Iffen I don’ laugh…

I spent a little of today trapped under a small house, which is good for introspection, good for inspection of the caved in floor from underneath (which I’d slithered in with great difficulty to try and fix- and my fixing had altered the size of the slither-hole), good for getting your ideas of your own vincibility (I was definitely vincible. Poor old Vince.) straightened out, and bad for claustrophobia. And spiders (both from the spiders and my point of view.)

By the fact that I am writing this without an ouija keyboard you may gather I got out, and the measures I had taken to see I stayed alive were in fact adequate. I should just have take slightly bigger measures to ensure I could leave without digging. I blame it on my steatopygia, which I assure is a characteristic of Khoisan ancestry and not the product of eating too much and sitting on my tail writing instead of shifting sixteen tons of number nine coal (you still get the same result, ‘Another day older and deeper in debt’).

While I was digging – which was a slow process on account of being flat on my back with no space to move much (you should never move your much without sufficient space) and rather hard ground, I got to thinking of humor, and the nature thereof, and not just because there was something funny about my ridiculous situation, but because of what Sanford Begley said the other day about the writings of Sir Terry Pratchett. Some folk were asking where they ought to start with his books.

My answer of course was ‘as soon possible and while sitting down’ and at the beginning of the book, for the best results. But Sanford didn’t particularly like a character -Rincewind, that Pratchett used often. Shrug. Sometimes a character rubs us up the wrong way. Rincewind of course is a racist. Well, he thought of himself that way, before he knew what it meant (and according to some people he is. He’s white and male after all) in that he was always running. The important part of running, for Rincewind, was that it was always away. Now, as he’s obviously intended as a spoof, a mockery of the normal fantasy hero, as well as a mockery of the British character (the Brits laugh at themselves well. They can afford to, as they have a lot laugh at, and, um, they don’t have a reputation for running, even when it would be sensible. Nations who have reputation for fitting their tanks with one forward gear and sixteen reverse ones are understandably not amused by being teased about it.) I’d noticed that Brits tend to find his existence funny, let alone his attempts to get away from heroism.

One man’s joke is another man’s deadly insult, or worse, puzzled look. And while individuals vary in their sense of humor within nationalities, there are definite national trends (The colonized bits, and the old British Empire all tell sheep jokes of course, it’s just in Scotland they tell them about the English, and England about the Welsh, and Wales about the Aussies, and Australia, about the Kiwis, and NZ about the Scots. They’re only funny if you get the nationality right, in the right place. Otherwise they can be really bad for your health, and offensive to the sheep.) It makes writing the stuff really fraught, and funny sf/fantasy either vastly successful… or total flop. New York editors, who are not known for their grasp of the cultural nuances of the strange and far off peoples (ie. anyone who isn’t a NY editor or part of the NY literary scene) do most of the guessing of what the great unwashed want to read badly, but humor, it seems, worse. It’s been so bad that most of them back away from it as it it might bite, which is possible.

Now, humor is a weakness of mine, both in the reading and writing of it. Some of it just plainly doesn’t work with anyone but me. Parts of it work very well with small furry green aliens from Sirius 4, except they think it is pathos. Now by-in-large my audience is American. My background isn’t, and it was only when Eric and I started working together, that I realized there was a difference – both in background and in what is ‘acceptable’ humor. Fortunately – or I would starve, buns are the lowest form of wheat in most English speaking places and I was bred into that sort of wry humor. It wears thin though. I don’t mind never seeing another Xanth book… But, for example, I find my role models in Terry Pratchett, and Tom Sharpe (RATS, BATS AND VATS is pretty much Tom Sharpe inspired, but with more of Pratchett’s kindness to the butt of his jokes. I hope, anyway. And Pratchett’s double (and treble) entendre, and puns. What I modeled on from the American side was the idea of pacing a story with it (Harry Harrison’s STAINLESS STEEL RAT, and TECHNICOLOR TIME MACHINE, Stasheff’s WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF.) I sent Eric a copy of a Tom Sharpe novel expecting him to kill himself laughing (a kind of way of disposing of co-authors that we monkeys are prone to). And he didn’t find it funny… I understood at last, why my American friends have such a problem with political jokes. You’re supposed to laugh at them, not elect them to high office (of course, here in Oz, we do both. We’re talented like that.).

It was then that I realized that I was on dangerous ground. South African humor is a mix between British (which tends to be dry, subtle and often scatological in ways that Americans find offensive) and Afrikaans (which is like Dutch i.e. like Polish humor, only more serious, but with pratfalls, and practical jokes, usually involving pain, humiliation, cowpats and other good things for building character. Yes, I know. My ancestry shows.) with a trace of particularly of Zulu which is quite similar to Afrikaans, except the truly grizzly (‘and the lion ate him, but not his shoes!’ (audience rolls on floor the laughing.)) is considered even funnier than his mother resting her bosom on the ironing board and accidentally ending up with knife-edge creases in her nipples. Australian, of course, is different again (although close enough that I seldom have to repeat the same joke more than three times) and tends to be rough, scatological to point that would make most Americans run for cover, or at least hand-sanitizer, and be very self-depreciating. They like Rincewind.

