I am a stand-up comedian. It has been my full-time occupation since 1991. True, I am not rich or famous but I have paid my bills and eaten Taco Bell. I have made a reasonable living. And I know my way around a joke.
The point I am so slowly getting to here is that I have had a hard time writing jokes about epilepsy. The subject has eluded me. I've written jokes that I knew were pretty funny but when I tried them out onstage I could not figure out why they did not get any laughs. I reworked them. Nothing. It took me years to figure out why those jokes were not happening and when I finally figured out what the problem was I was not happy with the answer.
I have come up with two basic reasons why the subject is not a good choice for me onstage. The first is kind of annoying and the second just sucks.
Look, this SHOULD be a good subject for me. It’s personal. It’s real. There are not a lot of jokes floating around about epilepsy. People have not heard a dozen comics talk about it so they are not anticipating the punch lines. Everything about the topic screams “good topic.” And yet . . .
I don’t mean to be dismissive but the first reason I can’t do epilepsy jokes is not my fault. The first part of the blame clearly lies with the audience. The minute I say the words, “I am epileptic,” the audience goes silent. There is always a definite “whoosh” as all the energy leaves the room. The audience doesn’t want to KNOW that I am epileptic. They gasp. They don’t believe me. They wait for the funny part where I go, “No – just kidding.” Which, believe me, is annoying in and of itself.
Worst than that is that a lot of times they laugh at just those words. Like that’s the joke. “I’m epileptic.” Really? That’s funny? It puts me off before I can even start talking about it. It’s funny just to say someone has seizures? It happens every two or three times and that screws up my energy. I want to lash out. How can that be funny?
I have some decent jokes about how people should not stick wallets in my mouth. I tell a funny story about the time a lady on American Airlines tried to slap me awake. But you know what? It isn’t really all that funny. It was actually kind of horrible. SHE was horrible. And waking up with someone’s wallet in your mouth is just annoying. Not funny. Not funny at all.
That brings me to my second reason I had to abandon this line of material, which is really the main issue: Seizures made me kind of a dark person. The instant I say the words, “I have epilepsy,” my demeanor onstage changes. Twenty some-odd years after being diagnosed, I am still angry about it. I try to be light, I try to laugh about it but it’s really hard to. Seizures just are not all that funny to me.
So, I guess in the end the problem really is me. As much as I want to “spread awareness” and I want to tap into this untapped gold mine of material I just can’t get myself to laugh at my condition. Falling down and peeing yourself is funny when you’re drunk but if I want to tell an audience how bad falling down has screwed up my life it just doesn’t seem to make for a great joke.
If it does, I haven’t found it yet.