Monday, June 04, 2012

You Write Funny One Day



Tell me if you think this is a funny story:


David had dogs growing up.
They lived in the country.
The dogs gave birth.
Using the oven, his mother saved one of the litter.
The first parent dog ran away.
Eventually, the other parent died.


Humor writers are one of the joys of this Earth.

One of the funniest I know of is David Sedaris. I know I'm not the only one who thinks this; he's extremely popular. Reading and listening to his stuff, I had this half-baked idea in the back of my mind that he had a really funny life.

Recently, I got to hear a story he read on one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. The episode, In Dog We Trust, featured the story, which is from his collection Me Talk Pretty Someday. Here's a bit from the transcript:

"In the early 1960s, during what my mother referred to as "the tail end of the Lassie years," my parents were given two collies, which they named Rastus and Duchess. We were living then in New York State, out in the country, and the dogs were free to race through the forest. They napped in meadows and stood knee-deep in frigid streams, costars in their own private dog food commercial.     Late one January evening, while lying on a blanket in the garage, Duchess gave birth to a litter of slick, potato-sized puppies. When it looked as though one of them had died, our mother placed the creature in a casserole dish and popped it into the oven, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.     "Oh, keep your shirts on," she said. "It's only set on 150. I'm not baking anyone. This is just to keep it warm."
     The heat revived the sick puppy and left us believing that our mother was capable of resurrecting the dead. Faced with the responsibilities of fatherhood, Rastus took off. The puppies were given away, and we moved south, where the heat and humidity worked against the best interests of a collie. Duchess's once beautiful coat now hung in ragged patches. When finally, full of worms, she collapsed in the ravine beside our house, we reevaluated our mother's healing powers. The entire animal kingdom was beyond her scope. She could only resurrect the cute dead."
Funny, right?

If you want to hear the story, or indeed the whole episode, which is wonderful, check it out here (it's about an hour long). I'll wait:

Sedaris's Storyhttp://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/154/in-dog-we-trust?act=1
The Whole Episode: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/154/in-dog-we-trust

This time, listening to Sedaris, I tried to really pay attention. Did he have an extraordinarily funny life, or was it just his talent to write in a funny way about things that could happen to everyone?

For the most part it's the latter, and this is good news for you.

Take a look at the bit above. What are the facts?

He had dogs growing up.
They lived in the country.
The dogs gave birth.
Using the oven, his mother saved one of the litter.
The first parent dog ran away.
Eventually, the other parent died.

Not funny at all. In fact, it sounds kind of sad, and a normal person might never think that this might be good fodder for a funny story. But Sedaris makes it hilarious.

This is cause for hope for aspiring writers. Key to writing funny stories (be they in novels, short stories, blog entries, dinner conversations, tweets, or facebook status updates) is finding a funny angle on something that probably felt unfunny when it happened.

Now, if you are a writer or hope to be one, you might start doing things because they will make a good story. I try to do this now too, and I bet Sedaris did as well.

But even without an outrageous life, you can make it funny for your readers. Good luck.

Pictured: English Cocker Spaniel Puppy. From Wikimedia Commons.

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