Which loops me back to writing and trying to understand my audience, and of course the late great Sir Terry. He wrote more than 70 books, and I definitely have my favorites and favorite characters. And sometimes I like a character in one setting and get irritated by them in others. I like Rincewind in ‘THE LAST CONTINENT’ and ‘ERIC’. I don’t in some others. I like Greebo and Nanny Ogg more than Granny Weatherwax. Tiffany Aching is not a big favorite. Moist von Lipwig is. Vimes… I liked the first one very much. And then less so. Of course a less than favorite Pratchett is still way better – for me – than the best of almost anything else, if I want humor.

So which humor books and characters do you love -and why, if you don’t mind my asking? (and if you do, suck it up, cupcake.) What American sf/fantasy humor can you recommend? (The ‘If you were a dinosaur’ one was absolute scream, and the one where the one where the lead character got confused about their sex was funny too, for the first three times…)


  1. Dave, my biggest problem with Rancidwind always running away, running can be a really good choice. I also get the humor of running instead of playing the big idiot hero. What I cannot tolerate is a protagonist who whines. a side character whining is one thing. I can also handle the character who whines pro forma while doing the right thing. Rancidwind just whines.

  2. Of course, I share your tastes, having come from the same country and similar cultural background. (I agree on Zulu humor – it’s devastatingly funny if you come from a culture that fights to the death at the drop of a hat, and is more than willing to drop the hat itself if no-one else does!) I, too, loved Tom Sharpe, and found Christopher Stasheff’s wit wonderfully entertaining. (I’m told there’s a chance he may publish more Indie stuff, and perhaps even reissue some of his earlier Warlock books. Let’s hope so!)

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that actually trying to be funny really works. I can’t be unconsciously funny in American because I neither speak nor think in American. I’m from British parents out of a colonial background in Africa. That inevitably colors (you should pardon the expression) the way I see things and react to them. I have some humor in my books, but I try to let it flow naturally. If something would amuse me in a particular situation or conversation, I let it happen or be said, then let my readers decide. Sometimes they agree. Sometimes they don’t.

    Of course, there’s also the unconscious humor that occurs when an Englishism doesn’t translate in the same way to an Americanism. One of Dot’s favorite stories is the time I was having breakfast with an American family in Baltimore during my first visit to this country, almost two decades ago. Their teenage daughter was picking the cherries out of her fruit salad (or fruit cocktail, as they called it) and placing them on the side of her plate. I asked her, in all innocence, “May I have your cherries?” – only to see her blush like a rose and flee the table while her parents dissolved in laughter. That’s when I found out that a lady’s cherry in the USA has nothing whatsoever to do with fruit . . .


    1. Those not fully immersed in the American culture and ways of speech, particularly our British cousins, should also note that it is considered a bit gauche to announce in polite company that you are going to step outside and suck on a fag. Such behavior is very much frowned upon these days. You are better off to hide your tobacco products and make up an innocent excuse for your temporary absence, something such as a short liaison with a gay lover instead.

    2. A couple of other notes on the vagaries of translating from one idiom to another. A British hotel worker who wishes to know if you would like to be knocked up in the morning is offering a wakeup call, not special services. The other involves a line from You Only Live Twice a James Bond film. At Bond’s first funeral one officer remarks to another “He died as he would have wanted, on the job” . I thought that a touching tribute to an officers professionalism. Then later in life i was working with some Brit troopers and mentioned that I was working in a field for which i had not been school trained, referred to by American G.I.s as OJT or On the Job training. The gales of laughter that greeted this statement confused me until told that On the Job meant having sex. Suddenly the comment in the Bond movie was much more..poignant?

      1. Sanford – and beware of the Australian ‘root’ – which is pronounced the same way as the South Africans and Poms say ‘route’. Which is also the term used for the direction for rock-climbs – which may include such phrases as ‘Go up the central crack’ or ‘get a good jam in the crack and break through the overhanging lip’.

    3. Peter, I figure the US is a big country, and less monolithic by the hour. So I’ll just keep hoping to find the tiny segment that gets at least part of my sense of humor. In case they don’t I try to write it as part of a fairly action filled story. I have met a few people who find this confusing… :-).

    4. I was at a party at Amberley RAAFB outside of Brisbane in 1982 when I told a lovely callipygous lady I thought she had a nice fanny. The place got quiet. I had to do some fast talking….and buy some beers.

  3. I’ve never read Terry Prachett. I know, horrors, shame on me, etc… But i only got less than halfway into hitchhiker’s guide before i put it down, so…

    1. Worry not: I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide series all the way through, and wondered why people were raving about it so much. I mean, it had some good moments, but overall it left me feeling bland. And then I discovered Terry Pratchett, and loved his books. So it’s worth giving him a try.

