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LJ12: Barrel of Monkeys
Working on the technical side of theater is surprisingly high-risk.  You’re often in high places, dealing with power tools or electricity, and because the actors also need to rehearse onstage you’re usually working at odd times of the day.  There is a hard deadline for any show – opening only moves if you’re a multimillion dollar musical on Broadway – so everything has to get done, somehow, before the first audience arrives.  Usually this means a lot of late nights.  And that’s when sleep deprivation becomes an added risk.  When you’re overly tired it’s easy to lose focus or the ability to do fine detail work, and not even notice that it just took an hour to do something that would only take ten minutes if you were well rested.  For that reason we didn’t allow anyone to work late nights in the theater alone, and everyone kept an eye on each other.

One theater I worked at developed a simple test to be able to tell when people had crossed the line from sleepy but still functional, to needing to leave right now.  It was a joke:

Q: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
A: Because it was dead.
Q: Why did the chicken fall out of the tree?
A: Because it was stapled to the monkey.

If you are in a normal state of mind chances are good you rolled your eyes, or chuckled for a moment, or groaned.  But when you are sleep-deprived and self-delusional about how much you are still accomplishing at 2am – this joke is hysterically funny, laugh until you can’t catch your breath funny.  And if it’s that funny, it’s time to go home.

I remember one night at the theater with a late electrics call when we came to the realization that we should leave.  Everything was funny, not just the joke, and we had stopped really accomplishing anything.  We all made it to the parking lot when someone asked “Why stapled?  Is that really the funniest way to attach the chicken to the monkey?”  A half-dozen of us ended up there for another two hours very seriously debating attachment methods for the theoretical monkey and chicken.  Hey, at least we weren’t on ladders or using power tools.  Tape, masking or scotch was dismissed pretty immediately, though duct tape stayed in the top five.  Someone suggested safety-chaining the monkey to the chicken which is hugely funny if you were just clambering through the grid at an electrics call, but doesn’t really translate out of that specific situation.  Tie-line, hot glue, crazy glue, sewing or knitting, screwing, nailing, welding, and um, coupling were all suggested.  Each new idea would send us into gales of laughter, and then we’d quite seriously break each idea down for overall funniness.

In the end, staples won.  Hard consonants are funny, everyone has access to staples, and it was randomly incongruous enough to be perfectly ridiculous.  Satisfied that we had achieved maximum silliness, we scattered to get ourselves home.

The joke became a bit of lore so ingrained in the company that we no longer needed to hear the whole thing.  Someone would shout out “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?” at a late night call and several of us would grin and give a thumbs up to show we were fine, while newer crew folks would look around confusedly wondering what they had gotten themselves into.  After the joke had been in use for several years one of the lighting gals made me a present.  It was a small plush Curious George doll face to face with a 6” rubber chicken.  They were glued, tie-lined, duct taped, and yes, stapled together.  I love it, even if it causes a lot of odd looks when folks see it sitting on my desk.

So if you’re ever at work late and a coworker seems to be sliding over the edge, tell them the joke.  If they chuckle or groan, they’re fine.  If they start to giggle maniacally, or ask why staples; get them away from anything sharp and keep your distance while suggesting maybe it’s time for them to get some sleep.

***Here's my take on "barrel of monkeys" for this week in LJ Idol.  To read more go here, and enjoy!***

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Hee! Theatre-types seem....to be a type! ;)

Yes indeed, we're all odd in our own ways, but intersect at 3am in a parking lot to discuss entirely unnecessary things.

Yes, I am one of those "theatre-types."

:-) I remember those days!

Yup, there's something about being at work at 2am that breeds silliness - glad I could bring back smiley memories!

What fun! I love the theatre! I like acting, but I like behind the scenes and directing even more than acting! I also like writing!

I worked in theater in one form or another for 20 years. I acted briefly but ended up mostly doing stage management and lighting, with an occasional job as a dresser or deck crew thrown in. I have a lot of stories.

Theatre was my minor as an undergrad!

However, I was in some type of "theatre" since being little. I don't remember it, but my mother had told me that the first two times I was in a Christmas play, I was Mary. I know I had been an angel. I'm not sure where the picture is by now, but I've seen the picture of me and the other girl that was the angel.

There was some type of acting stuff going on when I was in 5th grade. I remember that we did it during P.E.

I was in the children's choir at church and we did a yearly musical.

I was in our community children's choir and we did one musical.

I took theatre in 11th and 12th grade. Then, did the college thing.

I've used theatre tons in Youth Ministry.

I got out of it when I had to take care of my parents. I got back into theatre when I auditioned for White Christmas in memory of a friend and got a small part in the play.

Now, that theatre can't get rid of me! I had season tickets, but now that the season is over, I'll be back to audition and do other things that I couldn't do (I had already been providing candy for concessions just because I love supporting that theatre).

Even having season tickets is important, the audience is a necessary component of the whole shibang.

I never got to be an angel or Mary, but I was John the Baptist in a HS production of Godspell - heh. Being a female tenor occasionally had its perks.

Good for you for jumping back into something you love!

Oh, yeah, I know it is important and the theatre is non-profit, so it is important that they have enough money for production rights and costumes and props and whatnot.

Sure, they can do stuff like Shakespeare, but they try to do a lot of musicals, so they need to pay for the production rights.

I've never been a fan of Godspell. I like all the little parts that are teaching the Bible lessons, but overall, I found it a bit strange.

Jesus Christ Superstar is my favorite musical. A local production company did that show and that was fun to go see.

I love this story!! And I miss theater! (and I miss you - I'm so glad you're posting again, even occasionally, even if I'm not.)

I've just started missing theater occasionally - apparently it took two years to get all of the burnout out of my system - heh.

I miss you too, someday I'll get a handle on social media that isn't LJ I hope.

See, I pictured the chicken back-to-back with the monkey, until you said the Curious George doll was face-to-face with a rubber chicken!

Ah well - it was still a fun entry!

I always thought they were stapled more arm to wing myself, and I think you can attach them in your mind any way you want. But the rubber chicken my friend used was all of a piece with no appendages so...

I'm glad it was fun even if it didn't match your original mental image.

As long as they are together, I don't suppose it matters how they are stapled!

I think my back-to-back image came from the saying about having a monkey on your back

I love this as a litmus test-- is the ludicrous amusing, or is it insanely funny?

Until the Jayus prompt earlier this season, I had never heard the monkey/tree/stapled-chicken joke. Clearly, I was missing out.

And for writers and/or those invested in humor... sleep-deprived or not, it is imperative to figure out the maximum funniness of the 'accessory' parts of jokes. These things matter!

Other dumb jokes got used over the years too, but we always came back to the monkey/chicken.

Those two hours in the parking lot were well spent indeed, we had great fun when people would try and mix the joke up explaining to them that their attachment method simply wasn't as funny, and here were the reasons why.

Cogent, if not painful, advice!

It works surprisingly well in a lot of instances: are your reactions normal or crazily big because you're sleepy/stressed/distraught/whatever? If crazily big, perhaps a lie down?

Lol! That sounds like fun. :)

Late night work calls were always a good time, I think everyone realized the work had to get done so we might as well enjoy it.

That's a nice test. And yeah, I can see anything being hysterically funny when really tired. Or maybe tears-inducing, too :-)

Exactly, if the reaction is much too big in any direction then you're slipping a little out of true. Sleep is usually the answer.

Ha! that sounds like FUN..something we used to do in our college fest days..stupid jokes but it had people cracking coz everyone's tired..:) Enjoyed reading this..Good job with the prompt!

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