On Trying to Write Comedy

May 19, 2012

Chalk drawing courtesy of my daughter.

Writing comedy is difficult because it requires imposing structure on something that, by its nature, rejects the killjoy that is form. Although I’m an amateur in the field, I do know that caging the anarchic gag can crush the spontaneity and gambolling good humour that are the very essence of funniness. And before you know it, everyone hates you.

Shared laughter, or what I’ll call “organic humour”, develops its own tone and tempo as the hilarity mounts. It’s regulated by quips and cues that provide fodder for the next round of merriment. Cold glares and general discomfort also tell you when you’ve gone too far. Pre-meditated humour is deprived of any such social hand-holding, and often suffers for it. A lot of written comedy (especially the “fake news” piece; see below) simply tries too hard, straining the credulity of even the basest parody. Though I wouldn’t make it a general rule, it’s probably wisest to err on the side of subtlety. Meet the reader half-way. Let him believe that you’re sharing your joke. Which is what you’re doing. There’s nothing unethical about it.

I can offer no help when it comes to determining what is funny, but I do recommend that you attempt to write something that you yourself might find amusing. I say “might” because, really, who among us is fortunate enough to laugh at his own jokes?

I hope you enjoy the following, which you can also find posted at http://thewindsornaysayer.com/2012/05/14/reader-submission-scandal-erupts-at-university-of-windsor/.

As always, comments and criticism are welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Calvin

Image

Scandal Erupts at University of Windsor

Shame-faced officials at the University of Windsor are scrambling to provide plausible cover stories in the wake of yesterday’s discovery that the school’s writer in residence does not exist. At a hastily convened meeting last night, representatives of the English department provided a muddled if eloquent defence, effectively deflecting all questions put to them by answering in fluent Middle English.

Meanwhile, a spirited offensive by the Cultural Studies department placed the blame for what they called “unforgivable neglecticism” squarely at the feet of “a phallocratic system whose goal is to otherize the marginalized, even if that means driving someone into a state of non-existence.” Asked to “unpack” this statement, professor David Brett sighed and insisted that “you find your own damned axis of oppression.”

Out on the quad, students appeared largely oblivious to the scandal. Alice James, a third-year Linguistics student, said, “I always dismissed the writer in residence as a kind of joke, like maybe the fraternities were behind it. No one really believed there was an actual writer on campus. We all just played along, like you would with Santa Claus, or the Queen.”

The matter was brought to the attention of campus police yesterday morning, when sophomore Michelle Summers, following numerous failed attempts to reach the writer in residence by e-mail and telephone, decided to drop in unannounced. At this point, she made a shocking discovery. “The student handbook lists the office of the Writer in Residence as room 448 Dillon Hall, but Dillon Hall is only a three-storey building.” According to Summers, the news “went viral”, and has already been re-tweeted twice. “This is totally going on my resume,” she said.

When contacted by the Naysayer, Sergeant Charlotte Green of the Windsor Police said, “I can’t really say if this is a criminal matter. I’d much prefer to chalk the whole thing up to stupidity, but we can’t be so dismissive when academia is involved. That university has a Law school, and it’s a breeding ground for hungry lawyers just waiting to sink their pro bono teeth into something close to home.”

Ruth Taylor, Director of the Writer in Residence program, expressed mock dismay at the news that her pet scribe did not exist. “I’m shocked,” she said, “but not appalled. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. And at least we have a Writer in Residence program. There are many schools which, in fact, do not.”

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4 Responses to “On Trying to Write Comedy”

  1. Chris said

    I agree with your analysis, although I have to admit that I am often at my most funny when I am dead serious…oh well.

  2. Nella said

    The bit about “…just playing along like you would with the Queen” killed me! This was very entertaining to read. Funny, but a more subtle kind of humour which comedy lacks nowadays. Good job Mr. Calvin Campbell! Looking forward to reading more of your work- That is, If you actually exist.

    • Thanks for the kind comments, Nella. I’m pretty sure that I exist, though only as a shadow of my former self. Have you been working on your writing? I’d be happy to look anything over if you’re looking for feedback.

      Calvin

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