      The one I usually like to lend people is Guards! Guards!, one of his early works. If they’re not laughing by the end of the secret-societies scene, the book is not for them and they can put it down after only 20 or so pages. But if they’re hooked, there are forty more books awaiting them.

  4. I’m probably about the second-to-last person to ask about American humor because I tend to lean closer to the English sense of it. With a dark streak that was strengthened by being around too many soldiers/firemen/paramedics. The first humor I watched was Monty Python and Benny Hill, along with the Carol Burnett Show (which ruined Gone With the Wind for me in soooo many ways.) American written humor? Maybe a little early P.J. O’Raurk, and Lewis Grizzard, and Patrick McManus (hunting and outdoor humor at it’s finest, er lowest.) And Baxter Black’s misadventures of a cowboy and large animal vet (preg-checking cows. What could possibly go wrong?) But those all tend to be regional humor, you’ll notice, either Southern or Western. There’s probably a reason Aussies and Texans tend to get along.

    1. On behlaf of Great Britain I apologise for Benny Hill. I think Monty Python, the Goons, Douglas Adams & Sir Pterry probably made up for it, but the world would be a better place if Benny Hill had been terminated with extreme prejudice after about 5 minutes

      1. Strange, I thought the Brits didn’t want to admit “Benny Hill” even existed. [Evil Grin]

      2. Oh, Ida Know. *evil grin* To this day I can’t see someone in a fake charro costume without thinking of the “Gay Caballero.” In all its stereotyped, utterly politically incorrect, ahem, glory.

      3. I must say, as a fundamental Christian, who also appreciates the subtle snark of most British humor better than the locker room crudity of Seth Rogen’s acolytes. I cannot help but laugh at the sheer cheeky burlesque joy of Benny Hill.

    2. Dang – I was in South Africa for two years and loved the humor. I was not really that great with American humor… which I found insipid or worked too hard. However, when I went to Germany, it was hilarious to translate Americanisms to German, and find that the Germans couldn’t get it. (like shit happens) And many more. (Also Germans will do “ha ha ha” –like that– when they are trying to be polite). It was even funnier when I watched Germans try to bring humor to Germany.

      1. When I did an exchange with a German high-school student in the early/mid 1980s German TV was doing a dubbed version of “Yes Minister” and my German host family asked me to try and explain why it was funny. The dubbed version was not funny but even once I’d translated the dubbed German back to English and tried to explain the pun (or whatever) that the English version had, they didn’t get the joke(s).

        Mach’ nix. Das Leben ist ein Huendin und dann bist du mit einem verheiratet

        BUTTTTT to go back to “ha ha ha” some friends of mine have a chant:
        “Chermans haf no senz of humour
        Ha Ha Ha”

        And it isn’t 100% true because the people who do it in the worst fake german accents and laugh the loudest (and tell a joke afterwards) are Germans – possibly because they feel our pain.

        Some germans have a great sense of humour – to wit: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/this-sage-of-a-broken-german-door-that-became-a-wall-of-meme

        I think the Germans are a bit like the Dutch – as a Dutch friend of mine told me, about 50% of the Dutch had their sense of humor surgically removed at birth. Unfortunately for both Germans and Dutch it is very hard to tell to which 50% a particular individual belongs

        1. Very hard lol… My hubby used to work with a half-American half-German guy. He knew a lot of the puns, but still didn’t understand it. It’s the culture, I think. Now they do have their jokes… but we don’t find them funny either. 😉

    3. Patrick McManus. A completely overlooked genius in the field of comedy. My mother grew up in Idaho at about the same time he did, not that far from Coeur d’Alene (easiest way to discover if someone is REALLY from Idaho is to ask them to spell “Coeur d ‘Alene), and she says that he is actually understating the difficulty of getting by in those days.

      1. Or to pronounce Kooskia, though Boise, Kamiah, Buhl, and Moscow work pretty well too, as far as figuring out Idahoans.

        How about Farley Mowatt and Garrison Keiler?

  5. Well … the Carole Burnett show was awesome, and I’ve never been able to watch certain scenes in Gone With the Wind without snickering (“I saw it in the window and I just had to have it!”) Then there was the juvenile slapstick of Mad Magazine …
    I do believe that my own sense of humor was permanently warped toward the British wry and dry by being exposed to a book that my parents had in the house – Osbert Lanchester’s “Here of All Places” . (Well, that, and a taste for elaborately convoluted sentences.)
    Linky here – alas, doesn’t have the look inside feature enabled so that you can get the appeal

  6. Being from Georgia, Lewis Grizzard is a staple of humor for us down here. I read him during the phase of my life when I wasn’t doing a whole lot of reading. I still call the state to the west of us Aladamnbama in his honor.

    I also enjoyed Christopher Moore’s “The Stupidest Angel” for humor. It’s got plenty of the ridiculous that I enjoy, and just enough supernatural to make it feel like a fantasy novel…of sorts.

  7. I find the best humor arises from characters acting in character to unexpected circumstances. The humor works because the reader finds himself thinking, “That’s kind of crazy but it works for that particular character.” That’s what Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams did so well–the humor rose naturally from the characters and the situations.

