From Patton Oswalt:
All I care about is the profession I work in. Stand-up comedy. I also care about the continued, false perception the bulk of the general public has about stand-up comedy. And what I care about, most of all, is the maddening false perceptions that other people in the creative arts have about stand-up:
Comedians don’t write their own jokes. They all steal. All great artists steal. You can’t copyright jokes. It doesn’t matter who writes a joke, just who tells it the best. Don’t musicians play other musicians’ songs? There are only so many subjects to make jokes about, anyway. I’ve seen, like, five different comedians do jokes about airplanes – isn’t that stealing, too?
Most people are not funny. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or dumb, or unperceptive or even uncreative. Just like most people can’t play violin, or play professional-level basketball, or perform brain surgery, or a million other vocational, technical, aesthetic or creative pursuits. Everyone is created unequal.
But for some reason, everyone wants to be funny. And feels like they have a right to be funny.
But being funny is like any other talent – some people are born with it, and then, through diligence and hard work and a lot of mistakes, they strengthen that talent.
But some people aren’t born with it. Just like some people (me, for example) aren’t born with the capacity to make music, or the height and reflexes for basketball, or the smarts to map the human mind and repair it. I’m cool knowing all of those limitations about myself.
I’m even cool knowing my limitations within comedy. I think, after nearly 25 years pursuing my craft, that I’ve become very very good at this. But I’ll never be as good as Jim Gaffigan, or Louie CK or Paul F. Tompkins or Maria Bamford or Brian Regan. Never reach the plangent brilliance of a Richard Pryor or the surreal mastery of a Steve Martin. I’m okay with that. I still get to be creative – on my own terms, and purely on my own work.
But why is it – and this only seems to apply to comedy – that some people so deeply resent those that can write jokes, can invent new perceptions of the world that actually make people laugh? Resent them so much that they have to denigrate the entire profession, just so they can feel better about themselves? Do they really think they’re less of a person if they can’t make up a joke, or be funny in the moment? Why is it so crucial to them? Is it because all of us, at some point of darkness or confusion or existential despair, were amazed at how absurd a thing as a simple joke suddenly lit the way, or warmed the cold, or made the sheer, horrific insanity that sometimes comes with being alive suddenly, completely, miraculously manageable?