"Son Of The Invisible Man"

>> Thursday, August 02, 2012

I was trying to write a thing about the Jonah Lehrer affair. The impulse was to put a bunch of words from great or famous lit in his mouth--Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Mark Twain--and then top it off with a bunch of quotes from my own old posts as a tribute to Lehrer's habit of re-selling his old stuff to new buyers, recycling his own material or "self-plagiarizing" (as lots of people described it, though I feel I have to put quotes around it just because I'm not really convinced you can plagiarize yourself, even if double-dipping your commercial material seems like Really Bad Form).

It just wasn't funny, was the thing. And I wondered if it technically bordered on libelous, though I think I was mostly in safely satiric waters. The bigger crime was the first thing, though, regardless: it simply was a lousy joke. Lots of work to set up, hardly any payoff; I was even getting bored trying to write it, which is a pretty sure sign something isn't working.

A decent funny piece is one that cracks you up. This isn't confined to trying to write funny, I don't think: you're on to something really horrific if you feel bad writing it down on paper, I think. If your sad scene makes you sad, there's a good chance it really is sad. I'm not saying it has to be that way; it's more like that's just a sign, I think, pointing that you're heading the right way with what you're trying to put across.

Anyway. It didn't work. You get Amazon Women On The Moon instead.

I was reminded of the segment when a friend mentioned Ed Begley, Jr. on Facebook. This is one of Begley's finest moments (there's also his recurring character on Arrested Development and his various contributions to Spinal Tap, including a cameo as Stumpy Pepys and a part in a related short the boys made about a fictitious cheese festival). It was worth sharing. I hope you got a laugh out of it. (You certainly wouldn't have gotten one out of the piece I gave up on.)


John Healy Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:59:00 AM EDT  

Humor just has to be a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. Cracking someone up isn't as important as hitting hard enough to crack the blue wall. Just drop those metaphors in the food processor, thanks.
So, a joke has to be funny, but that's it. Crack a smile, chuckle, giggles, all good.
I'm not saying your self-edit was wrong, it could have been heroic. Humor shouldn't scare people, or nauseate them, or cause them to seek a legal opinion.
(I segued from "Streets of Fire" to Mingus, and now am a bit discombobulated my self.)
My point is Any joke in a storm, there Eric. Just be funny. It's better to screw up here than IRL.

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