    Besides writing science fiction, I perform as a storyteller in my little corner of North Carolina (which isn’t really a corner, since I’m more or less in the central part of the state, but storytellers are expected to use such colloquial language in their communication) and I love telling noodlehead stories.

    I usually suggest anyone who doesn’t recognize the word look it up, but I’ve just discovered “noodlehead” has been appropriated by urban black culture and refers to a man who claims to be a child’s father when he is not. And here I thought a noodlehead was just a simpleton. For those who do not know how noodlehead stories work, they generally involve a simpleton or group of simpletons whose every action is completely wrongheaded yet, in the end, bring about a positive result. These stories are extremely popular with the young and the young at heart, but only work because the noodlehead’s actions are always completely in character for the noodlehead. (And anyone who thinks children will let a storyteller get away with out-of-character, nonsensical actions has never told stories to children.)

    In contrast to my examples above, I find too many attempts at written humor are little more than a character doing something incredibly stupid and out of character for no good reason at all. The stupidity kicks off a series of improbable events which magically manage to advance the story in a direction the author wanted it to go but was too lazy to actually find a way to work into the plot. It’s supposed to be funny but never is because it’s so horribly contrived.

    Successful humor rises naturally from the characters and the events. It’s not easy to pull off. But when humor is successful, it also appears so natural that the casual reader simply chuckles and moves on, rarely realizing just how much talent was required to elicit that chuckle.

  8. I used to say that my sense of humor had been surgically removed. [Sad Smile]

    Mind you, it’s regrown but I am sensitive about humor that depends on mockery of others.

    IMO the best humor is still the humor that people use to deal with the situation they are in.

    Of course, this includes an ability to “laugh at your self” which I’ve used myself.

    Oh Dave, I have enjoyed the humor in your stories. [Smile]

  9. I tend to be a little tone deaf to humor. Keith Laumer leaps to mind as an American SF humorist. Non-SF . . . Janet Evanovich is very popular, but by the third book it’s feeling overworked and tedious. Both for the repetitive humorous situation and the lack of character growth through the series .

    1. I’ve read a few of Evanovich’s books, and yes, the main character doesn’t grow, and the love triangle seems to stay as a love triangle about forever too. The first one was number third or fourth or something, and there were at least two books between that and the next one I read, and nothing seemed to have changed. I don’t like changes being introduced for just the sake of having them, but neither do I like something that seems to be stuck in the same place forever, and personally I loather love triangles where the heroine keeps juggling between two suitors on and on, not able to make up her mind

      (or trying to keep the cake and eat it, goddamn it, decide already, please let both guys get disgusted and fall in love with somebody else and leave her a frustrated old maid or forced to choose somebody way below the quality of the two she kept playing with…)

      (okay, the bounty hunter or whatever guy didn’t seem to be all that ready to marry her or anything, but I very fast started to feel sorry for the cop who seemed more serious, especially since it seemed her not committing to him was maybe because she wanted to see if the other one would propose first or otherwise get serious about her, and she was maybe keeping the cop more as a spare)

      (yes, I don’t get at all exited over the “two hot guys lust after me and I can’t decide anything because they are both SO HOT!” fantasy. Just decide, dear character. Just damn decide, and then STICK to it, at least as long as the guy character does the same).

      So I never bothered to check out a third book. Did anyone? And did anything ever happen, beyond the same (she goes after somebody, seems thoroughly incompetent, one of her boyfriends maybe helps, she probably gets the target anyway or at least does something which allows her to keep her job, she lusts after both men, her car blows up or is otherwise destroyed, her family acts goofy, rinse and repeat, she never seems to learn anything and does all the same mistakes the next time).

        1. A friend who is a fan of the series informed me the author added a crazy, strong black woman as a sidekick in later books, too. “Sistah Powah”

          1. I did watch the movie, maybe that was the street walker character in it. No hope I presume that the sidekick would snatch the bounty hunter. 😀

            Sometimes I do keep reading this type of series simply in the hopes that maybe it would change, and something would start happening (the main character learns her trade and becomes actually competent?), although then I usually tend to skip books, I read, lets say, the third and the fifth and then maybe the tenth, and if in the last one things have started to improve may then go through the interim ones, but this main character stopped being funny fast for me. I don’t like stupid, and while she first seemed more inexperienced than stupid stupid came into picture fast because she also seemed to be unable to learn. And she kind of also seemed to be unwilling to learn, trusting her luck would help her to muddle through and mostly not even trying to figure things out, maybe because she was too busy with other stuff, like her love life. A frustrating series to me because I did like the humor, and the characters, but they were too – I think the main problem was incompetence. I can enjoy a humorous character who is incompetent because she just doesn’t have the brains to learn (and maybe knows it, but does what she does because for some reason she has gotten herself into a jam where she has no other choice) and I can enjoy a character who starts out incompetent, but the way these books are written gives the impression that the main character is at least relatively intelligent, and should be able to learn. Yet she never seems to. And doesn’t even seem to try, not really.

