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Published on November 18th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Funny for life

Given the theme of recent entries, I think it’s as good a time as any to cover the topic of intent & comedy.

I’ve long been fascinated with the “why” of comedy. What motivates someone to be a comedian, and do those reasons change over time? Should any of those reasons be more highly regarded than others? And does knowing a performer’s motivations change the way you view them?

I’ve posed variations on these questions to a few individuals I’ve interviewed, but I’d love a larger sample.

A hypothetical:

You have a choice of 3 surgeons to operate on you (no, the answer to this one isn’t “the surgeon was the boy’s mother“).
Surgeon A wanted to become a doctor because of parental pressures.
Surgeon B wanted to become a doctor so he could make a lot of money.
Surgeon C wanted to become a doctor because he wanted to save lives and heal people.

It’s impossible to judge who would be the better, more skilled practitioner based on that information alone. But are you more likely to be drawn towards Surgeon C?

I have to admit it’s a “yes” for me, much in the same way I relate stronger to performers who value the human connectivity aspect of what they do.

I’d watched the US version of The Office regularly, never expecting Rainn Wilson to bowl me over with quotes like “God gives us talents and faculties, and making people laugh is one of mine. I don’t have to be digging latrines in Honduras to serve humanity.”

And while I always appreciated Chris Farley, I regarded him much higher upon learning that he viewed comedy as a ministry and carried a copy of A Clown’s Prayer around with him.

I can’t relate to religious aspects (I’m planning on the “fiery inferno” route myself), but the sentiment is there.

Obviously, nobody has completely selfless or completely selfish reasons for doing anything. And wanting to perform due to a desire for attention or a natural ability or the lifestyle are perfectly legitimate reasons for getting into the business.

But I never claimed to be normal. So, dear readers, does a perception of selflessness behind a performer’s intentions make you view them differently? It’s a big topic, but any and all thoughts are welcome.

About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including amazon.com