The Brick Joke

NOTE: I wrote this blog the morning of 9/11/16, in the hopes of spreading some good vibes on a day where we’re all preoccupied with bad shit. However… the afternoon, I ran into a bundle of Bad Shit. Which became the blog “Piss On The Dead”. I offer this a couple days late, but with the hope that it’ll brighten up your day a bit.

In joke-telling, there’s something called a ‘brick joke’. It’s an old chestnut, which goes like this (stealing from here, just to keep the momentum of writing this blog):

Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to build a house. But, being a little eccentric, he wanted to build the house using only 99 bricks. So he went to the hardware store and said, “Hello, I’d like to buy 99 bricks.”
The owner of the store told him, “I’m sorry, we only sell bricks in quantities of 100.”
“Can’t you cut me a deal or something?” the man asked.
“Nope, sorry,” replied the owner. So the guy bought 100 bricks.
He took the bricks back to his lot, and he built a house using 99 bricks. Now, if you do the math, 100 minus 99 is 1, so he had one brick left. And he took that brick, and he just chucked it, way up in the air!

Ok, so maybe it’s not a great joke. But it’s important, to understand this blog, so I had to start out there.

On Friday (9/9/16), a friend and I went to see Oddball Fest (set up by Funny Or Die, apparently — and if they’re doing it again next year, you know I’ll be there.). One of the single funniest shows I have ever had the, hell, the honor of seeing. We went cuz John Oliver was the star standupper, but to be honest, the lineup was so solid that even without him it would’ve been well worth seeing.

For the record, the lineup was as follows:









With all respect to those performers, their acts were a warmup for Johnny O. He was hysterically funny, on point, and…..simply, genius. Not to mention, fast on his feet. There is an art to live comedy; in a recent interview, Louis C.K. said that he wasn’t sure his standup now is as good as it was when he was touring regularly. There’s a physicality and a stamina that you need for live-performance, and even if your jokes are great, you need that presence to really carry off a show. Same as the difference between theater and film. Film is its own artform, but speaking broadly, stage-actors are better actors than film. They’ve gotta work the room; they have to know their lines. There’re no breaks, no stopping to do another take.

All the Oddballs had great presence. They weren’t just telling funny stories, or doing the observational style that’s become a cliché at this point (“You know what bugs me? When you’re on a plane, and….”). They were worth seeing live for the same reason that some bands are amazing to experience LIVE, while others are a disappointment. Sorry to say, Bob Dylan’s become one of the latter — while Jimmy Buffett just seems to get stronger with the years. (I haven’t seen either, but am champing at the bit to see Jimmy live sometime.)

In fact (at the risk of another sidebar (hey, it’s an essay — Montaigne was A.D.D. as shit, and he pretty much invented the artform.)), Jimmy Buffett is the reason we were at this concert. I’d wanted to see J.B., and asked a friend who works at House Of Blues whether he was playing anytime soon. Turns out, he was playing last night, to a house that’d sold out within two minutes of making the tickets available. But she said she’d keep an eye out for the nextime he was in town, and btw John Oliver has a show coming up…..

Back to the point, then. (Hopefully.)

The Brick Joke was a classic joke in its time, but while the usual telling of it has a great payoff, it’s unsubtle. Once you’ve heard it, and know how it goes, it’s only marginally funny to hear again.

But in standup, the same technique has become a razor-sharp tool in the standup toolbox. It worx like this: you tell a joke, and get a good laugh. Then later in the act, you refer to the earlier joke. Eddie Izzard has a great one in I forget which show (think it’s Dressed To Kill, but it’s been awhile since I saw that), involving Scrappy Doo and somebody’s grandpa.

(((RECOMMENDATION: In Iliza Shlesinger’s Netflix-Spesh Freezing Hot, she ends the show with one of the greatest Brick Jokes that has ever been told.)))

At OddballFest, though, I saw something that I’ve never seen before.

It wasn’t until a couple days later, as I was taking a dump (hey, you know how it is — sometimes you get those Click Moments right as you’re ******), that it struck me.

In Tom Segura’s set, he talx about running into Chris Tucker on a plane, & Tucker asking Tom whether he should make another RUSH HOUR. It was a good joke.

But when Jay Pharoah got onstage, he started out by reiterating that joke, and doing a spot-on impression of how Chris Tucker talks. (If you don’t recognize J.P. by name: he’s on SNL, & has been the Obama-Imitator-In-Chief for the past while. Later in his set, he talked about going to the White House & meeting Barack in the flesh.)

What occurred to me was this. That they’d just run a Brick Joke woven between acts. Normally, in a standup-show, everyone does their own set. But this tour was sumthin’ special, and my realization was that they were working together.

It’s possible, of course, that _ _ was just riffing. But — even though he’s an acclaimed impressionist — I wouldn’t risk an impression on the fly, in front of a crowd of thousands, for the firstime. Maybe he did (in which case, he rocked it), but my money’s on that being a planned transition. As I thought of it, there were a few others too.

It was a damn good show. And the crew were playing off each other — not in competition, but collaborating to make the show stronger.

Taken individually, they were all great acts. But realizing — or hoping — that they had planned jokes that got a laugh the firstime, and a bigger one when it came back in the next act, makes it a whole new class of standup.

I’m gonna share one bit from John Oliver’s set, cuz this was priceless and I dunno if he’ll ever tell it again. The show was in Mansfield, MA (“WTF is Mansfield, anyhow?”), and he addressed his set to the audience at large as ‘Mansfield’. Funny little trick of intimacy. The joke was this (although, obviously, from memory and necessarily worse for not being done in J.O.’s voice. Use your imagination.):

“Being British and traveling is always awkward, because….well, we generally have something to feel guilty about. But Massachusetts is the worst — because it’s like being on a game-show, and getting walked past all the things you could’ve won.”

That one brought down the house — and it was within the first three minutes of his 46-minute set. Seriously: one of the single best live performances I have ever seen.

I gotta go, but before I sign off and send this out into the ether, I’ve got one more chuckle for y’all. It’s another old joke, but I think it’s aged better than that first one.

A guy was riding on an airplane, and he decided to smoke a cigar. Unfortunately, he was sitting next to a woman with a dog. The dog began coughing, so the lady said, “Excuse me, sir, but could you please put out your cigar? It’s really bothering my dog.”
He angrily replied, “No, I won’t! You shouldn’t have a dog on this flight anyways!”
“This is a non-smoking flight! You need to put that cigar out!” she said. They argued back and forth… get rid of the dog, put out the cigar, and so on.
Finally, the man said, “Look, I’ll compromise with you. If you get rid of your dog, I’ll get rid of the cigar.” HE was thinking, “She’ll never want to give up her dog.” But much to his surprise, she agreed to the deal!
The lady opened the window (amazingly, without causing the air pressure inside the plane to drop) and threw her dog out. The man, thinking that he had another cigar anyways, threw his cigar out the window, thinking that he had won.
However, the woman suddenly reached out the window, and grabbed her dog’s leash! As she pulled the dog back in, she was thinking that she’d won, but do you know what the dog had in its mouth?

And THAT, folx, is the Brick Joke. Happy 9/11:)