INSIDE THE JOKE: John Wing wings it
Rather than focus on the entire Edmonton Comedy Festival, Oct. 16-19 at venues around town; rather than focus on one specific comedian performing therein, maybe it would be fun to zero in on just one joke. In doing an absurd in-depth examination of said jest, with any luck we can tease out all the humour get to the nugget of pure truth lurking within.
“Marriage is a learning experience – for men. For women, it’s more of a teaching experience.”
The author of these lines is John Wing, who may be onto something here in his thorough examination of the neverending battle of the sexes. A rich variety of like-minded marriage-relationship-parenthood jokes can be heard when the veteran Canadian comic performs Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Art Gallery of Alberta – all stemming from the simple idea that husbands are idiots in the eyes of their wives. The sooner husbands of the world accept this, the happier the world will be.
The learning experience joke actually sprang from another joke, as sometimes happens: “I’ve learned that if my wife makes a mistake, it’s a mistake! It’s an anomaly! It could happen to anyone! Whereas if I make a mistake, that’s indicative of a larger pattern of stupidity to which I am genetically predisposed.” Wing says the joke needed an intro and all he came up with “Marriage is a learning experience” – adding the rest spontaneously during a show one night about three years ago.
“When that sort of thing happens, time really slows down on stage,” he says. “Your mind is moving incredibly fast. But the actual seconds go by very slowly. I knew I wrote a good joke and it got such a good laugh that I knew I would be doing it for a long time.”
Wing doesn’t take these flashes of insight lightly. He says he’s working on a bit that could take up a year before it’s ready. Comedy acts are like carefully tended bonsai tree gardens, lovingly pruned and shaped over years, even decades. Comedy is an art.
Wing disagrees, “I don’t think it’s an art form. I think it’s a craft, a technique. Here’s the reason: If you and I look at a Monet or a Cezanne our reactions to it are going to be completely different and yet it is still a great piece of art. When I do a joke, if the reactions are completely different, the joke is a failure. What I do can’t be art because art is subjective. Comedy can’t be subjective. You have to like it as I say it or I have failed.”
Well, whatever. Back to the Joke in question, the “seed” from which many more have since sprouted, it started with at least a grain of truth, as most of them do. Wing has been married for 24 years. So there it is. In the beginning of his marriage, Wing says, “the power struggle we went through I found very frustrating. I had to come to a place where I realized that just because she was right, that didn’t necessarily mean I was wrong, which was really difficult for me. I had to come to a place where I didn’t feel stupid all the time. At the beginning I really resented feeling stupid. It wasn’t her doing. It was my own problem.”
“Two years into our marriage, it occurred to me that I should just shut the fuck up – and that turned out to work very well.”
To the question of the perils of over-examination, Wing is not worried. He in fact has dissected his own routines in front of a university class on “rhetoric” – a five-minute, highly-polished bit that deals with a 16-year-old girl wanting to get a tattoo. Grain of truth here, too. All the jokes were written out on a blackboard, with notes on why they work. The class then discussed them in detail. Does that make the jokes less funny? Certainly not, says Wing.
“People are afraid the instinct will go away if you look at it too closely, but instincts don’t go away,” Wing says. “You write it instinctively, and you shape it instinctively and it becomes a piece that’s just right.”
Sure sounds like an art. OK, fine. It’s a science.