What's funny? What isn't? And why do I never get a laugh when I tell that joke about the moose?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A is for Actor

(This is the first entry of 26 I’ll be writing in August. It’s a challenge to myself: to see if I can actually keep a daily deadline anymore. It’s been a long time since the old CSN days!)

This story has been attributed to many people. I believe it comes from the actor Edmund Kean…but I don’t have any great evidence one way or another.

The great tragedian Kean was on his deathbed being attended by his friend and family. An old friend leaned down to Kean and said gently, “Edmund, is dying very hard?”

Kean is said to have answered his friend with a wan smile: “Dying,” he said, “is easy. Comedy is hard!”


Several years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about Kevin Kline. (Has anybody seen that new movie of his yet?)

Kline is, as you may or may not know, married to actress Phoebe Cates. She won my unending affection when she told the interviewer that she had made it her personal mission in life to keep Mr. Kline’s hat size relatively modest.

Ms. Cates spoke of two specific strategies she employed. The first was that, whenever the couple went out to eat, she would make sure that Mr. Kline was seated with his back to any mirror in the room. If she didn’t she said, Kevin would spend the whole meal making faces at himself in the mirror.

The second strategy, she said, was to steal his Oscar periodically.


Any stage prop that actually functions is known as a “practical” prop. If there are real flowers in a vase rather than plastic, those are “practical flowers”. If actors are really playing darts instead of just pretending, it’s a “practical dart board.” And so forth.

Two actors meet in the street. The first one says, “Say, Bill, I haven’t seen you in ages! How is everything?”

“Just great,” says Bill enthusiastically. “Thanks for asking, Jim.”

“So, are you working?” asks Jim.

“Sure am,” says Bill proudly.

“It must be a great play,” says Jim.

“Actually,” says Bill. “it’s pretty damn stupid. We get hissed almost every night.”

“Well, at least you have a good part, right?” says Jim.

“Nah,” says Bill. “I’ve only got about 10 lines and I get killed off before the third act.”

“Oh, then it must be a good cast and director, then,” says Jim.

“A bunch of talentless hacks and prima donnas, every last one of them,” says Bill.

“Well then, why are you so happy?”

“Because,” says Bill, “in scene three, there’s a practical cake!”


  1. For a bit of crowdsourcing of "comedy is hard," see http://ask.metafilter.com/33928/Dying-is-easy-Comedy-is-hard-Source. Not that I believe any of them.

    Dying is easy, attributing quotations is hard?

    Word verification: "ingly" -- Last name of former Yankees star Matt?

  2. And "If actors are really playing darts instead of just pretending, it's" ... a nightmare for the lawyers and accountants, because of the liability coverage. And therefore quite *im*practical.

    Word verification: "skiph" -- (1) A small, flat-bottomed phishing boat. (2) Go directly from G to I.

  3. "It’s been a long time since the old CSN days!)"

    41 years, to be exact. And that was the first album I ever bought. Good for it's time, but a lot of it has dated and they really needed Y.

    Word verification: "hutrug": a rug for your hut. Next?

  4. "they really needed Y."

    Well, I suppose the magazine Jerry was referring to could be revived today as "Computer Systems News & YouTube."

    As for "the other" CSN, I think I disagree, though I haven't listened to them lately, with or without Y, except for random cuts on the radio. But surely the harmonies were purer without him. (Thank you, Graham Nash.) And on the one album *with* him, I don't think they did much that was actually a quartet. Either it was CSN songs with Y as an "extra," or it was Neil Young songs with CSN as backup band. (Not to mention Taylor & Reeves. Or Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, Smith and Wollensky.)

    Word verification: "saifib" -- (1) To lie. (2) To call a poker variant involving "bundles" of 1, 1, 2, 3, and 5 cards.

  5. The last joke made me laugh out loud.