Asking a funny person to talk about humor is the fastest way to make that person choke up, begin wheezing, tell an off-color joke that makes everyone uncomfortable and then slink away.* I think I’m a pretty funny person from time to time, but as soon as I saw I was supposed to blog about humor this week, I closed my computer, laid down on my bed, and took an angry nap. How the heck am I supposed to be funny when I’m supposed to be, you know, funny? No thank you, fellow Debs. You can take your humor week and talk about the genius of John Irving or write meaningful stories about grief or deliver amazing puns that have us groaning for weeks or whatever makes you happy. I will NOT BE FUNNY ON COMMAND.
Do you hear me? I won’t do it. If you want jokes, listen to Fox News.
Ok, that is the only even slightly funny thing I am going to say today. For the rest of the post I will be discussing the national deficit.
Ahem. The national deficit is…
Dammit. I know very little about the national deficit. Basically my understanding of the national deficit is just slightly greater than that of a presidential candidate, and just slightly smaller than my son’s understanding of appropriate uses of the toilet. (His best guess is that it’s a prime place to put expensive toys. I had to get one of those damn toilet locks. Now whenever I want to pee I have to plan ahead.)
Fine. I will talk about humor. But only for two hundred words. Then I am telling a bad joke and slinking away.
Here is what I have to say about humor: my brand, at least, comes of weirdness. It comes from growing up in a family where most TV was strongly discouraged but L.A. Law was always ok. Where I read the entire backlist of Doonesbury comics before I was 12 years old and as a result think communist China was once rife with comic hilarity. (Quoth me, during the Beijing Olympics: “When did China get so serious?”) I’m not even going to talk about my Muppet habit. And like weird people through time, I used my library card like a weapon against normalcy. I read Cold Comfort Farm before I got my first bra. I thought Roald Dahl only wrote adult books. I liked to listen to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe on my Walkman, because apparently just reading it wasn’t enough. I wanted hits of Douglas Adams when I was on the go.
And yes, like many other weird-funny people, I was exposed to A Fish Called Wanda far, far too young.
This kind of weird-based funny cannot be taught, I fear. Either you are raised weird or you are not. (Sorry normal people, but on the bright side, think of what you’re saving on therapy.) What I wasn’t born knowing, but am learning over time, is that funny writing doesn’t need to be directed at anything. It doesn’t require hilarious situations you’ve spent hours and pages setting up. It doesn’t have to be the result of someone falling down, being the butt of the joke, or getting hit in the crotch (although if you are lucky enough to have seen that movie where Cameron Diaz marries Demi’s ex in Vegas due to some kind of drunken accident and then they win a fortune at the slots, it IS super funny when the Cameron’s best friend punches her jerk ex right in the business). You don’t even have to make fun of yourself to be funny, though I do find it useful in a pinch, like when I’ve just revealed the sort of movies I like to watch and they star people named “Cameron” and “Ashton.”
Those things can all make a person laugh, of course, but my favorite brand of funny in fiction comes when the characters themselves are so inherently funny that just by being themselves they make us laugh. Think Klinger in Mash, or Theo in the Cosby Show, or Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec. Ron Swanson isn’t a joke-teller, he doesn’t scald people in power with his witty takedowns, or make fun of his own thunderthighs, or slip on banana peels. He doesn’t really do anything just to be funny. And yet every time he casts his lusting eyes over to his enormous framed photograph of glistening bacon, eggs, and toast,** we get a free laugh. Cause he was just written that way.
And that, I sincerely believe, you can learn.
*I only know one tasteless joke and here it is:
How do blind parachuters know when they’re about to reach the ground?
The leash goes slack.
God, I’m sorry. I wish I’d never heard that joke. Please pretend you heard it somewhere else.
**Confidential to Deb Susan: see how I punctuated this sentence about breakfast? That’s right, I used the serial comma.