Have I ever told you the Naked Story? Oh, it’s a good one.
This is a factual story, supported by several eyewitnesses who have taken no small delight in recounting it to anyone who will listen. It occurred at a cabin in Wallsburg belonging to the family of my friend Monty, who is married to the lovely Claire. The cabin is set far back from the road, which is a road that stretches into the woods and leads nowhere, really. There are no other homes nearby. As a result, if you turn out all the lights in Monty’s cabin, and it is nighttime, the cabin is pitch-black.
Several years ago, Monty and Claire hosted a party during which we took advantage of the darkness to play stupid and juvenile games, by which I mean only the men were interested in playing them. The women stayed downstairs while the men retired to the loft to turn out the lights and sneak around and hit each other with foam-rubber swords.
During one round of this game, I began ruminating on the phenomenon of sense memory. When one finds oneself in darkness, one’s mind retains the image of what the environment looked like before the lights went out. Then, when the light returns, we are not surprised — in fact, we are subtly comforted — to find that nothing has changed in the interim.
It occurred to me that the very essence of comedy is surprise, and that it would be an easy thing to demonstrate this fact here. When the lights come back on after the game has finished, I will have changed one small thing about the environment, resulting in comedy.
So very quietly, I removed all of my clothing. The game we played required stealth and silence, so no one noticed that I had stopped playing and was undressing instead. A few minutes later, the game reached its natural conclusion, everyone began chattering, and someone turned the lights back on. There I was, wearing only my wristwatch and socks. And for a brief moment, no one noticed.
Now, when you tell a joke and no one laughs, you can play it off like you meant it seriously anyway, or that you didn’t even say it. You can even make a joke about the fact that no one found your joke amusing. There is little shame in making a witty aside or one-liner that turns out not to be funny. You did not risk much, so there is not much to lose.
However, stripping oneself naked for the purposes of comedy leaves no leeway. If no one finds what you have done funny, there is no way of explaining it. Why else would you undress in such circumstances, if not to get a laugh? And if the laughs don’t come, then you are naked and unjustified.
These are the thoughts that went through my mind during that horrible, horrible half-second. Then the others in the room noticed me and laughed. My experiment had worked. They had remembered the room a particular way, and I had altered it. I maintain that my nakedness is funny anyway, in any situation, even ones where nakedness is not contradictory. But it was particularly humorous here, since it contrasted with everyone’s previous vision of the room.
It didn’t take long for the Naked Story to spread throughout the land. My friend Jjudy — who wasn’t even there that night — was a T.A. for a class at BYU, and she would tell all her students the story: “You know Eric Snider, who writes ‘Snide Remarks’ in the paper? Well, here’s what he did.” If I had any shame, I’d be embarrassed by the story. Heck, if Jjudy had any shame, she’d be embarrassed to tell it. The point is, don’t turn the lights off when I’m in a funny mood.
This incident occurred in 1996, I think, but possibly 1997. It was a gathering of Garrens Comedy Troupe members and spouses, and with the exception of myself, none of the Garrens was ever good at keeping track of things like dates. And I don't remember when it was, or what the occasion was, so I assume no one else does, either.
Do I need to point out that YES, this story is true, and YES, it occurred exactly as I described it? Well, it is, and it did.