Who doesn’t like a good chuckle or belly laugh? It’s sometimes better for you than a pill…
Luckily, there’s more than a soupcon of humour in our family and hurray for that.
Exchanging emails with my eldest son Jason recently, we were discussing writing (as you do) re various genres, and he said: “I could always write about hamster racing in 14th century Bruges,” And it really gave me the giggles. He and I used to write ‘alternative horoscopes:’ eg: ‘Beware of men in false beards this month (they’re all the rage); if bored take up clog dancing.’ And such nonsense.
The above set me thinking about the vast difference in taste and types of humour. Us Brits have a fair variety: at its best silly, slap-stick, dry, subtle, clever; at its worst lavatorial…Re TV sit-coms – pole-vaulting to the top, are ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Porridge,.’ We can thank the late, lamented John Sullivan for ‘Fools’ and Dick Clement and Ian Las Frenais for ‘Porridge.’Continentals have mime, childish, silly and clever, and the Americans seem to ‘have it all.’ When they’re good, their sit-coms shine: Frasier, Mash, Taxi but some are banal and dire (as are some of ours!) The Irish have a delightful (innocent) way of making you laugh. Take directions: ‘Fenwick street you’ll be wanting? Turn right, then left and go past the shop that was demolished last year and it’s on the next corner.’ Slap-stick: more popular in the past, is universal, and of course popularised through American movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton et al. Then along came Monty Python and changed tack – much more of an acquired taste. They love to shock and do! I love their silly, zany stuff. The subject could fill several books and does, and of course it’s all a matter of taste.
Take comedians. they’re relying more and more on foul language and/or pedestrian humour. Come back Ronnie Barker, Morecombe and Wise, Dave Allen (especially in his earlier days), and I’m very partial to Woody Allen’s brand: ‘I don’t mind dying as long as I’m not there when it happens.’There are many funny Jewish comedians, and I’m a sucker for simple jokes like: New Yorker:’You look lost, son. Can I help?’ ‘Yeah, how can I get to Carnegie Hall?’ ‘Practice, my boy, practice…’ And, a Jewish man is knocked down and slightly hurt. A passer-by attends to him and asks ‘Are you comfortable sir?’ The victim shakes his head from side to side and says ‘I make a living!’ Let’s not forget alternative comedy either. Steve Wright, pan-faced and serious, is clever and thought provoking. ‘ Bought some batteries and there was nothing with them.’ Gets you frowning…
Less is more
This applies to most things in my book. Who needs to overdose on violence, swearing and sex (hands down you at the back there…) Writing about all three is more effective when slightly rationed. It’s much more titillating…There’s nothing original or clever about swearing to excess; anyone can do it! However, used with care, it can be a real put-down and very effective. ‘Fuck off,’said at just the right time, can really hit the funny-bone.
Humour in literature
A few names quickly come to mind: two being Charles Dickens – some of his characters were hilarious; and Mark Twain, who wrote: ‘The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects there is anything funny about it.’(from ‘How to tell a Story.’ ) And how could you not mention Ogden Nash, who wrote over 500 amusing poems. There was nothing funny about his death, aged 69 in 1971 from Crohn’s disease aggravated by eating improperly prepared coleslaw, but I bet he could have penned a funny poem about it! Perhaps not so famous on the world stage was one:John Kennedy Toole, an American, who wrote ‘A Confederacy of Dunces” (1980). Unable to find a publisher for his book, he eventually committed suicide. How grimly ironic that, when the book was published after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1981.
As Mark Twain wrote: ‘Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.’(From a biography.)