  10. Interestingly I went and reread some Tom Sharpe recently and found it a hard slog and not funny any more. I recall nearly doing myself a serious injury when I first read Wilt and being in uncontrollable laughter for parts of Ancestral Vices, Porthouse Blue etc. but on the reread in the last year it was more depressing – perhaps because the SJWs and their crowd appeared to have taken those books to also be instruction manuals.

    Bolg on the ther hand does make me laugh. And I see no possible way he can be used as an instruction manual by the humorless

  11. Trying to think of American humorists – I generally prefer British humor.
    Robert Asprin was normally good for laughs. Both the Myth and Phule series had their moments. I’m especially fond of the full combat load obstacle course scenes in “Phule’s Company.”
    John M. Ford’s “How Much for Just the Planet?” is, for my money, the funniest SF book ever written. Not many people can write a musical in novel form.
    Does “Welcome to Night Vale” have to wait for their novel to be published to count? They’ve got over 60 episodes. I’m not even sure how to classify it – Urban Fantasy? Horror? Comedy?

      1. I was thinking of him, but limited myself to the last 50 years in a misguided effort to try to hide my social age. Twain, Thurber, and Bierce spring to mind. Then there’s “The Incompleat Enchanter” trilogy by DeCamp and Pratt.

        Dave Berry is funny, but not SF/F. And shows one of the hallmarks of most modern American humor – When I read his articles, they’re funny. But an hour later, I couldn’t tell you what he said. I’ve hurt my sides laughing at the Blue Collar Comedy guys, but I couldn’t remember a single one of their jokes a week later. I was a fan of Red Green, but I couldn’t tell you much about it other than “it’s a show about duct tape, and the men who love it.” “Seinfeld” was famously a show about nothing.

        On the other hand, I can rattle off a plot summary to at least half the Discworld novels off the top of my head.

        Of course, I personally find some of David Drake’s and John Ringo’s works quite funny, but I’m not sure other people do. I was the only guy in the theater laughing (OK, guffawing) in the middle of “The Crying Game” when the British soldier was killed. (Repeats story of frog and scorpion, calls himself frog, runs away and gets run over by the rescue force’s armored vehicle – a Scorpion. Hilarious.)

        1. Well, yes, if you open up the category, I would have to put in a vote for O. Henry.

          Although I remember the disappointment as a teenager when I came to the end of “The Handbook of Hymen”…

      2. One scene in Ringo’s latest had me cackling like a madman. You may be able to guess which one. 🙂

      1. Oh yeah. “How Much for Just the Planet?” is a hilarious musical comedy in the form of a novel. Really. (His other Star Trek novel, “The Final Reflection”, is also excellent but not comedy.)

  12. Kratman. The joke that comes easiest to mind is the Mustafa one buried in the first part of A Desert Called Peace and the last part of Carnifex.

  13. I recommend Simon R. Green’s series. They’re not absurdist, like HHGG, but rather fantasy or urban fantasies with delightful Britticisms, often mentioned in passing. For example, his Nightside series has detective John Taylor mentioning the case of the haunted library, where the books were reading the patrons and wiping their memories. John’s girlfriend is a bounty hunter, and he introduces her: ““My Suzie, also known as Shotgun Suzie, also known as Oh Christ It’s Her, Run!” Several of his quips have entered our “in-group” language, including “Oh, this shall end in tears” and “Someone’s looking for a short sharp visit from the Slap Fairy”.

    Free samples at GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/41942.Simon_R_Green.

  14. I prefer humor that arises from the rubbing together of dissimilar characters. Example: there are few scenes as funny as the one in Lois McMaster Bujold’s A CIVIL CAMPAIGN where there is a bug-butter fight to keep the police from removing their resident genius who will, hey hope, make them all rich. All of the other guards are at a function. The poor armsman remaining is woken out of a dead sleep, told there is an emergency and races to deal with it in his shoes and underwear with his gun belt on backwards. He gets pelted with slimy bug butter in the crossfire. To add to the humor, he hates the genius scientist and would love to have the police cart him off.

    His employer shows up, comments dryly that the poor guard is “out of uniform” and makes the besmeared guard hold a flower arrangement while he reads through the extradition papers on a nearby console table. When the issue is resolved, his employer gives everyone directions. The guard is last, is simply told, “And Roic? Get a _bath_. ” I think it’s intensely funny, but drives the plot in so many ways.

    As to Terry Prachett’s books, my favorite and go to gift for awkward tweens, is THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS. I love that book so much. The girl in it reminds me of Eilonwy in the Chronicles of Pyrdan.

    1. I was planning to mention Bujold. ACC is more of an outward comedy than others but every Vorkosigan book has laugh out loud funny. The third time someone says “I didn’t vote for him” in Shards of Honor I’m laughing my butt off. Or in Barrayar either the delivery of “was bisexual, now he’s monogamous.” or the delivery of the pretender’s head. Or in Vor Game when either Miles or Gregor says to Cavillo, “Did you think we were amateurs?” Galeni mentioning to Miles that Ivan out ranked him. Punch lines or straight lines in the middle of scenes that aren’t the least funny.

