Writing Humor is a Fool’s Errand
By Larry Kahaner
Some time ago, I told all 6 of my followers that I was moving from writing non-fiction to fiction. I kinda sorta lied. I still write non-fiction because people pay me money to do so. Truth be told, I still like doing journalism and in some teeny, tiny way maybe it does some societal good.
However, scores of articles and two thriller novels later, I’ve turned much of my attention to writing humor. For the most part, I’ve taken my skills in writing short-form journalism to writing short-form humor that looks like real, honest-to-goodness journalism or, at the very least, sober non-fiction. It’s not fake news; it’s fake-fake-fake news. There’s a big difference.
After all these years of being serious, I can now be not-serious, and it’s quite liberating. Plus, it makes me laugh, and these days I need all the yuks I can get.
Humor writing is difficult. As the saying goes: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” This quote has been attributed to a ton of people from actor Edmund Gwenn (He played Kris Kringle in the Miracle on 34th Street) to Jack Lemmon to Groucho Marx to Stan Laurel. I’m not taking sides on this. The other thing I know is that ‘comedy comes from pain.’ Again, lots of humorists, a fancy name for comedians, have said this including, most recently, Jerry Seinfeld in an interview with Howard Stern. (Look it up yourself.)
Obviously, I am not an emotionally well-formed person, because I make jokes out of just about everything, especially what I find particularly painful like how the US is coping with the Coronavirus, (God Returns from Vacation… Boy, Are We in Trouble); science bashing, (CDC Sending Magic 8-Balls to Schools to Help Decide When to Open) and racial discrimination, (I Had to Tell the Hula Dancer on my Dashboard that it Just Wasn’t Working Anymore).
You’ll be happy to know that I am annoyed or angry at a lot more than these subjects so there’s plenty of water in the comedy well for me.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that humor is profoundly personal and depends upon where you are in life, your upbringing and sometimes what you had for breakfast. What one person finds funny, another finds in poor taste. Indeed, they may find it highly offensive, and how dare I make light of horrible things like the Coronavirus?
Hello, haven’t you been listening? I make fun of everything. It’s how I cope.
There’s another aspect to humor that I’ve discovered – along with everybody else who thinks about it for even a minute. You can open more minds with humor than you can by being serious. Witness Alec Baldwin playing President Trump on Saturday Night Live or almost anything that George Carlin (RIP) has said.
(Pro Tip: Satire is powerful. Snark is less effective.)
Anyhow, check me out at https://medium.com/@kahaner.
It’s where I hang out these days and write stuff you may or may not think is funny. Nah, you’ll be laughing – either at me or with me. Don’t actually care which.
Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now, he’s not — serious, that is.