I’m not funny. I can’t tell a funny story to save my life. Well, not in person, anyhow.
You probably know one of those people who walk into a room and everyone starts laughing — or maybe you are one of those people. Oh, how I study those people, trying to understand why they can say the alphabet and everyone laughs, yet I can barely utter a bona fide knee-slapper, let alone gather a crowd to hear it.
My jokes fall flat. When I tell a story, it’s usually met with the chirping of crickets, and sometimes even they get bored and start snoring. My listeners’ minds wander to more interesting topics — perhaps that they need to add new nail clippers to their shopping list. I’m in awe of those who can light up a room with laughter. Oh, sure, I can pull off a one-liner here and there, but to enrapture people with my tale and watch them erupt in raucous humor? This only seems to happen when I type it.
It’s not that I have no funny tales to tell. I’m a collector of interesting tidbits and humorous incidents. For instance, I have a hilarious and completely true story that should be an entertaining gut-buster. It’s full of twists and surprises, and has not just one, but two too-insane-to-make-up punchlines.
Punchline No. 1: My 4-year-old daughter thought I was trying to convince my husband to kill our son with a shovel to put him out of his misery.
But the story didn’t end there. Oh, no. In a wacky twist of events, it continued on to Punchline #2: A police officer shot a squirrel in my next-door-neighbor’s backyard in our quiet little Johnson County neighborhood. With their gun and real ammo. At 11 p.m.
Can’t you just tell? This has the makings of a great story. One that might make you laugh until you wet your pants just a little.
Yet, I cannot get people to listen to this story. Their ears shut off as their gaze wanders to a speck of dust on the wall. Some try to change the subject to something more interesting, perhaps a hangnail they had a month ago. Others begin murmuring impatient little uh-huhs to speed the story along.
The voices in my head start bickering.
“I have to get the critical details in, or it doesn’t make sense,” the natural storyteller in me urges. “It’s a great story! If they’ll just listen to me, they’ll love it!”
“Abort! Abort the story!” my doubtful, shy voice says. “It’s not worth it! I’m failing, and the story’s not even half done!”
I suddenly want to just stop talking, slink away.
And then in a panic, I cut corners, shaving critical details, losing track, and the story is suddenly a jumbled mess.
I’m perfectly confident in my written storytelling skills. I can discern what makes for an entertaining story. It’s just the verbal delivery that stymies me, time and time again.
If only there were a remedial class for adults who can’t tell a joke. I’d sign right up. Then at the next party I attend, I’d explain about the shovel — and the squirrel.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.