    2. Oh, Lord. Just mentioning the butter bug fight has me chuckling… Particularly when the Armsman (Roic, if I remember correctly) shows up.

  15. Growing up, I loved reading James Thurber, Leonard Wibberley’s “Mouse” stories, and PG Wodehouse. Later I found Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. My favorite Shakespeare play is “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    I enjoyed the early Woody Allen essays and love PJ O’Rourke and James Lileks.

    And I delight in puns.

    I have no idea what ties them all together.

  16. Early on I was fortunate that our local PBS station would carry BBC comedy reruns late on weekend nights. I got to watch The Two Ronnies, Are You Being Served, Dave whatever his last name was the one with a missing finger, and of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
    That, my qualifications for Mensa, and a host of other weird stuff placed me firmly in the odd camp from the get go.

  17. One of the reasons that humor is hard, is that even *telling* a joke is hard. A TV comic can have people rolling in the aisles – but if you try to tell it at a party, you’ll get blank stares.

    I do a lot of public speaking and teaching. I was inundated with “open with a joke” advice when I first started lecturing and teaching. They aleays fell flat. Nowadays I just start in on the topic with a bold and decisive delivery. I will occasionally sneak in a one-liner or humorous observation… pause a moment to accentuate it, then move on. Situational humor within the appropriate context, has done more for my speaking skill than the Toastmasters formula.

    1. Speaker, people laugh at me all the time! Sometimes even when I’m trying to be funny. Seriously, it’s easy enough (for me anyway) when I have a live audience. I can see what is amusing them and respond to that. Writing – where you can’t adjust to the audience – is much harder.

    2. Um . . . telling a joke isn’t all that difficult. It depends on timing and delivery. Some people can tell different types better that others. It’s much easier than writing humor, in that you have immediate feedback both of the gags and of your timing.

      I suspect that professional comics, like professional magicians, pay more attention to how a comic recovers when things don’t go as planned that they do the actual gags. Steve Allen wrote a book called Funny People, about various comics, and gave a detailed account of one night when Robin Williams initially fell flat because Williams recovered with a train-of-commedian-thought skit that gave insight into how a stand-up comic’s mind works.

      1. It’s the timing that makes telling a joke hard – for many people. My wife has excellent comic timing – I often (think that I) come off labored.

    3. Yes indeed.

      The goal of any talk is to get the audience to empathise/sympathise with you and then, because of that sympathy, go do what you wanted them to do (plus if teaching you want the buggers to pay attention to you).

      In order to do that you have to tune the humor to the audience. If you tell a joke at the start of a speech (or lecture) then it generally helps if you tell one that is inclusive of the audience and possibly self-deprecating against you. For example: if giving a talk to brain surgeons joke about how you were told you weren’t up to snuff as an undergraduate so you started off with rocket scientist instead, but then you were hit on the head and applied to neuroscience anyway

      May not be funny, but it causes the audiance to feel “he’s one of us” and that helps the larger point.

      But telling a random blonde joke doesn’t work the same way

  18. Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Bar & The Lady Slings the Booze books make a point of beating you with puns. I don’t know if it’s David Drake or Eric Flint who is responsible for the muttering humor of Valentinian in the Belisaurius series, but that cracked me up every time, and there is also other lovely humor in there, usually at the expense of various pompous or otherwise offensive characters. I don’t know if Isaac Asimov invented pun titles, but “Shah Guido G” comes to mind immediately, and a number of his robot stories were humorous, and there is “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda.”
    The entire Baen community conspired, with significant leadership from Toni Weisskopf and Leslie Fish, to produce “Carmen Miranda’s Ghost is Haunting Space Station Number Three,” which I nominate for Greatest Title of All Time. That book also included the first story ever submitted to Baen electronically, by the way. Frank Gasparik played a number of comic characters in novels by Niven and Pournelle.
    Dare I mention “Banned From Argo?”

    1. Eric has pleaded guilty about Valentinian’s muttering. [Wink]

  19. For fantasy humor American-style, tall tales are pretty much the gold standard.
    Whether it’s Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, A. B. Storming, hoop snakes, snipe hunting, flying tractors that run on moonshine, or a wonderful one-acre farm, they’re close to the heart.

  20. Louie Anderson at the Guthrie was the funniest thing I ever saw in my life. Face hurting pee my pants fall off the couch screaming “OH No! I’ve done that!” He’s describing the song of my people… Or at least all the particularly obscure elements of Norse life in Minnesota. He moved to LA and had to somehow be funny in a different culture and I’m not sure he managed it.

    My mom had a book “Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths.” Busted myself reading that one too.

      1. Ole and Lena jokes, and Finnesota jokes if you are far enough north . . . I used to live about 40 miles south of what the locals called the Lutefisk Line – the IA/MN border.

