A couple of times a year I visit my dentist for a checkup. He’s an excellent dentist, does a great job and is a really nice guy. His quirk: He obsessively tells jokes while I am sitting in his chair, mouth plugged by a variety odd shaped tubes and sharp probes. So while he, non-stop, tells his jokes, puns, quips, I cannot laugh or groan, or react in any way other than, as each joke rolls out, I give a thumb up or down. I assure you, the thumb goes both ways during 45 minutes. I guess that is what is called a funny situation.
What most amazes me most is his recall of all this humor. He thinks funny. Further, there is the realization that a joke is, in its way, a very short story.
There are writers who think funny. Among my friends are Bruce Coville and Richard Peck, and they think funny. I once met Dave Barry, and he clearly thinks funny. Gail Collins, the NY Times political columnist, must think funny to write the way she does. While I adore humor, admire wit enormously, and am told I have a decent sense of humor, I don’t think funny. I have written humor (I think Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? is my funniest book) but I do not generally, think funny.
That said, comedy has long fascinated me. It’s very ancient, having stayed remarkably the same since the dawn of western literature. Yet, while people love to laugh, humor is generally considered less of an achievement than other forms of literature. What comedic novel has won a big award? We say, “He is a clown,” and that’s not a nice thing. We say, “He is a tragic figure,” and there is a suggestion of grandeur.
This comes up because I recently sold a collection of short stories to a publisher, sold, that is, with one condition: “One of the stories needs to be funny. Can you do that?”
How do you write comedy? Is that laughter I hear?[To be continued]