Nobody Loves Humor Writers

To the Literary Set, humor writers are one step above greeting card poets in the literature hierarchy.  We are categorized as next-to-lowest of the low, among the dregs of the literary world.  I’m not making this up.

I am a survivor of several creative writing workshops at the university where I work.  We were expected to worship at the altar of “literary” writers and to aspire to the great heights they had achieved.  Aiming for laughs was not considered a proper goal.  I managed to pull “As” in all of my fiction workshop classes, despite the fact that my professors were aghast when I turned in lighthearted stories about a woman who switches places with her cat, a genie in a bottle and a ghost haunting a New York City brownstone.

My university doesn’t even offer workshops in humor writing.  For that I had to turn to the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.[1]  It felt good, finally, to be studying how to be funny in words, with an instructor who encouraged being funny for the sake of being funny.  I still haven’t gotten over it.

Pointing out to literary snobs that Mark Twain and James Thurber wrote great literature, even though they were humorists, won’t make the snobs change their minds.  They might reluctantly grant some attention to David Sedaris, but if you dare mention to them that you read Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry and that you couldn’t put Tina Fey’s Bossypants down they will look at you as if you are an illiterate Philistine.

So we humor writers plug along, doing the kind of writing we like to do best, and thumbing our noses at the “serious” literary establishment.

We have to keep the following in mind:

  1. The literary snobs don’t know what they’re missing.  Most of them don’t have the chops to do what we do, anyway, because …
  2. It takes a special talent to write funny.  Really.  I’m not kidding.
  3. If we are suffering in some way, we can use it.  The same kind of miserable shit that inspires great “literary” works can be put to use to make people laugh.
  4. Writing good humor is just as hard as any other kind of work.  If people are falling on the floor laughing while reading our work, it probably means that we spent hours over it, editing and re-editing, carefully choosing every word, positioning every sentence for maximum impact, then re-reading the final version a day or so later, just to realize that it isn’t as funny as it seemed to be while we were writing it.

So we plug along, forgotten and forlorn, and hope that we give people some entertainment along the way.

[1] It’s a good school.   You can find it here:

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8 thoughts on “Nobody Loves Humor Writers”

  1. Thankfully, I’ve never seen myself as a writer. Still, I think one of the requirements for being a snob is to have no sense of humor, well, that and to have a stick implanted. I won’t say were the stick goes, but I’m sure you can guess. God, can you imagine going through life with no sense of humor? Man, what would be the point of it? Oh well, maybe one day they’ll find a cure, or at least pull the stick out. Just say’n. 🙂

    1. The funny thing is, many of the writers and writing instructors who seem to think that humorists are third-class writers DO have a good sense of humor. They just don’t think it’s a very “artistic” thing to devote your time and energy trying to create.

      Most of these are fine writers who admit that they really suck at writing funny stuff. As I said, writing humor takes a special talent. If you don’t have the knack for it, it’s hard to develop it.

  2. This is one of the best articles I’ve read about snobbery in the literary set and their inability to appreciate humor writers. Number 3 is on the money. I have friends who have totally ignored my work yet pontificate endlessly about writers who drone on about their lousy childhoods, illness, broken fingernails, etcetera in their self-serving novels. Bravo Kathy and bravo to the humor writers of the world!

  3. The snobs are those who try so hard for the laugh and never get one. The thing about humor is if it is forced, it’s not funny. The same way people cannot sing opera like you no matter how hard they try, they couldn’t write humor either. I have met many people who say, “People tell me I am so funny that I should write, but I don’t have time.” What they are really saying is, “I might be funny in speech but I can’t translate that to writing.” It is a difficult genre, and the literary snobs are not that important tous anyway.

  4. Outstanding article, but I disagree with your title. Many people love to read humor and therefore love humor writers. The heck with the literary snobs you refer to. There are snobs like that in other things I like too such as wine and art. I don’t really care about a wine rating of 92 or other things that serve to inflate the price, I like finding a wine I like at a reasonable price. As long as I like it that is all that matters to me. The same is true of art, I could go to an expensive gallery but I’d rather go to a “starving artists” show in some hotel and find something I like.

    That’s why I love this site, there is great stuff posted every day. There are too many great humor writers on this site to try to name them all. Sure I like some more than others but on any given day if I have to read more than 2 articles to get my first good laugh on this site that is a lot. Is everything put up here great? No, not to me or anyone I suspect, but just because I don’t like a piece doesn’t mean somebody else won’t, likewise just because I like one doesn’t mean everybody will.

    Humor writers, if you feel unloved, forget about it! There are people out there that love your work and your words, experts be damned!

  5. Amen, sister. This is why — even though I doubt she’ll win — I am giddy over Kristin Wiig’s Oscar writing nomination. Dying is easy; comedy is hard — as they say.

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