Saturday, February 21, 2009

We shall know them by their knock-knock jokes...

Humor is such an individualized thing that there's probably a potential forensic science there. The next Patricia Cornwell or Fox TV character will be identifying assassins by the anecdotes and butchers by their blonde jokes. 

Hey, I'd watch it. 

Televised crime comedies aside: everyone has their own ideas about funny and everyone finds it in different places. I found funny at the feet of the master: my dad (who passed away over Christmas) had the driest wit I've ever known, the straightest face you could ask for. I spent half my life trying to decide whether or not he was joking. His sense of humor ran the gamut but it was classic, a little stooges but mostly to do with stringing you along until he could get you close enough to the boat to haul you over the gunwale. 

Humor is about timing, delivery and maintaining the illusion that reality is at fault if what you're saying isn't true. At an early age I was introduced not only to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but to Red Skelton, Ed Wynne, Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen, Fibber McGee and Jack Benny. I sometimes tell people I grew up in the 1940's and my sense of humor is very much of that era becase I still think that being funny didn't require a four-letter vocabulary and that clever is better than brassy. The great radio comedy writers of the 30's and 40's found their balance on the high wire of vaudeville, where not every joke was clean, but it was cleanly-told. It's a lesson any writer can use, in my opinion. 

Vaudeville is no more so I will have to figure it out as I go along without the help of the peanut gallery tossing tomatoes at me. The first short story I had break through in a contest was a farce predicated upon the notion that someone, anyone, had the gumption to tell a tall tale so farfetched it could only be sold by the sheer preposterousness of anyone having the moxie to tell it. A story so preposterous that it could save the world. 

Dad was the only person I've ever met who could have actually done such a thing. While my current novel isn't a comedy per se, humor is so interwoven into life that I can't imagine a novel that doesn't contain a humorous vein. Someday I'll craft that short story into a novel, it's a project I've worked on almost since the day I wrote it. 

In the meantime, I have the look people give me when I'm messing with them. A look I remember all too well, trying to decide if I'm stringing them along. It's how we bestow immortality upon those who came before us. Benny, Wynne, Skelton... dad. I miss you dad.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).