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Humour's a funny business. It's peculiar how hard you have to work to make it funny. Humorous writing is easy to read but it's hard to write.
Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
-Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)
Readers have different tastes, of course. For instance, I laugh at things others consider childish, while other people laugh at serious things not in the least bit funny — why do they do that? What's wrong with them? Can't they take anything seriously? They laugh at everything. Not me. I only laugh when it's funny.
When a writer wants to tickle your funny bone he must estimate what you will call
humerus humorous. He takes a risk. Taking risks can lead to unpleasant, unpredictable results — in other words, it's risky. Most of us just want a quiet life without trouble or effort. So there aren't many people trying to be funny writers.
There are a lot of funny people trying to write, however. You should see them with their green arms and three legs, pecking away at the keyboard with their toes. Very funny people. But I
dygress diegrees digross dingoes get off the subject. Don't be silly. Why should I get off the subject?
It is risky to attempt to write humorously. Of course, it's not at all risky to actually write humorously. Actually write humorously and the world beats a path to your door. You see (and try to stay with me here), if you're attempting to write humorously, you might not have succeeded, but if you are actually writing humorously, you most certainly have succeeded. We must be perfectly clear on that point. Are you still with me?
If what you have written is actually humorous, what's the problem? You just ring up your editor and say: "I have some humorous writing for you, are you interested?" And she says right back to you, quick as a wink, fast as a speeding bullet, or a jet plane, or a train if you're talking about a slightly earlier time period, or a zeppelin if it's an even earlier, more remote and altogether stranger time period: "In humorous writing? You've godda be joking." No, no, now I'm joking. Of course she'd love it. Take it in a heartbeat.
When it's funny, it's not a problem. The problem with funny writing only arises before it's officially classified as funny. It's only risky to attempt humorous writing. God, yes! The problem is in the attempting! Not the succeeding!
What we need is a Public Office of Humour (POOH). If you were uncertain whether your humorous writing did actually qualify as funny, you would deposit it in a POOH, anonymously. It would have to be anonymous because nobody could survive the shame and ignominy if it became known that they had to use a POOH to find out if they were funny. Is that the same as using chicken innards to find out who wins the football next Saturday? Can't say. Nobody ask me what ignominy means — I'm serious, this is not a drill.
After a certain officially-sanctioned number of weeks, during which you might pace nervously at local suicide spots such as enormously high cliffs or wharves jutting into amazingly deep water (and cold, very cold) (the water, not the wharf), and assuming you survived without jumping (or even after jumping, come to that), you would receive a package wrapped in brown paper, looking for all the world like an unusually large quantity of medication for bunions or piles.
You would open it, one imagines, with a degree of eagerness, or perhaps leave it another fortnight and examine the suicide spots once more, weighing things in your mind. But eventually you would open the package and read the official verdict. Then return to the precipice with renewed enthusiasm.
But, all joking aside, you could read the POOH report with confidence, couldn't you, knowing it had been written by highly-skilled individuals with years of training in humour, or the field of humour — the humour field; humorous field. Nothing humorous about a field — doesn't make sense. Anyway, the people in charge of our POOH might well have a university degree — they usually do. So what they say would carry weight.
The POOH report would always carry weight, since none would be permitted any lighter than, oh, 96 pages, surely, at the very least. This would be set by the legislation, of course, we needn't go into details here. Armed with a favourable POOH report, you could approach anyone with your humorous writing without a care in the world. Remember the risk we talked about? Once the POOH is up and running (anyone want to be in charge of a running POOH? Huh?) all risk would DEPART! Come to that, much could depart from the presence of a running POOH.
We could show our comedic literary baby off to anyone, confident in the certain knowledge that it will be considered humorous. I suppose this is one baby we want to be laughed at. Oh, but I forgot — in this context, "baby" is just a metaphor, isn't it? Silly men. I mean silly me. But thank goodness I didn't get off the subject. Now, that might've been funny!
"There always has been, is, and always will be, a market for good humour. I am sorry to say, however, that I doubt if there are more than two dozen writers of humour in the United States who earn a livelihood with their pens." So begins Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR, on Humorous Writing from his book The Art of Story Writing.
Humour columns: Rib-tickling articles around writing and authors. This one, My Life as the Best Friend of a Writer, detailing the constant irritations of an obsessive, tenacious writer, manages to inspire us with a deep affection for her absent-minded friend. It begins:
"I love her, mind you. We've been friends a long time now. We've shared many of life's most staggering events. We've burped each other's babies, celebrated anniversaries, and mourned family members' passings. We've seen employers come and go, waited for pathology results, and discreetly ignored nasty birthdays. Honor bound to state unequivocally when a hair style or a hemline needs to go south, we never sugar coat the truth. Our souls have an open door policy. Neither would refuse the other an airport shuttle, no matter what the departure or arrival time."
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