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. 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:
- 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 …
- It takes a special talent to write funny. Really. I’m not kidding.
- 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.
- 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.