I am reading today about how to write comedy and I have to wonder: Is that a contradiction? In other words, if I have to read about it, does that automatically indicate that I don’t have the gift?
Of course, many successful humorists write about it. There are scads of helpful pieces out there about how to write comedy, how to be funny, how to use your funny to tell all the other hacks out there how unfunny they are… But are they really trying to help me? Or are they writing these books tongue-in-cheek and laughing all the way to the bank at the poor hapless fools who think they can just learn how to make funny happen? Not to impugn their character or anything, but I find myself mildly insecure about this.
The reason I ask is that I am on a quest to educate myself about the art of written humor. I recently returned from a visit to my mother’s house and while I was there, I helped her set up a library in her spare room. Two treasures emerged for me in the process, both of them books by Dave Barry (Dave’ Barry’s Bad Habits: a 100% Fact-Free Book! and Dave Barry in Cyberspace). Not only had I never read these, I’d never even heard of them yet. How could this be? I was elated at my discovery and immediately set them aside to devour during the rest of the visit.
I love Dave Barry (and if – OMG! – you ever happen to read this, Mr. Barry, I mean that in the most admiring, healthy, certainly nothing like stalker-y kind of way, so please don’t put me on your security team’s black list). Dave Barry is my favorite to read as I go to bed at night. Isn’t that dangerous, you may ask? Well sure. There’s always the risk that he will plant subliminal images of boogers or patio-terrorizing frogs or even defuct major political figures into my brain which will then permeate my dream life and cause me to awaken repeatedly in a sweat with an irresistible urge to pop open a cold beer – and I don’t even like beer. Even more likely, I could suffocate on my own pillow as I – in a sudden onset of violent, shuddering laughter – attempt to stifle my Minnie Mouse-esque peals so as not to disturb the children and inadvertently snort my entire bed set. I know the risks, but I can’t help it. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say, and Dave Barry has soothed some savage ills for me. (Thank you most sincerely, sir.)
My mom, of course, having radar that senses the unapproved movement of any of her literary publications, including the twenty-year-old discount romance novels, noticed my selections and we began a conversation about great humor writers. The thing is, I can’t think of very many contemporary, living humorists that specialize in the traditional arena. I’m talking true Greats who put their quips not into scripts or stand-up (great media in their own right), but in the written page for publication. In my own experience, I only know of two very well. There is Bill Bryson (ah, Bill. We spent many a night together over A Walk in the Woods. A single word of his can still slay me at any moment: “Bear…”). And there is Dave Barry.
I feel I should do something about this. Great men and women (Ogden Nash, Erma Bombeck, and so many more) have forged this path, and who will walk it in the future? To whom will the legacy pass? I believe I should at least make an effort, and so I am beginning my research. Maybe someday, if I work really hard, I will actually get to meet Dave Barry as a peer and colleague. We can talk about politics and the insanity of kids and the true location of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Maybe I’ll buy him a beer. And maybe (if I buy him enough beers), we can write a how-to humor book together and scalp that market for all it’s worth.