Monday, September 3, 2012

Humor – The Secret Weapon

When I was newly married and struggling to learn how to write publishable fiction (my ambition from the age of ten), I placed some humorous articles in a local magazine called COUNTY TIMES. I only remember one of the topics – how to get rid of a pile of bricks – but I do remember the pieces were odd and silly and I was thoroughly delighted that an editor put them in print.

Unfortunately, one reader most certainly was not. He sent me hate mail telling me so and in the process taught me this: Comedy is without a doubt the most subjective sort of communication, so count on it at your own risk.

Not crazy about the odds of success, I haven’t written a purely humorous anything since. Instead, I write mysteries around a character who has a lighter way of looking at things. If readers think she’s fun – terrific! But if my jokes go over like another pile of bricks, there’s always that dastardly murder to solve.

Old influences were Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, Gregory MacDonald’s Fletch books (not the movies) and the film Charade starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Another special favorite was Hopscotch starring the late Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. All of them old enough to have whiskers, I know, but they still hold up beautifully.

Which brings me to some of the curiosities I’ve run across regarding humor.

Asked when he planned to do some more serious work, Walter Matthau replied, “Humor is my serious work.” He claimed it was more difficult than “noncomedic or tragic or whatever you want to call it."

Comedian and motivational speaker, David Naster, concurs. “Humor is intellectual… It’s an idea you make funny… [s]ome more complicated than others.”

Street thugs take note: Making someone laugh gives you a certain power over them. Think about it. You’re causing another person to do something they didn’t expect, or perhaps even intend, to do, and usually they’ll thank you for it.

Historians credit the British sense of humor for helping the UK endure two horrific world wars. Our own Bob Hope, and others, did much the same for us. Yet if a funny movie – or book – were to be put up for a prestigious award, most likely it would be laughed off the docket. That subjective problem again.

My first agent may have said it best. “Nobody takes humor seriously.”

Donna Huston Murray

1 comment:

  1. Donna, I enjoyed this so much. Humor is so much harder than anything else, if you ask me. I can't do it, but I so enjoy it. And Water Matthau is a hero to me!!!