Behind The Bit – Bees


The “Bees” bit from “Pretty From The Back” has been on my mind lately. Mostly because I just bought tickets to Eddie Izzard’s new tour. I’ll explain what that’s all about.

Eddie Izzard, in his show called “Unrepeatable” did a whole bit about bees. I’ll put the video below. What I’ve always admired about Eddie Izzard’s work is that his bits are so detailed and hit on so many aspects of the subject. In this instance he drags over 4 minutes of material out just on the subject of bees. Check it out.

I was sitting down to write one day and wondered if I could take on the same subject and find new stuff in it that Eddie didn’t. Could I filter that subject of “bees” through my own experiences and come out with something completely different?

Spoiler alert. Yes. Essentially this was a writing exercise for myself and the material turned out to be good enough to put on stage. Not always the case when I’m writing just for exercise.

Strangely, I came up with almost the same amount of material time-wise. He did 4 minutes 15 seconds. Mine totals to 4 minutes 30 seconds, split across two bits with another 7 1/2 minutes of other stuff between them.

Side note: You might wonder was the comic’s fascination is with the time lengths of bits. We’re constantly thinking about it because we have to switch between two different types of gigs. In one, we’re doing long sets of 30, 45, or 60 minutes. So we need enough jokes to fill that amount of time. On the flip side we might be doing a short set of 5, 7, or 10 minutes. So you have to know how long the various bits are so you can combine them into a little 7 minute puzzle that doesn’t force you to either leave things out or risk running over time.

I don’t have the full video up on YouTube of my bees material. Mostly because I’m really hoping you’ll buy the whole special here or rent it over on Amazon. (Rated 5 stars! And if you have Prime you can watch it for free. – Yes, I still get paid.)

But here’s the audio of the first chunk of bee jokes.

At the beginning I hit on one similar premise. That of the bee only stinging once. But from there it veers off in different directions. Admittedly there is a similarity in humanizing the bee, but I love doing those kinds of act-outs. It’s always a struggle for me to find more ways to put in those absurdist act-outs without it looking like I’m just doing Eddie Izzard. 🙂

Believe it or not, the toughest joke to come up with here, and one of the last ones added to the bit, was the tiny Winnie the Pooh tag at the 2 minute mark. It’s a simple 3-way joke structure. But I had a dead spot in the bit where I was getting into the premise of finding a better solution for dealing with bees than what was out there. Whenever the set up becomes too long, the punch doesn’t hit as hard. So I had to figure out a little something to juice that part up and Pooh fit the bill. But that took months to figure out.

On the flip side, is the happy accident of the “bee doing a Bob Dylan impression” joke. That one got riffed on stage one night as I was making the bee sound and realized it sounded like Dylan’s singing cadence. No months of work on that one. Just magic in the moment. It happens both ways.

The controversial joke is the atheist one at the end. There’s always a little question in the listener’s mind of “Is he an atheist? Or is he religious and doesn’t like atheists?” Plus the hard left turn of doing a religion joke at the end of a fluffy bit about bees can be like dumping cold water on a crowd. But I’ll follow the logic of a set up to see where it goes and if I like the turn of logic and it goes to a unique place, I’ll do the joke. It can be challenging to pull off sometimes though.

The atheist/vampire joke is also why I decided to split up the bee material into two chunks. In between comes a bit about vampires and that segues into a bit about a vampire movie that my music was in. Moving into those bits there keeps the show feeling like a stream of consciousness and gave it a nice smooth flow from bit to bit.

Plus I love when a comic does a nice lengthy chunk that goes to wildly different places and then wraps back around to the beginning again. I didn’t do the wrap-around super elegantly in this case. But there were no bees in the vampire movie to link it back around. 🙂 And the hard cut back to bees was disconcerting enough to get a laugh.

You’ll hear what I mean here. This is the second chunk of bee stuff.

In this part the main premise I wanted to get to is, if bees manage to live without violence against one another, why can’t humans?

And if I remember right, I have to give my own mother credit for the “welfare” joke. I had the “we all have the same mother” part and my mom tagged it with the welfare line. That may have had something to do with the welfare mother with an exorbitant number of children living a couple doors down from her.

And yes, Eddie Izzard did touch on the dancing thing too. But from a different angle. To be honest, I really like his better than mine. 🙂

And I do love the wasp joke. Wordplay is like crack to a comic.

