has seen a 45 percent drop in the successful completion of “Aristocrats” punchlines alone. On a personal level, just this past week I began a beloved story-gag involving a genie, a lamp and a man with a big orange head, and halfway through I COMPLETELY BLEW THE JOKE and had to immediately request a federal punchline bailout, which was immediately approved, and now I have $48 billion, most of which I’m putting toward the remodeling of an executive bathroom that will feature a chocolate milk fountain and a bathtub made out of an elephant. No, not like ivory. AN ELEPHANT. Laugh it up now, but folks will come from miles around to ogle my elephant tub.

No one knows when the comedy recession will hit rock bottom — though it could be argued that happened on the day of the release of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” — nor if the end is in sight. So until that happens, we’ll have to keep on doing what Americans do best: straighten our backs, buckle our pants and lob fat-man jokes at Limbaugh, such as when he cuts himself, gravy pours out. Ha! Look at that. I’m starting to feel better already. Maybe this thing is already turning around.

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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