Opinions, Column

Commit to the Bit

Anyone who read my column for the past three publications has loyally sat through a roller coaster of existential crises, spiritual revelations, and oddly descriptive imagery. They likely hoped for a casual commentary on life at Boston College. Instead, my articles came careening around the corner shouting, “Psych! We’re actually doing a deep dive into the human experience!”

So, I’ve decided to reward these faithful readers with a light-hearted collection of all my favorite bits. A “bit” refers to a playful routine or a humorous exchange among friends, often a series of related jokes strung together.

In my experience, bits are the most fun-spirited way to encourage genuine human connection and laughter. They start at an early age as theatrical performances. Parents play “peek-a-boo” with delighted infants and dramatically fall over in pretend sword fights with their toddlers. As we get older, bits transform into playful streams of dialogue that amplify and build upon themselves, allowing the most hidden, outlandish parts of our humor to shine through.

Unlike my other articles, the following is not meant to be read in one sitting. Instead, it serves as an archive for you to come back to at your leisure. Whenever you feel struck by a sudden urge to engage in the whimsical world of comedic bits, this list will be ready and waiting for you.

The Dialogue Bit: 

Dialogue bits begin with an absurd claim or premise, then expand upon that premise using the “yes, and” technique from improv. “Yes, and” implores us to accept the other person’s idea (yes), then add to it (and). The goal is to “commit to the bit” as long as possible before breaking character.

Austin Rodrigues from Vulture magazine provides the following example of a dialogue bit that might occur at a party:

“What kind of wine is that?”

“Future wine. From the year 2020.” [this article was written in 2014]

“Oh, the one robots make?”

“Yeah, the guy who imports it has a time machine. Too bad the damn thing broke.”

“Yeah, heard his next stop was going to be to the past to kill Hitler.”

“Yup, too bad. Good wine though.”

In this example, “future wine” provides the catalyst for a bit in which both people build upon each other’s ideas in an increasingly absurd manner. This shows how the best bits make a joke out of the current situation. Because it’s impossible to account for every circumstance though, many of the examples included in this article are not situational. Hopefully, once you become well-practiced with the art of comedic bits, you can begin to come up with ideas on the spot. Until then, feel free to use mine as inspiration.

Examples of Absurd Premises to Kickstart the Dialogue Bit:

  1. “I don’t have triceps.”

I concocted the following storyline to sell this claim: As an infant born two months early, I had to have a “scapulectomy” where they removed my triceps at birth. Major props to my dad for this one because he came up with the word “scapulectomy,” which doesn’t exist, but doesn’t it sound realistic?

  1. “My major is underwater firefighting (UF).”

In a stroke of sheer brilliance, my friend Nick Demopolis came up with this one and I’ve fully committed to it ever since. I’ll sell it by saying the primary reason I transferred to BC is that Penn State didn’t have the UF major because it’s a new, up-and-coming industry aimed at combating climate change and the destruction of our coral reefs.

  1. “Once a week, I use tiny microdoses of playdough in my teeth care routine.”

For this one, I cite an imaginary study that found the reason young kids gravitate toward eating playdough is because it holds a wide range of evolutionary benefits associated with teeth.

  1. Show no mercy.

If someone makes the slightest linguistic mistake, a classic bit is to show no mercy and harp on that mistake until the bit devolves into stitches of laughter.

For example, I once asked my friend, Lily Lee, to borrow some toothpaste. Of course, it’s physically impossible to merely borrow it because the exact amount you use can never be given back after digestion. So, Lily built an entire bit around my mistaken use of the word “borrow,” joking that I could borrow the toothpaste as long as I gave all of it back. We amplified the bit until we wound up laughingly claiming that I needed to somehow excavate my entire digestive system to give the toothpaste back to her.

  1. The running gag

A running gag is a repeated joke. The humor of the running gag is generated through the continued repetition of references to that joke. 

For example, I know of two friends who always greet each other with joking disgust: “hello, Arthur.” Another two friends always pretend to harbor unbridled hate for each other. My dad often responds to compliments by using the phrase “they call me (insert compliment) man, fireman.” For example, if someone compliments his chair, he’ll say, “they call me chairman fireman.” Many running gags aren’t funny on their own, but the repetition of the joke makes it funny in a here we go again manner.

  1. Introducing yourself using an absurd name.

Occasionally, I introduce myself with an absolutely wild name like Forwicke-Forefeathers, or sometimes I tell people that my name is spelled with a silent “i” between each letter: Eimimibirioioikie.

The Theatrical Bit 

Theatrical bits serve as physical comedic performances. Examples include the following:

  1. Switching identities with a friend at a party

Switching names, backgrounds, personalities, and even clothes with a friend is a real test of how well you know them.

  1. The roller coaster

Sometimes, when someone claims they’ve got a crazy story, I pause and make a show of purposefully “strapping in” to a roller coaster (putting on the seatbelt, overhead protection, helmet, etc.) to prepare for the wild story they’re about to tell me.

  1. Introducing a tradition

Any time that my friend, Emmy Winter, finds herself sitting down to eat dessert with another person, she teaches them a tradition in which both parties solemnly extend their spoon, and clink it first on the left side, then on the right, then on the left again. She claims that this tradition has a 100 percent success rate of ensuring that the dessert will taste delicious.

  1. Acting out idioms

Whenever someone uses an idiom, I take the words for their literal meaning and physically act them out. 

For example, someone once told me—metaphorically—that they have a chip on their shoulder and I gasped and said “what a coincidence you just used that exact idiom, because there is an actual physical potato chip on your shoulder right now!” They fell for it, and our friendship has never recovered.

In Conclusion

The 21st century marks the first time in human history that the recorded experiences, thoughts, and feelings of an average person can be easily accessed. Before radio and television, written mediums were the primary way to publicize one’s thoughts and yet as late as 1900, the global literacy rate barely surpassed 20 percent—now it exceeds 86 percent. In prior centuries, therefore, content was primarily generated by the educated elite members of society through religious institutions, schools, corporations, governments, newspapers, etc. 

Now, through the internet, the individual voices of millions of working-class people from around the world have been uplifted on a massive scale. This has led to an unforeseeably diverse range of humor, languages, and cultures represented in podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, and a host of other avenues. The emergence of the “bit” is a direct result of such increased diversity. They are adaptable to all cultures because the entire “yes and” premise of a bit demands that it remain open to all possible additions.

Bits are the satirical, modern adaptation of court jesters, actors, and actresses. Unlike many past comedic traditions, anyone can carry out a bit, not simply performers. For this new generation, outlandish, weird humor has been normalized and celebrated at an unprecedented level, and I think it’s beautiful. 

Above all, a bit allows you to embody the truest, most imaginative parts of yourself with no concern for how wild or crazy they may seem to others. The phrase “Commit to the Bit,” is a comedic one, but it also holds a lot of weight. It means not compromising your sense of self, or allowing doubt to creep in, and always striving to remain fully present in this moment of fun, laughter, and genuine human connection.

November 21, 2023