    1. This might be a good place to mention Patricia C Wrede, a Minnesota writer whose wonderful YA novels are often very funny. My favorite is the, um, big get-together near the end of “Maileron the Magician”.

  21. Did you hear about the Norwegian? He loved his wife so much he almost told her.

    Beat ha ha ha ha snort choke….

  22. Christopher Buckley’s “Little Green Men” isn’t his best work ( that’s “The White House Mess”). But it qualifies, and is pretty funny in a way that only anally-probed television anchors can be.

  23. I’ve got a very Australian sense of humor, and Dave never had to explain his jokes to me unless they depended on some piece of South African slang or Afrikaans words I didn’t know. There were parts of Save the Dragons where I – quite literally – nearly peed myself laughing (and the only reason I didn’t was the loo isn’t far from the study).

    Of course, I grew up on The Goodies, Benny Hill (the slapstick works just fine for kids and the adults enjoy the burlesque – or at least my parents did), The Two Ronnies, and the gags embedded in Doctor Who. I also acquired ze feeelthy mind quite early and was fluent in entendre before I was 13 (even if I wasn’t entirely sure what the actions the entendre was implying were all about). Dave Allen was another favorite, although less common.

    The classic Brit sitcoms got a whole lot of play: the entire raft of them spun off The Naked Vicar Show (a few managed to spawn American takeoffs that sometimes got to Oz tv, but they never worked as well), then in later years ‘Allo ‘Allo became a staple.

    My personal sense of humor has a dark streak the size of a respectable ocean running through it, enough sarcasm to sink a good sized ocean liner, and a respectable amount of self-deprecation. It might not draw a large audience but those who get it seem to enjoy it.

    1. Kate, I find your humor stuff hilarious – but then I would. It’s a case of needing to match the audience to joker. One of the small joys of my background is being able to make multilingual jokes… which delight the handful of people who can get them… but obviously, that’s a small pool (and I miss a bunch in languages/cultures I don’t know.) I keep believing the match reader to writer algorythms are going to get better….

  24. A good sense of humor is essential to life- if you can’t find one, it’s best to beg, borrow or steal it while no one else is looking. I do find Bolg has it’s funny moments. I’m not so certain they were all that lost, but most humans don’t have directions to the funny bone printed right on them. I also enjoy Reteif, Pratchett, Dave Drake…

    Appalachian humor is very American, in that we enjoy tall tales (and the old Jack tales can be golden: whoever came up with Jack kidnapping Death and folks folks who were hung, shot, et by bears, and so on complaining because they was dyin’ but couldn’t get all-the-way dead was a genius). Sometimes it’s desert-dry, sometimes ridiculous: “Hey y’all! Watch this!” “Hold my beer and get a load of this!” And so on.

    We have a few that may or may not be quite local and unique to my family.

    I’ve a cousin who lost his arm above the elbow to a farming accident. Stuck his hand in a cultivator to pry loose a stuck tine. What’s the first thing ol’ Ed does? Scream? Tie a tourniquet on it? Holler for help? Nope. He pops up to see if anybody’d been watchin’ him pull such a stupid stunt. Ed never did get the lions share of brains in that family.

    My great grandad, one of if not *the* biggest moonshiners in the tri-state area in his day, had the local sheriff come calling one day. Hollers to my great grandma, “Don’ tell ’em I’m drunk, tell ’em I’m sick!” So Ma’am tells Sheriff Beakley “He says he ain’t drunk, he’s sick.” Sheriff Beakley says “Tell him when he sobers up the mayor wants a pint.”

    Staff Sergeant Dad caught wind of us boys getting up to some mischief one day, so we find him at home cleaning the shotgun. Tells us kids we screw up one more time, he’ll stuff and mount one of us. As a warning to the next one, ’cause they could always make more. Worked too. As we was around five or six, about this time (or earlier) we got to the alternate and slang versions of “stuff” and “mount,” thus making the threat quite terrifying!

    And of course, puns. First, they came for the punsters, and the whole world sighed with relief, because they stopped right after. *chuckle*

  25. If we can include American humor that’s not sci if, I love Quentin Tarantino movies,particularly Pulp Fiction. Also almost anything by the Coen
    And, Boondocks Saints

  26. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as quintessential American, British, Australian, etc, humor. Humor depends on shared experience and the audience. Culture, of course, plays a role, but it falls more into the category of shared experience, and what humor is considered acceptable, and in what context.

    Consider that Sanford and Son was an American version of the British comedy Steptoe and Son. The humor translated well. Redd Foxx did much raunchier humor in his stage act, and one of the writers for Sanford and Son was Richard Pryor, who did different humor as well.

    Some humor has a larger audience than others due to some experiences being almost universal. Lucile Ball attempted to give a lecture on this at some university, but the students kept wanting to ask about her career, and ended up short changing themselves. Her point was the difference between topical humor and humor that will be funny decades later, but it can just as easily be applied to cultures.

