We're All Damaged

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Good Jokes Go Bad: The Matt Norman Story

People are always saying to me, “Matt Norman, you’re so effortlessly funny and/or wavy haired. How do you do it?” And my response is always the same: “Seriously, Natalie Portman, I told you to stop Skyping me. Oh, and about the movie Brothers. Why do you make such depressing film choices? How about a nice Rom-Com?”

However, as flattering as Natalie’s constant, borderline creepy praise is, from time to time I run across people who find me not funny. Recently, one of those people was my wife.

It was 4th of July weekend and we were in South Carolina with my friend Randy and his wife. The four of us had put on some nice clothes and were beginning a rare night out without the little one. I’d just parked the car and we were all trying to figure out how to pay. There wasn’t a meter or an attendant. It was one of those old school places that survive on the honor system where you jam money into a little slot like a naïve fool. While my wife was trying to figure out the most effective way to fold seven dollars in cash, I found myself reading a faded sign of parking lot rules.

The first two were pretty straight forward. No sleeping in vehicles and no leaving them overnight. Perfectly reasonable. The third rule, however, was very odd. It read, simply, NO IN AND OUT PRIVILEGES. I read it again to myself three times. I had no idea what it meant.

“No in and out privileges?” I said. I thought if perhaps I said it aloud, it would suddenly make sense, like when you’re trying to figure out a personalized license plate. In that split second, I was hit with a joke so pure in its hilarity that I had to fight the urge to jump up and down like a five-year-old.

I cleared my throat. “You know,” I said. “Sometimes when she’s mad, the wife here takes away my in and out privileges.”

With the joke delivered perfectly, I took a step back and waited for uproarious laughter. I imagined them doubled over and red-faced. I've told some jokes before, but this was my crowning achievement...my own, personal Citizen Kane.

Sadly though, and for reasons I still don’t understand, my audience of three was unimpressed. Randy gave me a half-laugh. It was a polite gesture at best. The ladies simply stared at me. After a moment, they blinked simultaneously. Had they not heard me? Were they stunned by the tidal wave of humor I’d just unleashed on them? Several more seconds passed, and they blinked again.

“Really?” I said. “In and out privileges? Nothing?”


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