Friday, July 10, 2015

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

Erik is out of the office this week, but he's doing a humor reading this coming Friday, so we're reprinting a 2004 column about humor writing.

I'm often asked what it's like to be a humor writer. Humor writing is simple. So simple, in fact, that — er, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard work. So hard, in fact, that only highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt it at all.

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

Actually, that's totally why I'm saying that.

Humor is considered the "lesser" art form in literary circles. Other writers think we're clowns who don't take our craft seriously. Since humor makes people laugh, it must not be as serious as other forms of writing.

We're not considered as high-minded as novelists, even though many novels are just navel-gazing games of "who can make the awards committee cry harder." Meanwhile, newspaper editors respect us only slightly more than the comics and less than Dear Abby.
That's nearly 14 years of newspaper columns.
I've been doing it for over 20 years now.

Even celebrities who take a stab at writing children's books look down on us, which is odd, since they're only writing for children 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. We're the guy following the horses with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Or, as a fellow humorist said, "we're the opinion writers' bastard children."

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 five 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 said it was George Bush. They're talking about reporters who fabricate stories and plagiarize from other writers.

Humor writers are more memorable and fun to talk about. People will stand around the water cooler and say, "Did you read Dave Barry? I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself." They don't say, "Did you see David Broder's column? I furrowed my brow so hard I got a headache."

When someone says "David Broder," other people don't shout, "Ooooh, I love him! 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 topic, we also have to make our readers laugh. Sports writers just hope their readers can finish an article before their lips get too tired, while novelists try to make everything depressing and interesting at the same time.

"Mildred sighed and slowly pushed away from the table. Things hadn't been the same since Clive had gone. She had begun serving dinner on their wedding china, something they never used once in the 32 years they had been married. As she cleared the untouched plate at Clive's seat at the table, each clink of their plates reminded her to finish burying him behind the shed."

Despite it all, we're still expected to be entertaining 24 hours a day.

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

"It doesn't work that way. You can't just say something funny out of the blue. I'm not a performing monkey."

"No, really. Say something funny."

I 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 humor writing. And I'm left with one unbreakable truth every aspiring humorist should know.

"Doody" is hilarious.

You can find my books Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on

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