    The hard thing about writing humor is the issue of timing and the lack of feed-back. Timing is incredibly important. This past weekend I read a Kindle edition of Guards! Guards! that suffered from poor dialog and scene change formatting. That was enough to effectively sink the gags in the first quarter of the book, as I took a few milliseconds to parse out who said what and where. A few milliseconds. That was all the difference between humor and clunkers.

    One of the funniest SF “stories” was James Blish’s novelization of Gerrold’s The Trouble with Tribbles. Blish almost hit all the gags just right. For instance, in the scene where Spock is stroking a tribble as he declares himself to be immune. Blish pointed out the obvious a little too much. Some others I’d have to look up, such as a story where an alien deals with SJW and speaks a pidgin that gives some idea of the language she’s heard from humans. The Gentle Earth is a humorous take on invader fiction. Oh, and perhaps the funniest fantasy story I’ve ever read was not by Pratchett, but a collaboration between two authors who’s names I can’t recall. They dedicated it to Anheuser-Bush, without who’s products it would not have been possible, and it got funnier from there. This was in the first half of the 1980s, and I can’t recall the title.

    1. Yeah. Shared experience. I recently made a guy grin with a punchline of ‘That was racist’ about something he said.

  27. Growing up? TV first: I watched lots of British comedy when I was between 10 and 16 (so late 70s and early 80s)–MPFC, The Goode Life, To the Manor Born, The Bounder, Dave Allen, and so on; our PBS station also showed episodes of the Paul Hogan show before Crocodile Dundee happened. (I stopped watching before Blackadder, Ab Fab, and Chef came along.) Among American shows, probably Sledge Hammer and Moonlighting were the ones from around that time I remember most fondly for humor that still holds up for me. And of course I loved SCTV and stayed up to ungodly hours to watch it. (I liked SNL much less, even as a teenager, and even during the supposedly classic first three seasons.)

    In SF, my favorite funny books in my high school years (I read a decent amount of SF then, and then turned away from it for a couple of decades) were the first three Hitchhiker books (I only read the others many years later), Davidson’s Peregrine: Primus, and John Sladek’s Mechasm (The Reproductive System in the UK); the last I recently reread and discovered I still really loved. Also read Tom Sharpe and Thorne Smith a lot in high school, though after age 18 I found they wore rather poorly. They both seemed to be deathly afraid their readers wouldn’t catch all the wit, so they explained their jokes at very tedious length. (At the time, my favorite Sharpe was The Throwback and my favorite Smith was The Night Life of the Gods. I recently reread many of Smith’s novels, which are available for free in electronic form several places, and found The Night Life of the Gods still held up pretty well, if you don’t mind alcohol-drenched humor; my other favorite, however, Rain in the Doorway, is hilarious in parts and brain-pummelingly stupid in others. Smith hated Babbittry so much he forgot to be funny in those parts, and they make up rather too great a portion of that novel. –I fear I have no desire to reread Sharpe.)

    As a slightly more mature fellow, or at least a fellow who can appreciate things slightly less silly than I used to be able to, I find a lot of Jack Vance’s humorous touches are perfect to my tastes, his little asides and footnote humor. On the other hand, I still remain very silly, so I also love Oglaf, as trashy as it might be. (In the same line, I remember shortly after getting married, watching cable as I flipped through the stations. One of these stations is DTV, a Russian trash channel out of Novosibirsk that specializes in true crime and real-life courtroom crap…and at night a Candid Camera type show with topless women shocking ordinary Russians on the street called Golye Prikoli (Naked Pranks). The first time I saw it, I shook my head and turned the channel. Then a couple nights later my wife was flipping through the channels and came across the same show. “Oh, I love this show!” she said, and after that we watched it together. Yet another sign we were meant to marry, I guess.)

    1. Oglaf is a hoot. Although I still miss the Apprentice and the Sorceress. It can be so Surreal sometimes.

      (Some of the cleverest bits are subtle, like the vampiress Naveen who pretends to be a doctor (a really bad one) who bleeds patients with leeches, then pops them in her mouth when no-one’s looking.)

  28. Oh, and as for humorous books I like nowadays, the ones I can think of reading and rereading would be several by Joe Queenan, who is wonderfully vicious at his best (Red Lobster, White Trash & the Blue Lagoon is my favorite, followed by his collections of essays, Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler and If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble), and, oddly enough, Ronald Richard Roberts’ The Ditches of Edison County, a satire of The Bridges of Madison County written by someone who clearly despises the original with a white-hot passion. I even reread it (for the fourth time, I think) page by page with Bridges, and at times it was sentence-for-sentence parody. For instance, at one point the hero of Bridges says, “It smells quiet.” At the same point of Ditches the hero says, “It sounds malodorous.” Ordinarily I’d wonder at the sanity or taste of a man who felt so compelled to vomit all over something so unexceptionally sub-mediocre, but in this case the original is so bad and the satire so thorough-going I loved it.

  29. At ATH I had it brought to my attention that I really should have mentioned Frank J. Fleming of IMAO.

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