by Betty Thomason Owens
Humorous fiction: novels and stories written in a comical and amusing manner. I heard humor defined as “playful incongruity.” Incongruity – out of keeping with expectations. Off-kilter, unexpected–slapstick–something that takes you completely by surprise.
I love the stories that make you laugh out loud in the middle of a paragraph, whether it’s the genteel humor of Austen’s Emma, or the warm family humor of Bunker’s Cheaper By the Dozen. I relish in a classic turn of phrase like, “I should as soon call her mother a wit.” –Darcy’s haughty come back in Pride and Prejudice.
Many works like these contain humor, but are not classified as humorous fiction. More blatant humor is found in Keillor’s Lake Wobegone Days, Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, or anything by Mark Twain. Even Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and E.M. Forster’s Room With a View, would qualify as out-and-out humor. Of Wilde’s Earnest, it was said, “…Wilde’s most brilliant tour de force, a witty and buoyant comedy of manners that has delighted millions…”
And speaking of incongruity, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe–is silliness intensified by the outlandish setting.
Oh, and I cannot overlook Morgenstern’s classic, The Princess Bride. Can anyone who has ever seen the movie or read the book forget such a story? I hear it quoted everywhere and in the most unexpected moments.
Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!
Is it just silliness, then, that makes a story humorous? No, I don’t think so. It’s the humorous situations expertly fitted into the story, kind of like real life, that makes us laugh and nod. Yes, we can imagine that happening. It’s turning life into entertainment. There’s nothing so endearing as a bungling hero or heroine, because it makes them real. We can identify with them. They’re no longer on a pedestal, they’re fallible and well, human.
Speaking of human, a long time ago, before radio, television, and internet–you know, long, long ago–there was the practice of storytelling. It started out as a means of keeping an oral history, but as often happens, someone embellished the original story. Or just completely made it up. And American folklore is brimming with humor.
Tall tales like the stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, and Casey Jones, just to name a few. What do they have in common? They’re all a part of American folklore, and they have all been immortalized by Walt Disney. Disney, himself is a folk hero, is he not? Bigger than life. Many happy moments of my childhood were whiled away, watching The Wonderful World of Disney.
Do you aspire to write humor? I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, and I wonder if it’s unintentional at times. After all, the funniest things in life are often accidental. Slipping on a banana peel, or tracking toilet paper out of the bathroom and down the hall of your workplace, in direct view of everyone. A while back, I read a book by Patsy Clairmont. Have you ever attended a conference and heard her speak? Life situations turned in to out-and-out comedy. Liz Curtis Higgs is adept at this also. I laughed so hard at one of her conferences, I needed a visit to the little girls’ room.
And then you have pure genius like my favorite humorist of all time, Erma Bombeck. Yes, I wanted to be Erma Bombeck when I grew up. I loved her humor, her voice, her demeanor–the combination stole my breath and expelled it in belly-laughter. Her books conjured memories of her expressions. I heard her voice through the words on paper. She was funny. She was a gift, who brought us merriment and made us forget our troubles for a moment.
And that, I think, is what humor is all about.
Writing Prompt–finish the following paragraph, showing how even the most polished of professionals can be tripped up…
After one last glance in the bathroom mirror, Eloise straightened her shoulders and strode purposefully down the long hall toward the boardroom, where the CEO and other members of the board waited to interview her. She turned the knob, opened the door, and stepped inside…