Robert Heinlein said in his book Stranger in a Strange Land that man is the monkey that laughs at himself. At the time I first read it, I found this an odd thing to say. Then, as the line haunted me, I realized he was right. People love to laugh at their own faults and the mishaps that break the monotony of their daily lives.
When I started writing, I never considered the possibility that I’d want to write comedy. My first two books were far from comical. In fact, I’d made it a habit of starting and never finishing horror novels. Thanks to my wife, I read a few romantic comedies and said to myself, wow, words can be funny. That isn’t to say I had never read comedies before. I cut my teeth reading Douglas Adams and Robert Asprin’s Myth series. Funny was funny, but Romantic funny? Sure, I loved to watch them, but read them? Write them? I couldn’t see myself doing that at the beginning of my writing career. I was too serious. Took myself too seriously, might be closer to the truth.
What changed that?
I learned to laugh at myself. Okay, that was an old habit, but I took a defense mechanism that served me well during my formative years and transformed it into a literary art form. And, they said internalizing stuff wasn’t good for me.
First off, let me say that writing comedy isn’t easy.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this dissertation. Writing comedy. How do I do it? What mindset does it take to make fun of yourself and purge all that out on a computer screen? You might think a warped one, but I like to think I’m saner because I write comedy. Huh? Yeah, I’m getting to it. Maybe it won’t all get out in one blog post, but I hope to explain what it takes to write comedy. At least, I will the way I approach doing it.
The first step is to observe everything. To write comedy, you have to be able to understand that people cling to happy. Lives are tough all over. Work, family, finances, the news. All these things take the funny out of life. You worry that you’re not doing enough for your family, you’re working too much, war will break out at any moment. Aliens will abduct you and do silly things with probes. Those things clog the brain with so much crap that you have to laugh at the little stuff, or you’ll go insane. Problems, but probes, but then again, I guess they could, too.
Just look at sit-coms. People laugh at pratfalls, embarrassing situations, turkey stuffed on heads. You name it. Why? The answer is insidious. Just like people listen to the blues to feel better about themselves, people laugh at the small miseries of others because it isn’t them that it’s happening to. Sad isn’t it, but so true. Not to sound jaded about the subject, but we’re a callous bunch some of the time.
That isn’t to say, all comedy is about us feeling better because it’s not us, but that’s part of it. We all do it, so don’t tsk tsk at me. The Three Stooges wouldn’t still be popular today if it wasn’t. But, there’s a flipside to that self centered idea. We laugh because we’ve been there. Silly things have happened to us that have embarrassed us at the time, but we survived and lived through it. We are stronger because of it! We laugh because we empathize with the character. In my books, stuff happens. It happens to good people at the most inopportune times. They cope and get over it, just like we do.
Comedy, if anything, is about making normal. Most books don’t portray the truth of the human condition. They portray a stylized version of what life would be like if we lived in a perfect world. We don’t, so why should literary characters have it so good? They shouldn’t. That isn’t to say that stylized version of life doesn’t have its place. I like reading perfect worlds as well as the next reader. It allows us to view the world as we’d like it to be. Comedy allows us to step outside the real world and view it with the perspective of someone who has survived it.
Think about that a second. If you never had stuff rolled over you, you wouldn’t grow. We grow up to be the person we are because of life’s little embarrassing moments. If they didn’t happen, we couldn’t deal with the truly hard stuff. Hopefully, my books balance the comedy of life with the harder truths that life deals us. Comedy without tragedy doesn’t exist. They are two sides of the same coin.
Let me get personal for a moment. When I lost both my grandmothers within a year of each other, it was two of the most painful moments of my life. Both of those women gave me love and knowledge that still resides inside me to this day. Anyone who has lived through losing someone like that, knows the furthest thing from your mind is laughing. It took a great long while to recover from those losses, but when I did, the first thing I did was laugh. I remembered not their deaths, but the little things that made them them. Believe me, these women were amazing, but with eccentric traits that made them so memorable that the stories would make you hold your gut from all the laughter. Fifteen years later, I don’t look back with a mourner’s eye. I look back with the eye of someone who was loved by those two women and laughed with them, because of them, and because they taught me how to laugh. That laughter is told within my pages. It is their legacy through me.
Comedy is the knowledge that pain can be overcome. It is laughing in the face of pain so great that tears can’t begin to cover the emotion. It is the memory of life lived and life as it will one day be. The present isn’t as funny as the past and future. Why? Because, we’re too busy living it, to see the comedy in it. We get too full of ourselves to think anything we’re suffering could in any way be humorous. To us it isn’t. That doesn’t mean our friends don’t see it. As a result, we tend to despise them for it.
So, what is comedy? Comedy is the lives we live. Comedy is the human condition. Comedy is that guy slipping on a banana peel while a vampire is munching down on his neck. Yeah, okay I might be twisted, but I know that people enter my worlds to laugh at the seriousness of their existence and say…
‘World do your worst! I may not get out of this alive, but I’ll eventually go out hoping I laughed more than I cried. I loved more than I hated. I was surrounded by those I love, more than I sat alone. I held hope alive, more than I despaired. Lastly, I read as many books as I could while everyone else was waiting for the movie to come out so they could see what the deal was all about a good year after I already knew. More importantly, Comedy is our way for dealing with what life has to throw at us. We laugh to make it hurt just a little bit less. Sorry, to leave it on a sad note, but sometimes the truth needs to be told.
Before I go to do whatever it is I have to do, I ask you to stay tuned because next time I will delve more into my approach to comedy, but I felt I needed to lay some groundwork first. So until next week, happy reading.