Saturday, May 14, 2011

Laszlo Fink is not funny, and that’s precisely why he’s funny

In 2006 when I started dabbling in standup comedy (dabbling as opposed to going pro, per se) I learned the fundamentals of constructing a good set. The brief space between a carefully crafted setup and masterfully executed punch line, the necessity for the callback (when the comedian refers to a joke he’s told earlier in the set), using three examples in a list instead of more and timing your jokes for maximum audience reaction. All of these elements are ingredients to creating fantastic sets. Yet in the end, nobody can teach you to be funny. Oh, they can give you the essentials as I’ve listed above, and maybe a few pointers on observing the world with a humorous bent. Yet the act of perceiving things in a twisted and original way is largely inherited and not cultivated.

Standup comedy is a difficult endeavor, like a man giving birth to an octopus in zero gravity. You’ve got to push hard and rip that tentacled little bastard from you and watch it serenely float away.

Yet men giving birth to cephalopods is an insane notion, much like willingly going into standup comedy. Making a few friends laugh down at the bar is a hell of a lot easier and less stressful than making a roomful of drunken strangers laugh. At least your friends know you and recognize your foibles. Friends are kind. Strangers aren’t.

In today’s hip and cutting edge world of standup, you must be on your game at all times, ready to pounce with adrenaline coursing through your veins like a radioactive ninja on crack. You’ve got to eat, drink and shit funny or you’re dead.

Confession time: I loathe performing. I’ve whittled down my appearances to zero. I’m not that much of a masochist and don’t regale in standing on a makeshift stage somewhere and taking abuse from hecklers or people who yell derogatory things about my mother.

Yet there are moments in life when serendipity strikes, and the cosmos smiles upon you. If you're given a shit sandwich, exchange it for prime rib and lobster.

Case in point:

Around 2007 I was performing at a show at the Jersey shore. The place was deader than JFK’s left nut, the only people being myself, a few other comics and the waiters. The owner wasn’t around, but instructed all of us that it would be a family show because, hell, families love going to comedy clubs.

Since the place was drier than the Sahara in July, I decided to try out an especially ribald bit of material. The other comics and the waiters laughed, and I was ready to forge onward with more, when a waiter called me off the stage. He said the boss was listening in via speakerphone and wanted a few words with yours truly.

Long story short, the owner was unhappy with me because I didn’t adhere to his orders and use clean material. I tried explaining nobody from the public was present, but he didn’t care. This pissed me off. I was taught comedy was the last bastion of free speech in America, that comedians have the freedom to express themselves no matter how crude. I felt I was being singled out and censored.

I’d have my revenge.

I’d create a comedian who was the anti-comedian.

Someone who refuses to work blue.

Someone for whom comedy was an innate, God-given gift.

Someone with an ego the size of Nebraska and the intelligence of a walnut.

Laszlo Fink is that creation.

The next time I went on stage, I put on a suit and bowtie, slicked back my hair with gel and wore glasses. I resembled a nebbishy accountant from Poughkeepsie, but was a nightmarish incarnation of every bad Catskills comedian.

Laszlo Fink talks like a nerd, but he jokes like your grandfather. He carries a bag filled with props.

I know. Prop comics are the worst.

That’s the essence of Laszlo Fink. He’s to comedy what the Ebola virus is to the human body.

Laszlo Fink was born in Atlantic City and has three ex-wives. His agent is a shifty and unscrupulous figure, hiding in the shadows and pulling strings to get Laszlo stage time.

Besides working with props, Laszlo has a white rabbit puppet called Cosmo. Laszlo thinks he’s a ventriloquist, yet he’s about as skillful a ventriloquist as a guppy with a mouthful of peanut butter. He has conversations with the rabbit while the audience winces. Laszlo doesn’t care. He ploughs effortlessly on, not even sweating. For him, he’s doing the audience a favor by showing them how comedy is really done.

And he fails.

And it’s beautiful because he’s so oblivious to it all.

Each hackneyed shtick is Laszlo’s milk and honey. The man is a runaway freight train of stale one-liners and childish wonder. Best way to describe Laszlo is Pee Wee Herman meets Lenny Bruce, but with less emphasis on political humor and more on listing ways piñatas encourage violence.

I performed as Laszlo Fink about three or four times. Each time was the same, with Laszlo talking to the audience, playing a harmonica and yukking it up with Cosmo.

Laszlo Fink is not about entertaining people. He’s about entertaining me. He’s not uncomfortable while he’s on stage; the audience is.

I’ve managed to create a character that is the manifestation of a huge raised middle finger, towering over the stage like a mighty obelisk, showering the audience with the same mediocre bile and froth they feared seeing. Laszlo Fink bumbles through his set and on the inside, I’m laughing because these rubes paid to see this. They paid admission and for drinks to watch a nerd talk to a rabbit puppet.

In Laszlo’s world, bombing doesn’t exist. Every delightful performance he kills, with thunderous applause translating to pure rapture in his twisted unfunny brain.

Laszlo told an interviewer his comedy comes from the “comedy hole” in his brain and filters outward into the universe.

Mad poetry from a deranged lunatic.

While audiences scratch their heads in bewilderment or angrily gnash their teeth in protest, Laszlo Fink continues living his washed-out, has-been life. For him, sharing a hot tub with a porn star in Vegas or performing in a basement to an Internet camera for an audience of two are experiences he cherishes.

I’m aware Hollywood won’t be calling for me, or Laszlo for that matter. However, the lovable doofus is a part of me, a protest and defense mechanism against the shitty world of standup and its pressures and a way to turn the tables on an unsuspecting public hungry for the latest hot young comic.

In the world of irony, Laszlo Fink is king.

In the world of comedy, not so much.

That's precisely why he's so damn funny.

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