Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Westside Writer's Schmooze Brings The Funny

Wea Culpa! We apologize for the lateness of this post, but after mercilessly berating you all at the last Schmooze to be sure to read our blog posts, we both became terrified that you actually would! The idea of having an audience froze us in our tracks and it was only the terror of facing you without having done our work that got us moving again.

 Here, then, is… The COMEDY TONIGHT Schmooze Recap:

The evening got started with a little, well, humor –

Charlie: “Hey Karol, how many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
Karol: “(sighs)… I knew you were going to screw up the joke.”

Okay, so after the flubbed opening joke and after Karol’s usual annoying, guilt-inducing announcements of all the really cool and useful and rewarding contests and SCBWI things (check 'em out HERE) that you’re not gonna do, even though you know you should be doing them and that if you were doing them you’d not only feel better but actually be better off, and THIS is why your family is right that you have no discipline and will never amount to anything, but who are they to judge, anyway— half of them are drunks and the other half puritanical self-satisfied prigs—really, it’s enough to make a person take to his bed, and since you’re under the weather like this, how can anyone expect you to go to SCBWI events anyway…

Where were we? Right! After announcements came introductions…and this month we asked Schmoozers to also name a favorite funny book. Man-oh-man, did our “to read” piles grow in the time it took to go around the room. Here’s just a taste of the fabulous funny fiction the Schmoozers mentioned:

  • I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil/M.T. Anderson
  • Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging/Louise Rennison
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts/Gennifer Choldenko
  • Pete the Cat /Eric Litwin & James dean
  • I Was a Teenage Dwarf/Max Shulman
  • The Stupids Die/Harry G. Allard Jr. & James Marshall
  • Harry the Dirty Dog/Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham
  • Me Speak Pretty One Day/David Sedaris
  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams

After the intros, we got down to the business of the night:  comedy.

What is comedy? Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke.
—Steve Martin

Charlie began the hilarity by telling the story of putting his dog Andre to sleep. Specifically, he discussed how bad he’d felt and how his pain was relieved by a Louis C.K. bit he’d seen shortly thereafter about the same thing. Charlie argued that for comedy to be really funny, it needs to be rooted in reality and pain. He claimed that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was funny because it was brutally honest about middle school, and that The Office, while often hilarious, was actually the saddest show on television, rooted in broken dreams and lost hope.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
—Erma Bombeck

There was some debate.  Karol led the charge, along with other Schmoozers, asserting that there are plenty of things, like Captain Underpants and Charlie’s own favorite picture book The Silly Book by Stoo Hample, that are funny precisely because they aren’t heavy, or reality based, but are about silliness, lightness, and fantastic juxtapositions. 

Faced with the Schmoozers well-considered rebuttals, Charlie did the sensible, mature thing and changed the subject.

Comedy is very controlling—you are making people laugh.  It is there in the phrase “making people laugh.”  You feel completely in control when you hear a wave of laughter coming back at you that you have caused.         —Gilda Radner

We went on to discuss technical stuff—tropes and tricks to help the comically impaired:

K’s are funny. P’s are funny. H’s and N’s, not so much.

Odd numbers are funnier than even.

Pickles are funny—they have a P and are phallic. In fact, as the room agreed, anything phallic is funny, including phalluses themselves.

The Rule of 3: Three is the smallest number that forms a pattern and, as such, it creates a classic comic rhythm. Almost every joke has its punch on the third beat. Our new resident comedienne pointed out that this extends to comedy acts themselves. Almost every performer has a punch line that is returned to three times to give their act a structure and spine.

Know Where You Put The Punch. It’s important to give the reader a place to laugh; an actual punch. As a rule it’s at the end of sentences, though sometimes writers place it in the middle to make it seem accidental, like found humor. The important thing is to know where you put it.

Don’t put a joke on a joke. Two jokes cancel each other out. If your setup is funny and wacky, you punch line will feel forced. However a wacky setup may be all you need. Witness the scene in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, which describes Charlie’s old grandparents who never rose from bed. There is no specific punch line here, but the scene itself is hilarious.

At this point, Charlie and Karol ran out of things they’d Googled.

I don’t want to gain immortality by my humor.
I want to gain it by not dying.
—Woody Allen

Thankfully, the Schmoozers were in excellent form, with many new attendees (including a very funny comedienne) who added a lot to the evening’s discussion.

Eventually, we got to the really fun part of the night - sharing and deconstructing our favorite funny passages.  Here are some we remember:

Karol read from Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens 
and Chris Crutcher's King of the Mild Frontier: 
An Ill-Advised Autobiography.

Charlie read from The Silly Book 
by Stoo Hample.

Another new schmoozer read a hilarious 
bit from I Was A Teenage Dwarf by Max 
Shullman, the writer who created Dobie Gillis.

Longtime Schmoozer Greg Pincus, an author 
himself of a hilarious new ebook, The Late Bird, 
read Crowded Tub by Shel Silverstein (read it here).

Karol also passed on “the 7 different types of humor” (according to Erik Deckers’ Laughing Stalk blog):

Farce: Exaggerated comedy. Characters in a farce get themselves into an unlikely or improbable situation that takes a lot of footwork and fast talking to get out of.

Dark: Humor about the gross, violent, and otherwise depressing things in life; also called Black Comedy (think M*A*S*H). “Gallows Humor” is similar to dark humor, but the victim is the source of the comedy.

Screwball: Humor based on a misunderstanding, such as mistaken identities, taking an overheard piece of conversation out of context, etc.

Slapstick: Physical humor. Lots of pratfalls, falling, being hit on the head, etc.

Parody: People often confuse this with satire, but the two are completely different. Parody mocks or makes fun of an original work of art.

Satire: Satire is basically making fun of or ridiculing human follies and shortcomings, hopefully in the hopes of causing improvement.

Dry: Dry humor is a deadpan style of humor, that not-very-funny joke your uncle the cost analysis accountant tells.

What if you tell a joke in the forest, and nobody laughs?  Was it a joke?
— Steven Wright

That pretty much wrapped up our Comedy Tonight discussion…except wait! We’ve forgotten possibly the most essential comedy element: The Callback.

Charlie: “Hey, Karol. Wasn’t there some question you wanted to ask me?”
Karol: “There was! How many writers dose it take to change a light bulb?”
Charlie: “(haughtily) What is it about the light bulb that you think needs changing?!?”


That’s it for us!  

Keep passing the open windows.
Charlie & Karol


  1. Funny post! And funny Schmooze!


  2. This post is so late...
    How late was it?
    Early Squirrel

  3. I hope I'm not too late to comment—funny stuff! Thanks for the recap, but you never answered the question. How many writers does it take—because I have some burned out lightbulbs here and I don't know if I have enough writers on hand to change them.

    In the dark,

  4. A fine post, deserving of brownies, which I can smell baking even as I type.

    Oh, and I'm delighted to remain a "New Schmoozer" after lo, these many months!

    -- FrooniumRicky

    1. That was all Charlie's fault. I thought it was you who had read the Teenage Dwarf book....and I know you and Cheryl have been coming for awhile. Dang it!

  5. Taking a brownie-baking break to blog and browse the internets. Was the schmooze as funny as your blog? You've each earned caffinated calories tonight.


    1. NEVER too late...especially if you're banking my brownie pie!

  6. High-larious!!! You had me at "Wea Culpa."

    I have carefully filed my notes from this Schmooze and put many funny books on hold. Thanks!

    And the callback at the end--brilliant.