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A little bit funny

Where do you go once you’ve mocked AOL?

When I was growing up in a small Ohio town, I was the funniest kid around. I got my jokes from Bazooka Joe wrappers and the back page of Boy’s Life magazine. And I killed. When I started in a-joshin’, the ‘backy juice started a-flyin’. The men laughed, too.

My only real competitor was this Mennonite kid, and he killed when he showed, which wasn’t all that often, what with the horse cart and slow-moving vehicle sign.

The other day my mom asked me why I didn’t go to work as a comedy writer in Hollywood. I told her I appreciated the vote of confidence, but I know what happens when I sit at a table of genuinely funny people, not family members and appreciative yokels: I become more solemn than Lincoln in his tomb. I can’t be funny to save my life. Talk about jokes: This one seems to be on me.

I suffer from what comedians call “a little bit funny.” In a group of 20, if I work extremely hard at being funny, I can reliably put a smile on 2.4 faces. That comes out to an amusement factor of 8.3 percent. Nightclub owners will tell you that 8.3 percent won’t get you invited back. If I went to Hollywood, it would be for a career in food service.

Being just a little bit funny, I drifted into the low-rent districts of humor-offshore investments, RV sales, prosthetic devices. I finally found my niche a fur ways from the hill country of Ohio, in computer humor.

Computer humor is unlike regular humor in that everything has to be about computers, which on a funny scale also rank about 8.3 percent. I mean, you already know all the jokes. Smoke is pouring from your computer. You take your laptop to bed with you. You create funny acronyms from software names. You’re getting hysterical error messages. Qwest sucks. That’s about it.

Of course, it’s all in the telling, and when I tell about the smoke and the bed and the acronyms and the error messages, it’s like the old days at the grain elevator. I kill. I kid you not.

The funny thing-well, funny may not be the right word-is that I could have done straight business humor instead. But straight business is even less funny. The main joke in business is that people in business don’t see how funny they are. B. Kliban’s famous 1979 cartoon, “Businessmen on Parade,” shows a line of identically dressed men in suits and briefcases, following one another, their noses up the seat of the next executive’s pants. Basically, you ridicule people for making more money than you do.

Slack-jawed people from sparsely populated areas like where I grew up sometimes ask me, Mike, what’s it like to be so doggone funny? I answer that the most important thing to me is to be professional. Sometimes you may not feel like being funny, like when you’re burying your mother.

But when the curtain rises, you had better be there with the seltzer and the pie and the IEEE 802.11 handbook. Because people look up to you as a licensed computer humorist, and you have a certain image to live up to.

After all, 8.3 percent of the readers may never have had a chance to read you before. And oh yes, because Qwest sucks.

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