When Is a Weirdo Not a Weirdo?

I spent two days on a river with a bunch of weirdos.

They were part of a rafting trip my son and I went on. Six guys, around my age, all college buddies, celebrating a birthday. And they were weird.

I told my son how weird they were. He didn’t think so at all. He suggested maybe they hadn’t seen each other in a long time and they were feeling awkward. I thought, “Empathetic weirdo.”

That evening, the weirdos were sitting on the beach, the river roaring past. I had to stop because one of them asked about the insulin pump which hangs off my belt. Weirdo…asking about my insulin pump.

As they became curious about me, I became curious about them. And in that instant, they changed — right in front of my eyes. It was like CGI. One moment, they were buffoons. The next, they were humans and sad and funny and deep. Even their faces changed. My dream of them as weirdos was morphing in front of my eyes.

And they became immensely likable, not weird at all. One guy recited a limerick. One guy was really curious about type one diabetes. One wanted to dissect the meaning of comedy. One was a small town lawyer. One was passionate about his supplements. One mentioned he wasn’t on tenure track. One said nothing at all. And it didn’t seem weird, it seemed tender.

It turns out I had my “weird” goggles on. I was the one feeling awkward and out of place and self-conscious (didn’t even know it) and I projected that onto them.

As we stumble through life, we have our goggles on and that’s how the world is — angry lens = disappointing world, happy lens = glorious world. And we believe the world is the way it is.

No. The world is as we perceive it to be. (See above story about the weirdos.)

This is good news for writers and performers.

A book on joke-writing suggests using these four words — weird, hard, stupid, crazy — to find a comedic premise. “You know what’s weird (hard, stupid, crazy) about dating…” And let the jokes flow from there. These are your f’d-up goggles.

In general, goggles exist in unconsciousness. And taking the goggles off is an act of awakening. Comedy loves goggles. Drama loves … no goggles.

Comedic writers don’t question their goggles. They paint the world like they see the world. (I imagine that Van Gogh saw the world as an electric cacophony of vibrating molecules and simply painted that world.)

Comedy exists across a spectrum. One end is unconsciousness, our natural goggles, angry, weird, judgmental. From this perspective comes parody and satire and sketch. Think John Oliver or Amy Schumer. On the other, there is clarity, the comedy of compassion. This is the understanding that every human is flawed and doing their best. The 40-Year Old Virgin comes to mind.

One has bite. The other, grace. Both are funny.

What is your default lens? One comedy writer says the world appears to him as a circus that is mounted just for him. Mine is the beautiful blindness of my father, an absent-minded professor, who asked a thousand times where his glasses were. They were always one his head.

The next time you’re stuck, try on someone else’s goggles. A warrior’s, a child’s, a burlesque dancer’s, Donald Trump’s, an ant’s, God’s. How they see the world is just as messed up as how you see the world.

And you’ll witness weirdos turning into normal guys. And funnier, normal guys turning into weirdos.

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