Being funny on purpose is not easy. Ask any professional jokester. Whether they’re commenting on current events or churning out a sitcom, it’s draining work. You see, what is amusing to you may not strike your audience as such, quite the reverse. If you’re lucky, they may find it offensive. Hey, at least it’s a reaction. If you’re unlucky or, more likely, untalented, they may find it deadly boring. If you want to make people snort coffee through their noses you first have to sweat coffee over the keyboard. Yes, writing requires a lot of coffee (or tea). Psychoanalysts would probably describe us as oral- or anal-fixated.
Fair enough. I would describe psychoanalysts as arseholes; not that I have a fixation about them, you understand.
What? Oh yes, writing, any type of writing. If you’re serious about it, you have to be relentlessly self-critical. You have to be prepared to show your efforts to friends and family, and not be mortally humiliated when they say “meh”. This will happen a lot. It will hurt. It should hurt. If it doesn’t, you’re too insensitive and are in the wrong job. Try politics instead.
Do you know what the most frustrating part is, though? When you’ve slaved hours over a piece (and it takes far longer to write good comedy than straight prose), sent it off to the editor or producer, or hit ‘Publish’ and that’s it. It’s finished, could be better, but on the whole you’re not ashamed of it. Then, on the day your tender baby is delivered into the pitiless, ravening maw of the uncultured public, it gets laughs in all the wrong places. If it gets laughs.
In turn, actors have the same problem. What they think is hilarious in a script probably will not coincide with the author’s views on the subject. Nor will it coincide with the audience’s; you have to be prepared to move swiftly on when an expected laugh fails to materialise, or pause when the audience guffaw at what seemed a perfectly uninteresting line during rehearsals. Moreover, not content with continually screwing up your comic timing with displaced merriment, every single fucking audience will laugh in different places every night. No wonder entertainers all seem neurotic.
So, to my point: the author is the worst possible person to decide which are the really rib-tickling parts of his or her work. I still don’t understand why my throwaway description of that toothless industry watchdog, the PCC, as a “piece of wilted, deliquescent lettuce” on another blog got more chuckles and retweets than quips here that even the SO categorised as: “Yeah, s’pose it’s OK.” Similarly, Ken over at Popehat remains totally bemused at the wildfire spread of his invitation to an annoying troll to “snort my taint.”
This, in short, is why you should never, ever, self-publish a book entitled I say funny things*. Especially if you have poor spelling and can’t be arsed to proof-read your own web pages. It is not for you to decide if you are funny. Nor even your family, heartwarming though it is to make them smile.
The only people who can tell you if you’re genuinely funny are complete strangers. Cherish the stranger. If you’re ever going to make a living out of humour, they’re the ones who’ll be paying your rent and coffee bills.
* I did wonder at first if I was doing the right thing in linking to the site of the poor, deluded woman – she thinks you can reconcile science, feminism and biblical literalism – who made this embarrassing faux-pas. Then I remembered she regularly touts her ebooks on Twitter, where she also claimed “Following the teachings of Jesus, I have put myself next 2 the suffering, the imprisoned, those going thru the worst life“, before going on to patronise and insult complete strangers. Unfortunately, I find I don’t have the nastiness in me to apply Luke 6:31 to her Twattings.
- Book Review: The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion, Edited by Andy Borowitz (blogcritics.org)