Before meeting Seattle comic Justin Rupple for my lesson on how to effectively tell a good joke, I'm not sure I believed I could ever be funny. I thought that was something you had to be born with, like brown eyes or small feet or a trust fund.That, the 25-year-old Rupple tells me, is my whole problem—a lack of confidence."You have to commit to the joke," he says, "and you can't be afraid of offending people." As the 2008 Giggles Laff Off competition winner (with a couple of performances booked at the U District club this fall), his advice seems worth heeding. He takes his trade seriously. "I'm addicted to comedy," he says.That I can understand. I remember once, years ago, I made a joke—something about gay being the new black—and the whole table erupted in laughter. It was a feeling I'd never experienced before. I wondered—is this what being funny feels like? I wanted more.But first let's start with the joke that I brought for this tutorial:Four nuns die in a bus accident. They go to heaven, and God says, "Confess your sins and you can enter."The first nun says, "I saw a penis."God says, "OK, wash out your eyes in the holy water, and you can enter."The second nun says, "I touched a penis," and God says, "OK, wash your hands in the holy water, and you can enter."The third nun steps up, but before she can say anything, the fourth nun pushes her out of the way!God says, "What are you doing?" And the fourth nun says, "I have to go wash my mouth out before she sticks her ass in it!"My timing is off when I tell the joke, Rupple informs me. I spit out the punch line way too fast. That's probably why I generally sit there smiling and expectantly nodding while my audience forces polite laughter. But that's not going to get me my fix! I need the big laughs!Fortunately, Rupple tells me, this joke follows the rule of three: Two ordinary things to build the joke up, then a third wacky thing to bring in the laughs.He demonstrates by retelling the joke in a more animated and active voice. God gains some personality. The fourth nun now washes her mouth out before God has even said anything."Use gestures!" Rupple exclaims. He mimes pushing nun #3 out of the way and splashing water in his mouth. There's none of this self-deprecating "Stop me if you've heard this" nonsense to soften the joke. With his new delivery, though I've heard (and told) the punch line many times before, I actually laugh at it.The two most important aspects of comedy, says Rupple, are timing and confidence—commit, commit, commit! I'm definitely lacking in both departments, but he assures me that they'll develop with more rehearsal."I think anyone can learn to be funny," he says, "just like anyone can learn to play basketball. Now that doesn't necessarily make them Shaq, but even he has to practice."And with enough practice, maybe I'll get to comedy heaven. Hey, St. Peter, have you heard the one about the imam and the tranny hooker...?firstname.lastname@example.org
Giggles Comedy Club 5220 Roosevelt Way N.E., 526-5653. Sept. 26–27 and Oct. 11.