Writing a to-do list is one more thing to do

I’ve always liked doing things, and checking them off a to-do list. Over the years, I’ve tried different lengths, and have surveyed a few friends, family members, colleagues and passers-by. Here are the evidence-based results, statistically significant to three decimal places, where n=20 or so.

1.      One is a good number to keep a handle on. Most of us can do one thing every day. The trouble is, that if you fail to do it, you would feel like a real loser, someone who, when they give themselves just one thing, can’t even to that. Not a good number for folk with already poor self-esteem. Better to have 100 errands to run and complete half of them.

2.      Binary works well, especially for IT types.

3.      Three is good for those literate in rhetoric.

4.      Four it okay, for keeping activities front-of-mind.

5.      Five is a handful, which is a useful mnemonic.

6.      Half a dozen works for pre-decimal nostalgics.

7.      Seven is a magnificent number.

8.      Eight is a lucky number.

9.      Nine is for under-achievers who need to feel like they’ve achieved something, or for over‑achievers who believe that their nine is equal to other people’s ten.

10.  Ten is conventional, boring, and makes people feel manipulated by an imaginary manual.

11.  If you have eleven items on your daily to-do list, you’re well on your way to Chapter Eleven, to believing that 11 is 10+GST, or to being more alpha than competitors with ten to-do list items.

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How I write jokes

Okay, this is not necessarily a how-to for anyone else to write jokes, because, perhaps, I’m a little idiosyncratic, but nonetheless, by extrapolation, there may be something useful here. For someone. Maybe not you, but not only me. Someone in between.

Playing with generally accepted sayings is my shtick. For instance, by way of example, given that we need to start somewhere, let’s take “Flattery will get you everywhere”. The opposite is also popular, according to Dr Google. And various online and offline dictionaries and thesauri. That is, “Flattery will get you nowhere”.

A near-conventional take on the former is “Philately will get you everywhere”. Now, that’s a pretty good line, but it’s been done.

Let’s go one step further:

“Philately will get you everywhere, but numismatics will get you home”.

There’s a beat or two missing with the tag, so how about:

“Philately will get you everywhere, but numismatics will get you back again”.

Now we’re in the tricky situation of wondering whether our audience is going to know what ‘philately’ and ‘numismatics’ are, and whether they’ve heard the wholesale reference (“Flattery will get you everywhere”) and its retail riff (Philately will get you everywhere”).

And collectors, including stamp and coin collectors, are OCD (for those with OCD, that is obsessive compulsive disorder). It’s compulsory. Here’s a too-frequent-heckler killer line I’m playing with:

Me                         I see you have impulsive-compulsive disorder.

Heckler                 You mean obsessive compulsive disorder.

Me                         Oh, you too?

Score – comedian: one; heckler: nil.

So far I’ve tried this about 50 times, and no onstage or offstage heckler has responded they way they’re meant to, in my imagination.

I even asked a psychiatrist friend (what? a comedian can’t have a psychiatrist friend? you assume that I’m masking a professional relationship?) and he was simply silent with my entrapment line, “I see you have impulsive-compulsive disorder”. When I asked why he didn’t correct me, he said that he didn’t want to be patronising.

So, comedians (and comedy writers) love to create set-ups with multiple tags. That way, the original gag becomes a catchphrase for the joke-teller, and can be rejuvenated and tailored in an ad hoc way, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Here’s the set-up with a dozen alternative tags.

Philately will get you everywhere, but numismatics will:

  1. get you home
  2. get you back again
  3. establish your reputation for pretentiousness
  4. establish your reputation for pretentiousness, self-importance and affectation
  5. establish your reputation for pretentiousness, self-importance, affectation – and for using words and concepts that will alienate you from any audience
  6. weigh you down
  7. allow people to hear you coming
  8. allow people to hear you coming, and take appropriate action, such as leaving
  9. last longer than Bitcoin
  10. save you from overdosing on glue
  11. get you insulted
  12. buy complementary medicine.

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