Well, here we are. It’s 2017 and metaphorically speaking, America is a garbage fire. How long that’s going to stay strictly metaphorical, who knows? It’s terrifying.
I am getting from one day to the next through sheer force of will and a near-overdose quantity of Ylvis in both sketch comedy and musical comedy form. That’s my nuclear option when it comes to needing to keep myself laughing, and thank God it still works for now.
Comedy, in general, has always been the thing that saves me. It’s my first port in a storm – I adhere to the adage that laughter is the best medicine. My best childhood memories all center around laughter, at Bugs Bunny cartoons, the first time I saw the movie Clue, every damn time I watched Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Laughter is what I have always loved best, a sense of humor is the most important quality to me in another person.
So. Given that I place such a high value on comedy and humor, you can imagine that it was quite a shock to realize that for the last several years, I’ve been severely hard on myself for being “merely” a funny writer.
I’ve been writing for a long, long time. My interest was sparked in fourth or fifth grade. In high school I won awards for comedy writing. I revered Dave Barry and Lewis Grizzard. Back then, I wanted to be a funny writer! Where did it all go wrong?
Because it did go wrong, or at least, it went a little awry. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that in order to be a “real” writer, I had to write beautiful, serious things. Things with deep thoughts, ponderous words, serious situations, poetic metaphors. Things that earned serious critical acclaim and the noisy admiration of my peers.
But I’m not really a beautiful, serious writer. Oh, I can occasionally write a darn nice sentence – there are a few I am proud of in both of my books. But sustained beautiful writing? No. It’s just not what I do. It’s not. I am a woman who has literally stood on a stage with my comedy troupe and sung a song we wrote that was about panties. A song that was apparently offensive enough to get us quietly banned from the Renaissance festival at which we debuted it! Why in God’s name did I ever think that my brain, which has spent actual entire weekends trying to rhyme “corset” with anything besides “Dorset,” was capable of sustained beauty? Worse, why did I think that my inability to produce said sustained, thoughtful beauty made me an unworthy writer?
Well, I mean. I kind of know why. That’s what we’re told. We get told that funny movies and books and people are great to have, they have their place, their use, but there’s no real craft to them. No prestige, they tell us. Thank you for the laughs, but the real art is in serious, beautiful things.
To which, sayeth I, well, fuck that hell kind of bullshit. With some caveats.
I won’t ever deny that beautiful, poetic books and movies are art, no. Come on, half my bookshelves are literary fiction and art-house movies. I love them. I have friends that write absolutely beautiful, critically acclaimed books that I adore. These things, they are art.
But to be funny, to bring joy and laughter, I don’t see why that’s not also art, why it isn’t also worthy. Comedy has literally saved my life and my sanity. Surely that’s worth just as much as the most perfectly written poem or beautifully composed photograph?
None of these are sentiments that are new to the world. I’m just working through some stuff.
I have been re-reading A Widow For One Year by John Irving–who of course is the writer that first helped to shape my perspective on finding humor and lunacy in sorrow–and I came across a paragraph that today happened to hit me right where I live.
“I’m a comic novelist,” I will doubtless say at some point; I always do. Half the audience (and more than half of my fellow panelists) will take this to mean that I am not a serious novelist. But comedy is ingrained. A writer doesn’t choose to be comic. You can choose a plot, or not to have one. You can choose your characters. But comedy is not a choice; it just comes out that way.
“Holy shit,” I said today as I read that.
I have always been a person of humor. But I have also always struggled with self-acceptance and a need for external validation. So reconciling the two…it’s work.
My first book, I would get distressed when people would mention that it had funny moments or when they would call it a rom-com. I’d be sitting there thinking, no, wait, why aren’t you taking me seriously as a writer, if you tell people it’s a comedy they won’t take me seriously, because when it came to myself, I didn’t think funny was good. I felt somehow that people were diminishing me as a writer when they would point out the funny parts of the book.
So here I am, a person who enjoys comedy over all other art forms, but who gets upset when people praise my own comedy, because I have come to think that I’m only valid as a person when I am taken seriously as an artist…I mean, you see the circle-jerk of horror I’ve been sitting through, here, right?
Book two, I eased up and let the line play out a little, and I relaxed. That one, it really was a rom-com, and honestly, I’m pleased with it. There are so many funny moments in it that I enjoyed writing. I think my favorite is a scene near the end in Sarita’s apartment, it’s screwball ensemble madness and I love it to death.
And now, book three. Book three, which has been written during my phase of what is basically hero-worship for the comedy of the Ylvisåker brothers and for that of Rachel Bloom (you know, the genius behind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Book three, the child of my Richard Curtis-loving heart and mind. Book three, or as I like to think of it, The One Where I Figured Out The Key To Great Comedy Is To Be Fearless.
I don’t think I’ve untied all the restraints, but I keep laughing as I clean up my manuscript, and that can’t be bad. Maybe I will be the only person who finds half of this stuff funny, who knows. I’m just saying, my comedy heroes are a pair of dudes who wrote a club song about animal noises that was supposed to fail but inexplicably hit big, and a woman who has been running a musical joke about period sex through the entire second season of her television show and also wrote a song about fucking Ray Bradbury. Plus and also the guy who brought us Hugh Grant dancing through Number 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters.
I can’t in all honesty say I’m that rip-roaringly hilarious, filthy, or inappropriate (in this book…I have plans for the future though). I can say I am making an earnest effort to embrace my funny as the beautiful thing that it is, and also that I will not apologize for the sheep-banging jokes.
What? Huh? Nothing.
Comedy is art, damn it. I love it and appreciate it for the greatness that it is in others, and it’s past time I came to love it in myself.
Well, that sounded dirty.
I should probably go now.