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Stomach Turner

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“You remind me of Lana Turner’s sister,” my dad would say to me. “Stomach Turner.”

“I put your school picture up to keep the roaches away,” he said every year.

And “If you’re lucky, one day you’ll be as good-looking as me.”

Not everyone finds the same joke funny. My friends thought my dad was awesome. But what about humor in writing? I think some of my characters are funny even though I do not set out to be funny. I can’t write jokes. But what about you? How much humor is in your writing? How much humor do you like in what you read? Do you think laughs are easy or hard?

What are the funniest books you’ve ever read?

10 thoughts on “Stomach Turner

  1. Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys” is flat out funny, so is his “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” Not to forget Michael Malone’s “Foolscap,” nor, for that matter, Richard Russo’s “Straight Man” or his “Nobody’s Fool.” There is a wonderful streak of humor throughout Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America,” as well as Pam Houston’s “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” Some of Tim Gatreaux’s stories are funny,so are his dedications

    I believe there is somewhere in everything I write a place where humor wants to get out and act up, particularly in the short stories, even the more lugubrious ones. A story without humor is like suddenly removing all barbecues from Texas.

    As for your questions, I like humor in reading or writing. The only time humor doesn’t come is when I take myself too seriously, but the payoff is that I can later get even by writing about my serious self, which is pretty funny.

  2. I can’t tell jokes, I can’t write jokes. I have a terrible memory for funny, I can’t even tell you which books it was that had me laughing out loud.

    I find humor in lots of things, and I think I have a dry, wry sense of humor, but I am often surprised when people laugh at what I say or write. They do it enough so that I realize I can be funny. I guess I’m not trying, though. I just look at things in a way that is slightly off kilter, and that is often funny.

  3. I like what Shelly says.

    You ever notice how villains and rogues and scoundrels are often so much more interesting than heroes or just plain old protagonists? The page suddenly comes alive when they’re on it. Part of the reason, I think, is that they’re often damned funny, even in the bleakest, least-funny stories. They’ve got sly wits, wicked invective streaks, and even if it’s the smile of a shark it’s a smile, darn it.

    There was a time when I aspired to be taken seriously and imagined this meant I must write seriously. Boy, did I ever get that wrong — not just for my stories’ sake, but for my own comfort level.

  4. I think humor in writing takes a special talent. I have done it on occasion, but I’m not sure I know what I’m doing when I do it. The first time I read “Fried Green Tomatoes” I laughed so hard. I am re-reading it now, and I forgot how talented a writer she is, though I’m not laughing like I was the first time. Just in awe of her talent. I also laughed out loud reading “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson…at least the first half of the book. Of course, that is non-fiction, and I think it’s funny because he’s writing about two unlikely people who try to walk the Appalachian Trial. When you put two incongruous things together, it usually makes for something funny.

  5. Humor is subjective. If I talk about the police finding a murdered child, there will be nearly universal agreement on the sadness and tragedy of that situation. If I say I saw a guy slip on a banana peel, some will snicker while others will wonder if he got hurt.

    I didn’t used to think of myself as a funny person, but I’m cultivating a sense for it. Much of humor has to do with juxtaposing two unlikely situations against each other and trying to determine a reasonable outcome.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Christopher Moore lately (Lamb, You Suck, A Dirty Job), and he makes me laugh so hard I cry and can’t catch my breath. After I finish a particularly amusing passage, I go back and tear it apart to find out what made me laugh. It is a blend of believable circumstances and commentary that somehow become contrived into a bizarre – and typically funny – moment of the story. It is the word choice, the tone, and as always, the timing.

  6. Shelly, if you removed all the barbecues from Texas, it would collapse on itself. Without barbecue we might be known only for George Bush–and we don’t want that.

    writtenwrydd, I read your blog. I’ve seen your sense of humor and it is quite nice.

    rowena, well, as long as you aren’t trying to be funny, you probably are. Few things are as painful to watch as the person trying too hard.

    JES, don’t we always like what Shelly says? I hope some of my good guy characters are funny. I don’t want the bad guys to have all the fun.

    shelli, Bryson makes me laugh too. And Julia Sweeney. Her book God said, “Ha!” made me laugh myself silly.

    Kim, timing is everything, they say.

  7. BTW, I’ve been thinking about this post. I’ve been thinking especially about Shakespeare, and I’ve been thinking about him especially in the context of Othello.

    In the 1980s sometime, in another life, I had the great good fortune to see James Earl Jones as Othello and Christopher Plummer as Iago, on Broadway. I’d read the play before and hear a recording of it, but that performance left me flabbergasted. And in retrospect, aside from the work itself, all I could think of was how much fun it must have been for WS to write Iago’s part. “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe”: if I’d written that line, I’d have laughed aloud, delighted with myself, and probably clapped too, and run down to the tavern to tell Marlowe, Jonson, et al. all about it. Iago is such a SLEAZE, y’know? Nothing at all admirable about him. Irredeemable. But damn is he funny.

    (Ditto any of a half-dozen characters in The Sopranos.)

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