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Eric Hoffman, Author, Comedy by the Numbers

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There's a lot of books out there claiming that they contain the secret to being funny, but only the authors of Comedy by the Numbers actually know how to crack a joke. LAist spoke with co-author Eric Hoffman about the how-to-guide to makem-laughs and crackem-ups, and even got him to reveal a few of the secrets just for you. But, be warned, Eric also reveals the means by which you'd know if you're currently funny or not, so you might find yourself making a shocking discovery. Don't worry, though, either way you'll be one step closer to being funnier than you've ever been by the time you finish this interview

How can the reader tell whether they're funny, aren't funny but think they are, or aren't funny but would like to be?
If people tell other people you're funny, you're funny. If people actually groan every time you start to tell a joke, then you may just need to freshen up your comedic stylings. Lay off the 'dry hump' jokes for a while. Tone down the mugging. Now, if nothing you ever say EVER gets a response, from anyone, including family, who HAVE to laugh, then you just might be "not funny." (employ "You Might Be A Redneck If--" delivery here:) If you say "knock, knock" to someone...and they say "no one's home." --then you just might be not funny! Sorry, that just seemed to work for me. Anyway, our book can help everyone from the pro's to the "everyday Joe's" get easy chuckles AND popularity!

What are some indications that we might one of the few to posses true comedic talent?
Flawless timing. The ability to appeal to everyone. A good "anger face" is essential as it's
used in practically every comedy routine. One indication is the ability to make old bits seem new and relevant (because as we all know, "everything's been done beforeã!"). The type of performer who can make a Mirror Routine (#75 in our book) seem like you've never seen one before, that's what I like. And a good Slow Burn (#153) goes a long way with me.

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That sounds like it requires a lot of effort and determination. Is it worth the effort?
Well, I don't want to frighten, but it's a pretty rough road ahead for the un-funny. Can you
imagine the embarrassment of going "out on the town" with some business clients and you turn out to be "not funny"?? No thank you! Or going to the latest romantic-comedy film with your girl, and afterwards she compares you to all the un-funny characters?? Next! No, a sense of humor can save your life, my friend. Say you work in a store that uses a cash register and you give someone the wrong change. Tempers are going to flare. But a quick zinger from you (probably rooted in Self-deprecation) could prevent untold violence and misery. Quite honestly, the customer may still shoot you, but at least you got in the last laugh.

Has humor ever gotten you in trouble?
Not me personally, but I know a lot of comics who've been "capped" for snitching on comedians who have stolen jokes from other comedians. Which is why Gary, my co-author, and I have made a psa about it, begging comics to Stop Snitching! Please, it's not worth it, people!

What can we, the readers, do to cover our asses if we're using a lesson from comedy by the numbers and it backfires on us?
We provide a couple of "go to" bits for just such an emergency. One is dropping your trousers and revealing your underwear. Never fails. You'll need to read the book to learn the other ass-covering bits, which I have to say like that in order to comply with the "entice them to buy your book" rules of the publishing world.

You say in the section on anti-authoritarian-ism that "just because someone makes more money than you doesn't mean they're better," but what about Worthington's Law, which states that " a person who makes more money than you is better than you"?
Here's the dif: With anti-authoritarianism, "just because someone makes more money than you doesn't mean they're better" is the attitude you'll need to successfully perform this classic comedy routine while Worthington's Law is just a fact of real life.

In the book, You mention that writers and improvisers don't like having their sketches called skits. What are some other faux-paus we should avoid?
Don't talk about their dead mother. They hate that. Don't say things like, "How did you remember all of those lines?!", no matter how much of a complimentary tone you put into it. Avoid saying, "Do you know Kramer?" In fact, don't reference any other comedian at all. For example, don't ask them if they think Larry the Cable Guy is funny. I know you're just trying to make conversation, but chances are they're secretly jealous of him and his catchphrase. And please don't offer suggestions like, "You should use a big watermelon like Gallagher. HE'S funny!" A comedian will immediately treat you like a heckler.

You also make a passing reference to Eric Spitznagel, a humorist who spent time in the arena of pornography and even wrote a memoir about his experience there. Are surprise and juxtaposition as effective in pornography as they are in humor?
Yes. "Midget Sex" is a perfect example of this. Porn and humor share some of the same "rhythms" certainly. The "foreplay" of the joke set-up; and the eventual big "release" of the punch line. As we all know, comedy is sexy sexy sexy! Also, I have to mention that Mr. Spitznagel and myself were in a movie together. The spoof epic "My Big Fat Independent Movie." Which has a little bit of porn AND comedy in it.

I noticed that you and Gary make derogatory remarks about Harpo Marx on several occasions in the book. What makes Harpo so worthy of ridicule?
Well you have to remember that there are two Harpos: there's the "Paramount Pictures Harpo" - who's an anarchist, completely out of his mind, with an insane energy about him; and then there's the "MGM Harpo" - where they softened him, made him more child-like, and introduced Pathos (aka "Chaplin Syndrome") into his act. Which I think was a mistake. Harpo was still funny at MGM, but you don't want to feel sorry for Harpo. It ruins it. Besides, the only good reason to use pathos is if you, as a comedian, want to win an award for acting. If that's the case, then have at 'em! Befriend an orphan kid wearing an adult-sized driving cap. Cry when the mean circus owner kicks your dog. Eat your shoelaces like they're spaghetti. Or forget all that and just play an alcoholic. Who's a hobo. Anyway, we're just kidding. Harpo's great.

That makes me wonder: how do we know in general if something is worthy of ridicule?
Just because something is new doesn't mean it should be automatically ridiculed, although it often is. I'd like to see comics take their time before making fun of something, but that's the world we live in. Some things are put out there just so they can be immediately ridiculed. Like the Pet Rock. Or Carrot Top.

You pull it off very well in the book and this interview, so I wanted to know what's the key to make a good reference or non-sequitur?
Your references should be somewhere between your Uncle Charlie and Dennis Miller. With non sequiturs, it helps to have a cigar in your mouth. That goes back to Groucho.

So, what are some projects that you're currently involved in or contemplating?
I have some new Snuz Brothers short films coming out soon on, which I worked on with Jay Johnston (The Sarah Silverman Program). We use a healthy amount of comedy numbers in those. And I'm planning on remounting "The Red Sandwich Christmas Hour" Show this December at the UCB Theatre Hollywood.