Josh Gad: “Punch Line”
1998 NFL Oratory
Begins at center
So there I was. Out on the elementary school playground, playing on those cheap, rusty,
disgusting, unsafe swings that the school provided, doing whatever it is a 5 year old does on cheap,
rusty, disgusting, unsafe swings. Then without any warning, I was suddenly attacked from behind and
thrown off the swings aggressively. And as I slowly turned around, I found myself staring apprehensively
into the legs of my fearless opponent. 6’ 9”, 865 pounds. Bulging biceps the size of Titanic’s budeget.
Anyway, there she was, getting ready to continue her vicious assault. And as I gazed up into Big Bertha’s
monstrous eyes, it felt as if she were Godzilla, and I was one of those little, tiny Japanese businessmen,
hopelessly awaiting my wait. So what did I do? I did the only thing I could do. I hurled. I hurled out a
witty remark, a clever quip, a rapier retort, a jagged barb, right in her face. So what if she clobbered me
with their fists. I ruined her image with my wits. Granted, it wasn’t such a pretty image to begin with.
Yeah, I got the punch. But she got the punch line.
Move to left
Humor is one of the most commonly utilized forms of communication today. However we often
fail to realize that humor is a double-edged sword. It can cut us down and leave us painfully scarred, or it
can be used to protect, encourage, and uplift our spirits. According to the August 1993 issue of
Psychology Today, humor, like electricity, comes in two forms—positive and negative. What a shock!
You see, on the one hand, we often use humor for the wrong reasons, but on the other hand,
sometimes the human condition requires a little levity. Isn’t it funny that for centuries, humor has been
an elixir of sorts, helping to alleviate any problems that we face? There has always been a comedian in
every group. Okay. For every king, there is a jester. For every class, there is a clown. For every French
television set, there is a Jerry Lewis. And for every government, there is a Lewinsky. Yes, we have
certainly had our share of funny, and in most cases, harmless comedians. Humor seems to permeate
daily life, helping us cope with a myriad of situations. You want to make friends? Use humor. You want
to have a good job interview? Use humor. You want to lose 10 pounds in just 30 days? Use Jenny Craig.
But hey! That’s one of the only exceptions. Nowadays, almost every discussion that we have seems to
be seasoned with jokes. The use of jokes seems to allay stressful situations and provide us with a
positive outlook on life. So yes, humor can be a good thing. But it has also often been the source of pain,
negativity, and degradation.
Move to center
Of course, I personally wouldn’t know anything about being the butt of a distasteful joke. After
all, why on earth would anybody make fun of poor little me, right? Okay. Poor…me. Those people who
cannot or will not resort to typical bullying, often use humor as their fists. This is a form of self-
protection. However, according to Dr. Jan Hughes, of the Department of Educational Psychology at
Texas A & M University, it is better to give up your money and go without lunch than to risk being
ridiculed in front of others. Hmmm. Uh? No! okay, I won’t even share my lunch with my friends. Let
alone bullies. No! The only way I’m losing my lunch is if it doesn’t agree with my stomach. Now Dr.
Hughes goes on to say—get this—if the bully isn’t much larger than the victim, and the bully hits him,
the child should hit the bully back. What a brilliant idea! Why didn’t I think of that? “Excuse me. How tall
are you?” “5’8”.” “You’re going down!” Come on. There are certainly better ways of handling such a
situation. Hitting back is simply unoriginal. Why don’t we start using our heads, instead of our fists?
Have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that bullies feel the need to belittle others. Well, according
to Jamie Rubenstein of the Phoenix Sun, insecurity is a primary reason for unprovoked aggression. We
will resort to anything to fit in.
Move to far right
How fitting then, that this segues nicely into the use of positive humor. Okay. So we’ve already
seen what the sharp edge of the humor sword can do, so let’s take a look at the blunt edge. Last spring I
was giving my final performance of Tevya, in the gigantic, lavish, extravagant off- off- off- off-, really off-
Broadway—alright it was a school production –of Fiddler on the Roof. Anyway, it was only after
wrapping up the last scene of the first act, I realized my zipper had been down during the first act of the
play. Could you say “humiliating?” I could. I was absolutely mortified. I needed to save face, so I turned
the situation around. See, my first line of the second act was supposed to be, “Dear God. Motel keeps
asking for a new sewing machine.” Instead, I found myself delivering the following line, “Dear God.
