Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What's so funny?

My friends know that I love to laugh, so they're always recommending "hilarious" books that I'm "sure to love." But while the books pull an occasional smile out of me, hardly any of them are truly funny.

Hey, I want to laugh. I'm ready to laugh. So why is it that so few writers can make me do it?

What's really hilarious (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) is that I love writing funny things in my books and here on the blog. Some people totally get my bent sense of humor and laugh with me. Others don't. Sometimes my attempts at humor here on the blog have failed so miserably that people have taken offense, obliging me to smooth ruffled feathers by explaining that I was going for a laugh, not someone's jugular vein.

I've tried to analyze what's funny to me and what isn't. I'm crazy in love with the offbeat humor of P. G. Wodehouse, but I rarely laugh at the outrageousness of Dave Barry. Why is that? Because I picture Wodehouse shrugging and saying, "Laugh if you want. It's nothing to me." But I always feel as though Dave Barry is poking me in the ribs and saying, "C'mon, laugh! You know you want to. All the cool kids are laughing."

If you want to manipulate my laugh reflex, you're going to have to be subtle about it. If you try too hard, you'll never win my heart. But toss off a clever line and act unconcerned about my reaction and I'll take the bait every time.

What about you? What books and writers make you laugh? And more importantly, why?

13 comments:

girish said...

Vladimir Nabokov makes me laugh. In addition to all the wonderful things it is, Lolita is a hilarious book--I can never read it on the subway or on a park bench; the urge to laugh out loud is uncontrollable.
I think Nabokov is funny because he is absolutely incapable of writing a dull, ordinary line.
His way with language is so casually magical that sometimes I have to laugh in sheer amazement.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brenda, hope you don't mind if I get off the subjet abit:)
but did you get the snowball I sent you?
your country friend :)

Mirtika said...

Dave Barry has literally made me fall on the floor a time or two or more, some Harlan Ellison stories have tickled me seriously, some Connie Willis, some Esther Friesner, Douglas Adams doubled me over when I read him aeons ago, Bridget Jones' Diary and the sequel gave me stomach cramps from howling. Bob Sheckley has made me laugh. And R.A. Lafferty has produced a guffaw several times. Mmmm. Terry Pratchett.

There was a writer for Vanity Fair (I used to hunt down old issues) who made me giggle. Who was that? Benchley???

Yesterday, I reread EVEN THE QUEEN by Connie Willis for the third or fourth time, and still chuckled in bits. It's the only short story I've ever read about menstruation, and it's funny (and political).

I find the Harry Potter books have lots of stuff that makes me giggle or guffaw. Phillip Gulley's HARMONY stuff (especially JUST SHY OF HARMONY) double me over at times.

I've just gone blank. I know there are tons more, but I only slept three hours before my family arrived en masse, and I'm pooped.

Mir

Chris said...

Mir: Bill "Make Peace not Bombs" Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair. What a laff-a-minit book that was.

--Chris (dFm)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm not sucking up....but you make me laugh. I've shot more coffee out my nose onto my keyboard, than I care to think about.

Why...because it's always unexpected, like...you weren't sitting there going, "This will make them wet their pants!" You're just writing alon unaware....like the infamous 'pants'!

Marianne McA said...

I think I'm going to have to search out the books Mirtika mentioned that I haven't read, because I'm with her on those I have. The part of Bridget Jones 2 where she writes her Christmas cards always reduces me to tears of laughter, though I've no idea why. And Pratchett absolutely, though my mum doesn't see it at all. Connie Willis, J.K. Rowling, Douglas Adams - all yes.
Who hasn't been mentioned? Bill Bryson makes me laugh. Bujold's A Civil Campaign. I love Wodehouse too. I liked the Fforde books, but I think they amused me, rather than made me laugh.

Debra Hamel said...

Mil Millington's two books. He's got a third out now, but I haven't read it yet. And the latest to have me laughing aloud at least once a page was James Lileks' Mommy Knows Worst, a collection of parenting advice from the early- to mid-20th century. The home birthing center was a favorite.

By the way, everybody: Remember that Buy a Friend a Book Week starts January 1st. Time to start thinking about which friend you're going to surprise with a book this time around.

Brenda Coulter said...

Keep talking, everyone. I'm taking notes.

Girish, I've never read Nabokov, but he's been on my list for years because I've heard so many people rave about his "casually magical" prose. Thanks for the reminder.

Janice, I don't see any snowballs around here....

Chris, you make me laugh. (Heaven help me.)

Bonnie, sweetheart, you're always welcome here, but maybe you should finish your coffee before you come over.

Good grief, Debra, I just finished my Christmas shopping! I'm too tired to buy a friend a book. Remind me later, will you? ;-)

Debra Hamel said...

Well, the next BAFAB week (after January) comes first week of April. I have worried that the January BAFAB week would be the least celebrated because of the whole Christmas thing. But to that I say, STOP CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS (etc.), people!

One can dream....

Mirtika said...

How could i forget Der FM. He makes me burble all sudsy at the mouth at times.

Mir

Julana said...

People who are caught in a vulnerable position that's true to life, where no one is hurt. This happens several times in the movie "The CHristmas Story," the one where the kid wants a gun for Christmas. My husband got me interested in it.

I think there were also some good laughs in the movie "How to lose a guy in 10 days." (Or was it two weeks?)

If I remember right, there were also some laughs in Jan Karon's Mitford books.

Dave Barry does not make me laugh, because he's all humor. Humor has to be added onto the real difficulties of life to be really funny. It's not the main course. It's unexpected.

"I can't believe s/he did that!"
or, "That is so true!" are the roots of it, for me, I think.

I found the sitcom Coach hilarious. I like real people.

Camy Tang said...

Kristin Billerbeck's books make me laught, but other people have said she doesn't tickle their funnybone, and yet other people say she's writing about a totally irreverant, un-Christian heroine, so maybe I shouldn't listen to other people.

Less well known is Penny Culliford's THEODORA'S DIARY. Oooh, man, I haven't howled so hard in a while. Very British humor, so lots of reviews said they just didn't get it.

I also adored SAHM I AM by Meredith Efken. That's the best modern tongue-in-cheek I've read yet. There's so much that's NOT said. It's also an email format novel, which is a format that people either love or hate.

Camy

Katie Hart said...

I don't find many books humorous, and tend to forget the ones that do make me laugh, but a few authors stick out - Brad Whittington and Ray Blackston. I found Billerbeck's style more smile than laugh-inducing.