The Missing Bee Jokes

I wrote tons of stuff for this bit that didn’t make it to the final cut. It was twice as long at the beginning as in its final form. Here’s a few of the jokes that got cut out.

So when Mohammed Ali said, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…” He really meant, “I’ll hit you once then fall down dead.” It’s just not quite as intimidating that way.

Bees have two jobs in life. Pollination and trying to not accidentally get their butt stuck to something. Can you imagine if we had that? Your life would be in mortal danger cuz you sat on a vinyl seat in shorts.

You leave your intestines in the chair, party foul, dude. “Aw man Larry… Would you wear jeans next time?” You do not want your friends posting that YouTube video. “Dude, check out this video. It’s called ‘Larry’s Intestines Become Outtestines’”.

The Missing Bee Chunk

There’s actually a whole third section to the bee material that I left out entirely. For a couple reasons: When I was performing the whole three-part thing I could feel the audience thinking “Geez, more bee stuff, huh?” Which just means that the last chunk wasn’t funny enough to keep the momentum going.

And second, I couldn’t figure out how to strong end the third part or give it a smooth segue into the next bit, a bit about strip clubs. (Though thinking about it right now, I can think of a couple different ways to get there. The advantage of more years of practice…)

So because of all that I decided to just drop the whole chunk. It felt underdeveloped. Like I didn’t have the skills to communicate what I was trying to get across with it. Maybe I’ll bring it back at some point.

But for now… Here’s the transcript of the missing finish to the Bee trilogy.

I read on the back of a cough drop package that bee pollination is responsible for 1/3 of the world’s food supply. I’ve never seen a bee driving a tractor, but ok. “Boy, I told you to get out there and get that tractor fixed.” “But I was going to go into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”

It makes sense though because bees are old-school country. See when a beekeeper goes into a hive he calms the bees by spreading smoke over them which triggers a binge feeding response. Which has to make them Willie Nelson fans. They don’t like that Bro Country shit.

It’s out of the range of our hearing, but that buzzing sound is the melody of “On The Road Again.”

The smoke makes them binge eat because they think the hive is on fire, and they have to survive until they get another hive. And they eat so much that they’re bellies are distended and they can’t flex their bodies correctly to sting anything. They just want to undo the top stripe and watch Sports Center.

If there happen to be any Africanized bees in the hive at that time, after the binge eating they become known as Americanized bees.

Basically it’s like somebody walking into your house and yelling “Fire!” which causes you to eat everything in your refrigerator. Which I think we can all agree is a dick move. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to be motivated by fire to do that anyway.

I think the bees know the smoke means the beekeeper is about to steal their honey and they try to eat it before he gets to it. Like when the cops pull you over. “Dude, eat it all! He’s coming!”

The fact that bees are only responsible for 1/3 of the world’s food supply seems like an underused resource to me. Bees are the perfect agricultural work force. They’re used to living in overcrowded conditions in a wooden box, make their own food, and work hard. If bees can learn how to roll a good burrito, Mexicans are out of work.

This is why 3rd world countries like Ethiopia don’t have enough food. Not enough bees. Too many flies. Flies don’t do anything. Sure, they always look busy. But it’s just ADD. They don’t accomplish a damn thing. A fly lands on a flower, and just sits there thinking, “Now, what did I come over here for? Ooh look! Poo!”

Maybe if we gave flies Ritalin they might discover their purpose in life. If bees help produce food, maybe flies have a natural talent for particle physics or mid-level management. Of course, the day a Nobel Peace Prize goes to a scientific discovery made by a housefly, Stephen Hawking will unplug himself.

The thing is, a fly only lives for about two weeks. You wouldn’t want to work hard if you’re going to die in two weeks. Flies are like “Live fast, die young!”

Maybe they have the right idea. Maybe we should live every day like it’s our last. Live it up, fly around like crazy, eat poo.


Thanks for taking this little trip down bee memory lane with me. I hope it gave you some insight into what goes into creating even just 4 minutes of comedy. Months of working and reworking to get it into its final form.

Pretty From The Back comedy DVD from Phil Johnson

And I hope you’ll check out the rest of “Pretty From The Back” if you haven’t yet. You get the audio and video downloads here. Or you can rent the video (or watch for free with Amazon Prime) here.

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