I write because I want to laugh.
Recently, I attended a ceremony for the Thomas Wolfe Prize. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Thomas Wolfe was another straight white dude who “revolutionized” the written word – probably by using metaphors that other straight white men in academia would describe as “rhapsodic” and “impressionistic.” This award, presented to authors with “distinguished bodies of work,” was presented to a woman who, for the purposes of not being sued for libel, I shall call Cheryl. Cheryl then proceeded to spend the next forty minutes reading excerpts of her work, including a short story about a telephone repairman having a hard time keeping up with the times. Now, I’m not going to speak on the quality of her writing. I’m sure it was well-crafted, but my favorite movie of all time is The Muppets 2: Muppets Most Wanted, so I don’t think I’m allowed to have opinions on the quality of anything. It had interesting characters, believable dialogue, and plenty of what I call “uncle jokes” – the kind of pseudo-jokes that aren’t really snort-milk-out-your-nose funny, but amusing enough to grin and nod. (E.g. When, at Thanksgiving dinner, your stocky uncle Chip says, “Boy, I’m ‘bout as stuffed as this turkey here!”)
After the reading, Cheryl opened up the floor for comments and questions. It was mainly praise for her wonderful prose and inquiries about the source of her inspiration (surprise: it was nature. It’s always nature). Towards the end of the session, an older gentleman wearing suspenders and a tweed jacket got the microphone. He said, “Cheryl, your use of humor in this piece was masterful. I was truly laughing out loud.”
I wanted to punch that grandpa-looking mother[REDACTED] in the teeth.
Humor can be so much more than that. Humor is so much more than that. Comedy is a craft, an art form with technique, structure, and insight into the lives we lead. Comedy isn’t looking at a teenager on their phone and saying, “Hey, that kid should read a book!” It’s putting a duck in a military uniform, calling him Major Mallard, and giving him a loyal platoon that follows him into battle – absurdity dedicated to reality, combining hilarious circumstances with authentic human experience.
Unfortunately, as it stands, that kind of humor rarely has a place in literature. The term “comedian” evokes the image of red bow-ties, a brick wall, and endless “Women be like…” jokes. Meanwhile, the term “humorist” evokes a sweater-vested professor in front of a marble hearth, pontificating on Camus’ “satirical relevance.” There’s got to be something in between. I’m tired of seeing library handouts entitled “Humorous Fiction Writers” composed of authors whose only connection to humor is merely knowing what a pun is. That’s why I write. I want to fill that hole, somewhere between comedian and humorist, and write to make people laugh. Call me what you will – a comedy writer, a humor purveyor, or even Eugene – but that’s why I write.