Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones. This one is from 5 years ago.

People often ask me what it's like to be a humor writer. It's very simple. So simple, in fact, that. . . uhh, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard, hard work. So hard, in fact, that only extremely intelligent, highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt humor writing.

Humor writers should be placed on pedestals and revered by society. They should be honored with parades, awarded medals, and have deli sandwiches and fancy coffee drinks named after them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Okay, I am saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Humor writing has a reputation of being a "lesser" art form. Since humor is supposed to be funny, it's not taken as seriously as other forms of writing or entertainment.

It's not as noble as novel writing, even though most novels have all the emotional depth of a high school prom. Newspaper editors rank us higher than the comics and lower than Dear Abby in terms of respectability.

Even celebrities who try their hand at children's writing look down on us. This is unfortunate, since the only reason they're writing children's books is because they can't read the big words in grown-up books.

We don't even get the same respect as clowns in a parade. Instead, we're held in the same regard as the guy who follows the horses with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Or, as one of my fellow humor writers once said, "we're the bastard children of opinion writers."

But what these so-called "real" journalists fail to understand is that no one talks about them. Or if they do, it's in derogatory terms.

When people complain about "the media" and all the negative or biased coverage that goes with it, they're not talking about us.

They're talking about those journalists wearing wrinkled clothes that are two years out of fashion, notebooks clutched in their sweaty hands, eagerly waiting for the next big scoop. They're talking about those people who said Al Gore won Florida before changing their minds and saying it was George Bush. They're talking about those reporters who make up entire stories and plagiarize from other writers.

People will stand around the water cooler and say, "Did you read today's Dave Barry? I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself."

They don't say, "Did you read today's David Broder column? I furrowed my brow so hard I nearly wet myself."

When someone says "David Broder," other people don't shout, "Ooooh, I love him! Hey, do you remember his column on Bill Clinton and Whitewater?!"

When someone says "Dave Barry," other people reminisce about their favorite Dave Barry columns, like the one about misunderstood song lyrics, making homebrewed beer, or taking his dog outside to pee.

If anything, humor writers have a harder job than other writers, because not only do we have to come up with 750 words on a certain subject (or 550 if you're a pansy), we also have to make our readers laugh. Newspaper writers are considered successful if their readers finish an entire article, while novelists just have to make everything seem depressing and interesting at the same time.

"Mildred sighed and slowly pushed away from the table. Things hadn't been the same since Barry left. As she cleared the dinner dishes, each clink of the plates was a nagging reminder that she had left some unfinished business in the city: getting the blood off her grandfather's antique watch."

But even with our lack of respect, we're still expected to be entertaining at all hours of the day. People think we wake up funny, and don't quit until bedtime.

"You're a humor writer? Say something funny," someone once said to me on the phone.

"It doesn't work that way. You can't just say something funny out of the blue."

"No, really. Say something funny."

I sighed and said the first thing that popped into my head: "Doody."

"You're not that funny," he said, and hung up.

I'd like to say I went to his house and put a flaming bag of dog poo on his porch, but I didn't. I wish I could say that I lectured him on the great contributions that humorists have made throughout history, but I didn't. I wish I had called him back and told him the funniest joke in the world, but I didn't even do that.

Instead, I sharpened my writing skills, honed my craft, and studied everything I could on the creation of effective humor. And I'm left with one unassailable truth about humor writing that every aspiring writer should know.

The word "doody" is hilarious.

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