Barry Smith: Irrelativity
September 3, 2012
COUTTS, Alberta – While crossing back into the United States at the Canadian border, this is exactly what happened, more or less:
GUARD: (Looking at my passport) What was the purpose of your visit?
ME: I was performing at a theater festival.
GUARD: (Mumbling to his screen from inside of his mostly enclosed little booth, 6 feet away from my loudly idling van) Wha kiff up prrpfmmp dydew?
ME: Excuse me?
GUARD: (Angry. Annoyed. Generally unhappy. And yelling.) WHAT KIND OF PERFORMANCE DO YOU DO?
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ME: (Scared) Comedy…
GUARD: (Still angry, as he will remain for most of our time together) Oh really? Do some of it now.
GUARD: Do some comedy now.
ME: Well, uh, … it doesn’t really work that way.
GUARD: Why not?
ME: I don’t know. … You can’t just do comedy on command like that.
GUARD: (Tapping at keyboard) A comedian could.
ME: Yeah, but the context is all wrong. Plus, you’re expecting it. It doesn’t work if you’re expecting it. It’s the unexpected that makes something funny.
GUARD: You probably aren’t expecting to be detained at the border and subjected to a cavity search for both you and your van, are you?
ME: No, sir.
GUARD: So I guess it’ll be pretty funny when it happens, right? ‘Cause it’s so unexpected?
ME: Well, the whole notion of the cavity search is certainly a comedic touchstone, especially in this cultural climate, but it’s a bit of a lazy joke, honestly, and probably much funnier in theory than in reality. So, no, probably not.
GUARD: Better make with the funny, then.
ME: Would you be making similar demands of me if I told you I was in Canada attending a urology conference?
GUARD: Have it your way. I’m gonna need you to pull your vehicle into the bay over there and wait for the dogs to…
ME: No! Wait. It’s not that I don’t want to be funny on demand. It’s just that my comedy isn’t standup, it’s more of a monologue. And it builds on itself, so many of the things I say that might be funny are actually dependent on what came before. It’s not like I’m just spewing “guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office” stuff. Context, like I said. You see, my personal comedy philosophy is that…
ME: I know you’re faking.
GUARD: If you told me that you were in Canada performing as a musician, and I told you to prove it by grabbing your guitar and playing a song, do you think you’d be giving me some song and dance about how, oh, music is all about context, and the acoustics are all wrong, and I need at least 30 minutes of vocal warmup time, and meh meh meh…or do you think you’d grab the guitar, play a few bars of “House of the Rising Sun” and be on your merry way?
ME: Interesting that you used the expression “song and dance” while describing someone who was potentially refusing to sing or dance.
GUARD: You do realize that I’m not obligated to let you back in the country, right?
ME: Yes, sir. Sorry.
GUARD: So, let’s hear a joke and you can be on your way.
ME: Well, again, I don’t really tell jokes.
GUARD: A comedian who doesn’t really tell jokes. No wonder you can afford such a nice van to travel in.
ME: I just prefer to not rely on the juvenile shock value that most people look for in a joke. Also, my comedy act has pictures, so half of the humor lies in the visual element. See, I’ve put together this astoundingly effective multimedia presentation that accompanies my monologue, and one without the other wouldn’t really make much sense. I could set up my screen and projector right here and now, but it’s broad daylight and I don’t know if the images would really pop.
GUARD: (Pulling out his gun and pointing it at me. More yelling.) Tell a joke now or I will be forced to assume that you’re trying to enter the country under false pretenses and therefore a suspected terrorist!
ME: Guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office…
GUARD: Good, good. No sudden movements, now.
ME: He’s completely naked and wrapped in saran wrap.
ME: The psychiatrist says, “Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts.”
GUARD: (Handing me my passport) Have a nice day.
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