Remember back in grade school when the teacher would assign spelling lists and then you had to write a sentence for each word? I spent the entire fifth grade writing about a fictional Catholic nun, Sister Maria Annunciata, who got into adventures that always involved abstruse words like “membrane.”
Sister Maria Annunciata ran her tongue over the membrane lining the roof of her mouth until she located the spot that had been burned by the molten mozzarella cheese from her pizza.
Prior to joining her religious order, Sister Maria Annunciata was perplexed by factorization, so she abandoned her study of mathematics and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience instead.
This of course delighted my public school teacher, Mrs. Cirvillo, who was used to wading through painful sentences like
Factorization is the operation of resolving a quantity into factors.
Insane in the membrane.
(Actually, the Cyprus Hill song would not be released for several more years, but I have no doubt Mrs. Cirvillo saw that sentence starting with her class circa 1993 and for many years thereafter.)
So that’s when I started writing humor. And humor has served me well: I’m sure my Sister Maria Annunciata sentences are
to blame for what got me into the gifted program in the sixth grade. There I sat next to Marc Goldstein, who offered me the fun-size Three Musketeers bar his mother packed in his lunch. I didn’t like Three Musketeers, so I declined his romantic overture candy, and developed a crush on another boy, James Moynihan, who didn’t even know I was alive. Looking back at the sixth grade gifted program, I really should have done better in my love life, if not my studies, since I was the only girl in the room (there were two other boys in the program, but they came from another school on the other side of town). The odds were never more in my favor until adulthood when I attended a business luncheon at the local Hooters. Even a flat chested woman in a gray wool skirt can attract attention at Hooters, mostly because she’s the only woman in the place who isn’t otherwise engaged in serving up wings and beer.
In high school, I wrote my college essay on my driver’s ed instructor, Mr. Valerio, who famously (and incorrectly, I might add) predicted that I would kill someone behind the wheel of a car. That essay got me admitted to one of those fancy schmancy eastern elite institutions of higher education where I would not write anything funny for four years, mostly due to
hangovers and casual sex studying all the time.
After college, I’ve written in fits and starts, and now I’ve returned to the idea for a comic novel I got seven (eight?) years ago. I’ve been working with that idea during National Novel Writing Month. This morning, as I was puzzling over another passage I’d written, wondering Is This Even Funny? yet again, I got to thinking about what I’ve learned about humor in my
33 34 (my birthday is next week. Buy me something expensive, yet tasteful) years.
- Passages that I think are funny when I dash them off in the early morning before running out the door are less funny when I return to them hours later, especially after I get called a “bitch” over the phone by someone who doesn’t even know me, yet alone know the levels of bitchery to which I am capable of rising.
- Losers are funnier than winners.
- The word “humor” does not need an extraneous “u.”
- My first grader will laugh at any character who has a funny name. My sixth grader will occasionally and grudgingly admit, “That part is funny.”
- My husband stopped finding me amusing years ago.
- The household pets (two cats and a guinea pig), who I sometimes bounce ideas off when I’ve been alone writing for too long, prefer scatological humor.
- Even if a scene is really funny, it still may need to be cut in the interest of good story telling. This absolutely kills me every time I have to do it.
- Specifics are funnier than generalities (Sister Maria Annunciata is funnier than The Nun).
- Foreign words are funny (Don’t believe me? Think about the word salchicha. Funny, right? Even it’s English counterpart, sausage, is still pretty good, but only if you have the mentality of a hormonal thirteen year old, which I do).
- Comedy is hard.
If you’re out there struggling through NaNoWriMo and want some company, feel free to add me, kayeraye, as a buddy.
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