Motel keeps asking for a new sewing machine. Maybe now I can get a new zipper.” The ad lib proved
that humor, done effectively, causes people to dismiss our shortcomings. As Francois de la Roche Foucat
(?) once said, “Wit sometimes enables us to add _____ with impunity.” So now I always perform with my
zipper down. Made you look! The moral of the story isn’t that we should run out immediately and enroll
in the Chevy Chase School of Improv. But it illustrates how humor, especially the self-deprecating kind,
can diffuse the most stressful situation and turn it to your advantage
Move to center
According to Stressblasters, by Ryan Chichester and Perry Garfinkel (we can guess at the source
of their childhood stress), researchers now know a great deal about the stress-relieving aspects of
humor. For instance, a hundred laughs are the aerobic equivalent to ten minutes on a rowing machine.
And all this time, my mom’s been telling me I don’t exercise enough. And according to Marsha Keyset (?)
of the San Diego Union Tribune, studies have proven that laughing increases circulation, works
abdominal muscles, oxygenates the body, and raises heart rates. And according to the Arizona Republic
Article entitled “He Who Laughs Most, Is Most Likely to Last,” B cells, which produce disease-destroying
antibodies, and T cells, which orchestrate the body’s immune response, rise with laughter. Well hey!
Maybe we should switch from “Gesundheit!” to “Did you hear the one about…?”
But how funny is it, that we don’t truly understand the essence of humor until personal tragedy
strikes. Such is the case with comedian Julia Sweeney’s life. You see, Sweeney, who created the
androgynous Pat character on the hit television series Saturday Night Live, learned the value of laughing
in the face of adversity. When personal tragedy struck, her use of humor would forever change her life.
After learning that her brother had been diagnosed with cancer, Sweeney left the show and stayed
home, acting as her brother’s caretaker. Within four months, Sweeney herself was diagnosed with
cancer. She and her brother dubbed their house “The International House of Cancer” and took other
comedic approaches in dealing with the situation. However five months later, Sweeney’s brother died,
and she was left to battle the disease by herself. Fortunately, Sweeney overcame the cancer and once
again turned to her humor sword for protection. As an outlet for her pain, Sweeney wrote the one-
woman play entitled “God Said ‘Ha!’” As Woody Allen eloquently put it, “Comedy equals tragedy plus
time.” And in her one woman show, Julia Sweeney discovers that the best comedy is encountered not
when performing, but when it is used to maintain a sense of peace, in the face of seemingly
Moves to far right
Isn’t it funny that we often use humor as a mask to cover up all of those everyday emotions such
as fear, anger, and sadness, that make us who we are? Heck, the slogan of our lives really seems to be,
“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.” However we mustn’t fear all those
wonderful emotions that color our lives. For although humor is a key element in our well-being, we must
not forget that a sword is made up of more than just its blade. Consequently, humor and sadness seem
to be interrelated. As the great Groucho Marx once said (and please forgive my impersonation), “If I
didn’t know sadness, I wouldn’t have spent my whole life trying to make people laugh.” We must follow
in the footsteps of Julia Sweeney and the many others like her, who have managed to use humor during
times of tragedy.
Moves to center
British novelist JB Priestley once stated, “Humor we may say is society protecting itself with a
smile.” Now I know what you’re all thinking. “What does all this mean for me and my personal
encounters with the BWOC?” Big Woman on Campus. Well I may still face bullies on occasion, but now I
have two choices. Either to again deliver a scathing and demeaning punch line, or to face them, and to
perhaps use humor to help them truly see themselves, identify their own insecurities, and maybe to
laugh for the right reasons. And just remember, when using humor, it really doesn’t matter what you
say, or even how you say it, but what you mean by it. So, in the words of Charlie Chaplin…