I’m giving several writing workshops at the Lincoln Belmont Library in Chicago in October and November. Humor is going to be one of the topics. I have never tackled this subject before. How to do it???
I’d like to talk about “what’s funny” to my writing group. I’ve been thinking about how to write humor. How do I write humorously? How do we discuss humor? What is funny? What in the world makes something funny?
When I started the Sylvia strip, many male editors said, “I don’t get it!” and “It’s not funny!” There was an idea that men couldn’t understand “women’s humor.” And therefore it didn’t exist. It couldn’t exist because they didn’t get it. I formulated the idea that women were fluent in two languages, Male and Female. We laughed at two kinds of witty, but men only laughed at one.
Fortunately, there were men who convulsed over my cartoons; otherwise, I would have had rather an abbreviated career.
I look at the weekly contest in the New Yorker Magazine that invites contestants to write the punch line for a drawn cartoon. None of the punch lines seem funny to me! Many of the cartoons in the New Yorker seem like absolute duds to me. Why is that? I understand that humor is a somewhat personal thing, but on the other hand Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had the whole country (and France) laughing in the fifties.
Women I know have asked me if only men can write the successful captions for the New Yorker cartoons? I say, “That’s true because the editor who chooses the winning captions is a man.” It seems to me that many of the cartoons in the magazine are chosen for a certain view of life …if you want to see the “distaff” side take a look at the work of Roz Chast. I think one could start a war on the subject of what is funny. I’m truly not interested in rancor, but I am interested in what you personally find funny.
An example of group humor:
I attend an exercise class. Exercise does not amuse me. I never want to go to the class and when I am there, I want to leave. I do it because somewhere in the middle I start to enjoy myself and I am able to go on.
Also, somewhere in the middle of a class, when we are doing an exercise that makes us groan, the teacher says: “Come on, this is my grandma’s favorite exercise…She does 500 of these a day” Sometimes she adds: “while reading the New York Times.”
There have been demands from the class that Carol produce her grandmother. Last week she announced that as much as she would love to bring her grandmother to class, her grandmother was in Montana, bronco busting.
This led Cindy, a student in the class, to announce that she was going to Montana at the end of the week and would see what she could find out about Grandma’s activities. This week she reported back, reading a report on what she had found out to the great delight of the class and the teacher. As I recall she didn’t have any real information, but it was her imagined results that captivated the class.