First and most important: Our very own Erin Mitchell is under the weather (as opposed to the rest of us, who apparently are over the weather, but doesn't that mean we're outside the atmosphere?) and we all at DEAD GUY are wishing her the speediest and most complete recovery in history! You can read Erin's own chronology of her travails here, but our message is simple: GET BETTER NOW!!!
Worst advice ever given: “When people say, 'Don't worry, John, you'll make it funny.”
It always worries me when someone asks me to write something funny. I don't get angry, not ever, but I do get nervous. Suppose I can't think of anything funny? What if I'm in a serious mood (hey, it could happen)? What if I write something I think is funny but the person who asked doesn't?
Those of us who traffic in humor do so because we want to; don't misunderstand. We see enough misery, hypocrisy, injustice and horror in the world without feeling the need to contribute. Maybe we want to provide distraction or in some way illuminate the problem without making it seem hopeless. But when put on the spot--be funny now--any confidence in the talent within retreats to its hiding place and sits this one out.
So yes, I like to write things that are funny, and I try to do that for 1,000 words every day. But I know I'm going to do that, and I can hang the humor on a story, which gives you something to riff on. Just stare me down with "say something funny," and I might even come up with something that works, but I'll be sweating to get it done.
Comedy is a talent. Some are great at it. Some have no capacity for it at all and they should never attempt it under any circumstances, like tightrope walking without a net. Others, like me, have some capacity for the art but aren't going to play the big room, and that's okay. We can still contribute.
It was said of Groucho Marx (who many believe was the most complete and perfected comedian to date) that he was at his funniest when he absolutely should not have been trying to be amuse. When prevailed upon to be hilarious on the spot, he would speak seriously or refuse to participate at all. He could be funny at will, and often was, but it was his choice, not yours, when he'd find it worth his while.
Lucille Ball, on the other hand, was said to have no sense of humor at all. She could perform comedy with anybody (and did). She could take what others created for her and take it to another level of hilarity with her capacity to bring reality to an absurd situation. Off-screen, Lucy was a serious and sometimes brusque presence, never the life of the party.
"No, I'm not going to be your monkey."
--Jon Stewart, when asked to say something funny on "Crossfire," which was subsequently cancelled
The key to writing is not necessarily to stay in your comfort zone--there's a lot to be said for walking the border between comfort and danger. In other cases, it's best to stay within the area that brings you most confidence because then you can break your own rules, sure in the knowledge that you've done it before and the world didn't end.
But the one absolute rule of writing comedy is that if you're not a person who understands how to make something funny, or can't tell what is or is not funny, you should never try to create it from scratch. It'll be painful and frustrating for you, and a serious drag for any audience you manage to reach.
I can write funny. I can talk funny. I'm not bragging; that's just something I can do. Maybe you can dunk a basketball, dance with grace, play the saxophone or solve complex problems with calculus. I couldn't do any of those things on the best day I ever had. People have different talents; it's what makes us interesting.
But walk up and tell me to say something funny, and I'm here to tell you, I have no idea what you're going to get. It would be a good time, however, to buy stock in GlaxoSmithKline.
They make Tums. And I'll be taking some.
P.S. Just a quick reminder (or a first notice if you hadn't heard before) that THE QUESTION OF THE UNFAMILIAR HUSBAND, the second in the Asperger's Mystery series by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen (whatever that means) will be available starting October 1, which is... THIS THURSDAY! So, you know, get one. Read it. Say nice things. If you don't like it, keep your mouth shut. But remember--Thursday.