This is one of the first “trigger-y” kind of bits I wrote that really worked well. And by “trigger-y” I mean that the subject matter catches people off guard. And if they’re not paying attention to actual intent and content they freak out a little bit.
The premise is all true of course. I believe the tour was called Kings of the Mic and included LL Cool J, Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Ice Cube. And my girlfriend and I had this discussion about “put your hands in the air” during the show.
In my writing I covered a ton of ground about the concert. The differences in the audience makeup between modern hip hop shows and old school shows. The one white guy who was dressed in powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat to call attention to himself. The jarring moment when my girl realized that Ice Cube on stage isn’t Ice Cube from the Friday movies.
But as with any bit, a ton of stuff gets whittled away leaving just the core nuggets that work best. For me it often feels like parts of the experience are missing. But I have to remind myself that that audience doesn’t even know about that guy in the suit if I don’t bring it up. So if I don’t bring it up they won’t know something is missing.
I’ll show you some of the stuff that didn’t make it in below.
The punch line at the 1-minute mark is my favorite part even though I never feel like I got it quite right. It’s not in the video above. But you can hear it in the full version on this Spotify player. (Or see the whole special on Amazon or buy the download from my store.)
The one word that, I think, makes people uncomfortable with the last punch line is “beats”. As in “paper beats rock”. Because while in this case it means “wins” it also can mean physical violence. And that was not my intent at all. But because of the subject matter, I’m sure it springs to the audience’s mind sometimes.
I tried different words in there to make it more palatable. “Wins” didn’t work for me because it sounds awkward. “Triumphs over” sounds too grandiose and connotes a superiority that I didn’t want in there. Anything longer than one word ruined the rhythm of the joke.
So I stuck with “beats” and the joke would work most of the time. It’s the kind of joke that’s got a solid logic and meaning behind it. Even if the listener is vaguely uncomfortable with it they’ll still laugh.
And I really enjoy that kind of reaction. Something that feels a little bit dangerous to laugh at but still gets the laugh. And it’s not actually malicious at all. But it makes the listener take a step back, examine their own first impression of the joke, and then make a decision as to whether they’ll accept my position or read something into it that I didn’t intend.
And the fact that the human mind can do all that within 5 seconds astounds me constantly.
What Didn’t Make The Cut
My girlfriend never liked the last half of this joke. She would always say “But rock beats scissors.” And I tried a variety of ways to close that loop, but never found one that worked. Plus it seemed out of my jurisdiction to pit black people against Asians in a joke. Once my personal experience is taken out of the equation things start to get dicey.
Here’s a couple lines about the difference in audiences that worked a few times, but I couldn’t get them consistent:
There were obvious signs that it was an older crowd. The couple behind us brought food in Tupperware. There’s no Tupperware at a Lil Wayne show.
“Put yo hands up! Burp yo Tuppaware! Burp yo Tuppaware! Keepin’ food fresh! Keepin food fresh!”
This was like the black version of a Fleetwood Mac concert.
I think just me trying to do the Lil Wayne part is tough to pull off.
Here’s the chunk about the guy in the weird suit. From an actual discussion we had during the show.
There weren’t a ton of white people there, but we weren’t hard to spot. Not because of our color, but because of the completely inappropriate clothing. One dude showed up wearing powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat. And his hair was orange. Not redhead, I mean dyed Crayola crayon orange.
My girlfriend leaned over and said, “I hope his friends dressed him like that.”
“Yeah, man. This is what they’re wearing in the clubs. (aside) No, shut up… (back) Man, everyone looks like a popsicle. You’ll be the coolest!”
It really turned out you had to be there for that one to be funny. 🙂
And this last little bit about how the audience was dressed:
It was an old school show, so most everyone was nicely dressed. All the black folks were dressed nice. All the Mexican folks were dressed nice. And right in front of us were two white couples that looked like they’re days away from having their own Discovery Channel show.
Maybe something about wrestling alligators or harvesting organs from wayward tourists.
All of them pushing 50, with doo rags and neck tattoos. When you see an older black man or Mexican guy with a neck tattoo, you think, “Damn, he’s seen some shit… I’ll bet he’s got some wild stories.” When you see a 50 year white dude with a neck tattoo, you think, “Awww… That’s sad.”
That guy only has stories that start with, “So we’re drinking Jack Daniels, right?…”
Looking back at some of these, I think I could rewrite them and make them work better now. But when a bit is done, it’s done. And those parts didn’t make the cut. Relegated to the “extras” bin.
Thanks for taking this little tour of the bit with me. I hope it gave you a little deeper insight into it.
If you’d like to check out the whole “Pretty From The Back” special, here’s your options:
Download from the Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction Store (audio and video)
Come to a show! – Click here for upcoming tour dates.
Is there a bit or song you’d like me to take you behind the scenes on? Leave a comment below and let me know which one.