He was my personal heckler.
By Christine Schoenwald
Written on Oct 08, 2023
Photo: Mix and Match Studio, Dean Drobot | Canva
“Yeah, that’s a joke,” my boyfriend Stefan said.
“I know it’s a joke, that’s why I said it,” I responded, trying not to get frustrated.
I was a comedian who relied on her humor to get through life — the last thing I wanted from my boyfriend was confirmation that I’d told a joke.
And yet, “Yep,” was the extent of Stefan’s response when I did or said anything funny, or attempted to.
What I wanted to hear was big belly laughs, huge guffaws, or honest laughs, but I got none of that. I didn’t get any compliments on my turn of phrase or admiration for the set-up and punch line of the joke.
Nothing, nada, not even the low-energy, “Good one.”
Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much if he was an expert comic or was known for his brilliant sense of humor, but that wasn’t the case.
Stefan was quirky with a genius IQ and a sense of humor that relied heavily on Monty Python quotes and bodily functions.
He was my harshest comedy-critic even if that wasn’t his intention.
When I confronted him about his lack of support, he was shocked.
“I’m only trying to make you stronger,” he said.
Stronger? How does that work?
Did Stefan think I’d never have a joke land, so I should get used to the stony silence that accompanies a failed joke, or did he want me to get a tougher skin, so when the inevitable hecklers jeered at me, I’d be able to handle it?
Well, the joke was on him. I was taught a long time ago, that the best way to diffuse a heckler is to listen to them and try to figure out what it is they really wanted. Were they too hot or cold? Had they just been dumped by their date?
The question was what did Stefan want?
I tried to be honest with him.
“Your unenthusiastic response to my jokes isn’t making me stronger — it’s hurting my feelings,” I said, hoping he’d change his attitude. But he didn’t get how hurtful he was being by not even cracking a smile, and how every non-laugh was a silent criticism and a jab in my heart.
I was naturally funny and had always made my friends and family laugh, but with Stefan it was crickets.
Was I being extra sensitive to his refusal to laugh?
I was supportive of his odd hobbies like watching recorded car racing on repeat and drinking imported beers in our non-operational car forever parked in space 23.
I couldn’t help but think back to Jerod, the guy I’d left for Stefan. He thought I was funny and strong. He even competed against me in our department’s stand-up comedy competition which we both won. Jerod never thought I’d go for Stefan because of his off-beat sense of humor and the way he constantly spoke in a fake British accent.
Stefan had blonde spikey hair, Greek God facial bone structure, and round John Lennon glasses. He usually wore a vintage bowling shirt, 501 jeans, and high-top sneakers.
“You’re cute but you have a silly personality,” I said when I met him, and it was true — he was extremely good-looking in a punk bowler kind of way. I wasn’t attracted to him because we shared inside jokes or had lots in common but for his retro/punk vibe. It would take me over four years to work out that’s not enough to build a relationship.
When Stefan and I went to comedy shows or funny movies, he had no trouble laughing at the stupidest, low-brow humor. He laughed so hard that often the action had progressed, and he was still stuck on the gross toilet bit that happened minutes before.
So, I tried harder to impress Stefan.
I was a prop comic using items around the house, and I developed my already strong sarcasm, and use of wordplay, but he stayed unenthused. Maybe if I’d channeled my inner John Cleese or Eric Idle, I could have gotten him to laugh, but I wasn’t a Monty Python fan and the words felt awkward and unfunny.
Humor isn’t simple. You have to have a certain amount of intelligence and perception to be able to find it and use it. Behind every joke is a little bit of anger and truth.
Laughing can be a stress reliever for both the funny person and the person listening and reacting to the funny.
When you’re a comedian, you have to identify your audience and play to them. But I could never figure out what it took to make Stefan let go and laugh.
In the end, my inability to make him laugh and his refusal to was one of the reasons we broke up.
Now, my longtime boyfriend laughs when I’m funny, even at my silliest puns, and my unintentional physical humor. And when he’s funny, I don’t hold back — I laugh.
Neither of us is miserly with our laughter, holding onto it as if it’s gold, and that’s probably why this relationship has lasted about ten times as long as the one I had with Mr. Impossible-to-Laugh.
I may not be stronger, but I’m a lot happier.
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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She’s had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman’s Day, among many others.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.