Sunday, September 21, 2008

Everybody's a Comedian

In the past, I thought the most annoying thing about being a legal humorist is that people insist on validating your skills.  For instance, if I'm introduced to a group of lawyers as the "legal humorist," one of them will invariably ask me to prove my bona fides.  "Oh, so you're a humorist, huh?  Well, I'll be the judge of that.  Say something funny."

I've always been tempted to respond, "Oh, so you're a securities lawyer, huh?  Well, prove it.  Draft a trust indenture."  Of course, common courtesy (and the fact that the organizer usually holds the balance of my fee until after my talk) prevents me from doing so.  Besides, given the current state of the securities market, she just might take me up on my offer.

Yet, recently, I've found an even more annoying tendency among the lawyers I meet -- the tendency to suggest ways to improve my talks by telling their favorite jokes.  Now, don't get me wrong.  The quality of my talks can always be improved.  And I certainly am not above "adapting" (or even outright stealing) time-tested humor techniques.  Yet, I can't possibly fit a Nantucket limerick into my seminar on stress management, as was suggested by an attorney last week.

Even more, I can't help but to feel that, while well-meaning, these suggestions are just a tad presumptuous.  After all, you wouldn't meet a rocket scientist from NASA and say, "Well, you know, I really think you guys did a good job on landing that probe on Mars.  However, for the next mission, I'd suggest ..."  Even more preposterous would be the rocket scientist taking your advice back to NASA.  "Guys, we're going to have to scrap the new Titan rocket series.  Why?  Well, I met this family lawyer at the Chili's Happy Hour on Friday and he told me ..."

And while my work is not exactly rocket science, it does require a modicum of skill and specialized knowledge.  It's simply not that easy to formulate, and cleverly express, zany thoughts and ideas (as evidenced by this blog entry).  It's something best left to the professionals -- nightclub comedians, late-night talk show hosts, and the people currently in charge of U.S. domestic fiscal policy.

And I suspect that you might feel the same way about your area of expertise.  Think about it.  If you met a plumber at a neighbor's house, would you consider his suggestions on drafting, say, an SEC-compliant stock option plan for your biggest client?  Of course not.  In fact, if this plumber is anything like my plumber, you probably wouldn't even consider his suggestions on plumbing.  And that would certainly be the case if the work boot was on the other foot.

For example, I recently had my house painted by professional painters.  You're going to find this hard to believe, but I did not overhear the following conversation:

Painter #1: "Should we use the blower or the brush to get to that tiny space under the overhang?"

Painter #2: "Hmmm.  That's a tough one.  In my 40 years of experience, I've seen it done both ways.  Oh, I know!  Let's ask the legal humorist!"

About the only thing that these guys wanted to ask me was whether my check would clear if they cashed it immediately (which they did).  And I don't blame them.  After all, I don't know primer from prime rib.  I have about as much business interjecting my thoughts on a house painting project as, say, a certain lawyer who thinks that I should tell his favorite Andrew Dice Clay joke during my next diversity seminar.

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