People, I’m Serious About Comedy Here

Here’s a possible topic to write about: Why is life so hideously difficult? Has anyone written on that yet? I mean, if you ignore Grapes of Wrath and Anna Karenina and House of Mirth and…whatever else has been published.

Just as an aside regarding the nature of existence, I sure am tired of being beaten up and left for dead. Who was I in a previous life—Hitler? But I suppose some happy person could tell me how good my life is, all I have to be grateful for, like beautiful fresh leaf lettuce from my garden. Actually, I am grateful for that, although there are several major existential issues that I could use some luck on, and I’d even be willing to switch to eating iceberg lettuce if that would help create a cosmic balance.

In theory, just because they’re human, I assume that even Bill Gates and Donald Trump have their worries and bad moment. OK, I’m not entirely sure about the “human” thing with Donald Trump, but even so, I bet he has bad days. He just doesn’t have bad days that involve lack of money, power, or success. Everybody on the planet can tell you stories about how hard their life is now, or a time when they felt that it was.

I think this has two implications for writing comedy. And damn it, they’re both bad implications, too. What else is new?

So bad implication number one is that we will never take comedy as…um…seriously as we do tragedy. Maybe I should say that we will never regard comedy with the same respect. This is because comedy, while we may appreciate it, even love it, as a relief from life, is not perceived as being about life. Even 2,500 years ago in describing human nature, Aristotle said that most things turn out badly. So if the basic nature of life is bad, then literature that meaningfully says something about our real existence probably cannot be funny. And you know, people will practically wet their pants in excitement over books so bleak you just want to kill yourself after you read them. I name no names, but you know who you are, Cormac.

Bad implication number two about comedy writing is that it’s hard as hell to do it. Because life really is hard, and boring, and often sad, and too often tragic, it’s not that hard to describe unhappy things. Any hack can do it. The writing may not be good, but we can tell it’s a tragedy. To make people laugh or smile, the writer has to go against the way we often feel. To make it even harder, no one can explain exactly how to do it. What makes something funny?

I can’t tell you. I’m going to go now and write a bleak novel about a guy who wakes up one day and he’s a giant cockroach. That’s a pretty grim idea, right? Surely nobody thought of that yet.


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