It’s funny because we all do it – the magic of relationship comedy

If we’ve learned anything about comedy, it’s that the more universal the topic, the better. As an astute observer of comedy once said, “Everybody knows what a vagina is.”

You sniggered there, didn’t you? Of course you did. “Vagina” is a funny word. So is “penis,” for that matter. There’s a lot of material there.

And everyone’s been in a relationship, which is why you can have an entire evening devoted to “relationship comedy” that would never get boring. So more good advice than one could find in a dozen self-help books is expected with the latest Just for Laughs comedy tour – the “Relationship Edition” – stopping in at the Jubilee Auditorium on Friday night. The four headliners are categorized by their marital status: Jim Breuer is the “modern family man,” Debra DiGiovanni is the “single cat lady.” The uni-named Godfrey, who has a girlfriend but isn’t married, is identified as “ladies man.” No word on what said girlfriend thinks of that.

Finally, Detroit’s John Heffron is the “domesticated male.”

In a recent interview, he seems to have forgotten the label the Just for Laughs people slapped on him. Domesticated male.

“Nice,” he says sarcastically. “I think they gave everybody labels. But I am married. Breuer is, too. Deb is dingle and Godfrey has a girlfriend, so he’s single. When you’re married and somebody has a girlfriend you just go, oh, yeah, he’s single. You know? That’s how it works. And single guys don’t realize that until they’re married, and then they’ll say, oh yeah, now I get it.”

Heffron does a lot of relationship comedy to begin with, so this tour wasn’t a big stretch. One wonders, though, when seeing a comic whose loved ones are frequent subjects for funny bits, if it can a little tense back home. Heffron says he will put just about anything in his act that’s on his mind and bugging him, including matters involving his wife, but that he generally puts her in the “position of power” in the story. It works out for everybody. Women will say to him after the show, “You’re just like my husband.” Guys will say, “Dude, I am so with you.” Universal.

You can learn a few things as a relationship comic. In Heffron’s travels – including winning the second season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2004 – he learned that female hecklers are far worse than male ones. “I always said, I got into stand up comedy because of drunk 21-year-old girls, and I’ll get out of stand up comedy because of drunk 21-year-old girls.”

Heffron says you can also tell if another comedian is having problems with women or is in a bad relationship by – of all things – the way he imitates her voice. If it’s bitchy and strident instead of the usual higher pitched lisp, chances are the relationship isn’t going to last, though there’s lots of material in broken relationships, too.

There was only one time Heffron can recall that one of his jokes pissed off his wife: “Every once in a while a guy will walk by his wife’s dirty underwear and pause for a moment and just think to himself: I hope she’s working on getting that cleared up. That’s the dirtiest joke I do, and it gets a big laugh, and she’s like (higher pitched lisp), ‘I don’t want people thinking I have vaginal discharge!’”

So now he’s made a joke about his wife’s reaction to the joke, and behold the cycle of life.

His wife used to come to a lot of his shows, which could be awkward and distracting, “like a baseball player walking up to bat, and the wife stops him and says, ‘oh, did you call the roofer?’ It kind of throws you off.”

Either way, anything in their relationship is fair game. It actually helps to get things out in the open, Heffron says, that there’s a couples’ therapy technique where the participants act out what they’re most annoyed with in their partners.

“No matter what the issues, I can keep asking myself questions to get it up there,” he says. “I could bring up an argument I had with my wife, and 99 per cent of the people in the crowd have had the same exact feeling.”

For instance, “Everybody has something that really bugs their partner, and it can be a really little thing, and eventually your partner will have enough of that one little thing – but they won’t tell you about it. So sometimes the anger isn’t proportional to the crime committed. Like leaving stuff on the bottom step and stepping over it every time and never taking it upstairs.”

Hey, we’ve all been there on the bottom step with that laundry basket, right, married guys?

Says Heffron, “People like stuff where they can look at each other and say, me, too! I do that, you do that, we do that. That’s always a safe bet.”