In a recent interview in Entertainment Weekly, the actor Gene Hackman, now 81 and apparently retired from acting and writing thrillers (who knew?), lamented, "I don't think I'll ever be considered a serious writer". (It's possible "lamented" is an overstatement.)
Wow. All I could think when I read that was, "I hope nobody ever considers me a serious writer."
I mean that. If people read my books and come away thinking deep thoughts about the nature of life and how it's all hopeless, complex, depressing and above all, serious, I have badly screwed up the mission with to which I have assigned myself. I'm trying very hard to be the antidote to Serious, the kind of writer whose readers--and I know who both of you are--look forward to with a smile of anticipation. I want you to think, right before my novel is checked out at the bookstore or the library, or shows up in your mailbox, "Now, this is going to be fun."
It's easy enough to be convinced of the Serious of life. In fact, it's damn hard not to be overcome with it; Serious is everywhere. Serious lives in hospitals, in nursing homes, police stations, unemployment offices, homeless shelters, on 24-hour news stations, in courtrooms and barrooms and back rooms where deals are made. Serious is what most of us spend the larger part of our lives either trying to contain or trying to deflect. When your doctor informs you that you need tests for something, your first question is usually, "Is it serious?" You never tremble while asking, "Is it SILLY?"
Those of us who traffic in comedy are doing our very best not only to avoid Serious, but if possible to deny its very existence. We don't avoid TRUTH, mind you--comedy is at its best when it tells the truth. What we do is take Serious and make it look silly.
Nobody believes that there are talking rabbits wearing white gloves who outwit hunters and feud with ducks. No one thinks a French detective so inept that he can't open his own apartment door without ripping his pants to shreds can constantly prevail in solving crimes. There isn't a soul on this planet who is truly convinced that a man with a greasepaint mustache and eyebrows can be president of a country or a college.
But when they think of Bugs Bunny, Inspector Clouseau or Groucho Marx, people smile fondly and they remember. They don't need to be reminded.
Everybody believes that white blood cells are called leukocytes. They're certain that Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. They know for a fact that Congress is going to raise the country's debt ceiling before August 2. And yet, when they consider any one of these serious matters, is there a fond smile on their faces? There is not.
For some inexplicable reason, people are convinced that Serious things are more important than the things that lift their spirits and make life the kind of experience it should be--an enjoyable one to be cherished. They say that things which make us laugh are "silly," as if that was a bad thing. If you say something they think is wrong, they'll tell you to "be serious." And, more to the point, if you proclaim your intention to make them laugh, they might smile and nod at you, but their respect will go to the others, who do their best to depress with Serious. It is an interesting commentary on our society that there are at least six awards in the United States for best mystery novel of the year, and a grand total of one for funniest.
I celebrate those who can successfully amuse me. In fact, I tell others about them as a fan of opera might spread the word about an exciting new tenor. Finding someone who can make us laugh is a huge stroke of luck; it is something that must be shared. I speak their names with awe and reverence, two things I almost never exhibit. I thank them for their efforts, especially the ones that can make me laugh no matter how many times I've seen them do the same thing before. I have a great deal more respect for a good comedian than I do for any head of state I have ever observed.
So please don't ever tell me I'm a serious writer. Do I work hard at my craft? I certainly do. Do I respect the work I'm trying to create? Absolutely. Will I toil and sweat to give you a reading experience that seems like it flowed naturally and never show you the seams and the stitches? I will do my very best to achieve that goal. Will I ever write something Serious?
My god, I hope not.