Friday, April 21, 2017

BUT, SERIOUSLY, HOW DO YOU WRITE A HUMOR COLUMN?

What makes a humor columnist?
First, there’s the suffering:

It’s no accident that someone invented the word “seriocomic.” Nothing is funny without springing first from a grave consideration. Nothing. William Somerset Maugham’s “something irresistibly comic in our most heartfelt woes” must draw you hither. If it doesn’t, you haven’t suffered enough hither, and I’d suggest you go find some real misery if you’re planning a career in textual comedy.

Comedian Steve Martin once attributed his studying of Socrates as the foundation and springboard for his theater m├ętier, and you don’t get much funnier than Socrates when it comes to abject despair.

If I have to explain why that’s good humor column fodder, best you drink the vocational hemlock now and move on to a career in sump pump repair. (I’m not knocking sump pump repairmen; without them, I’d be writing this underwater.) But there are a few minimum requirements you must meet if the seduction of writing a humor column for a living (as my grandmother used to say) “flips your skirt.”

Accept the fact that everything ever imagined has already been written, with the exception of a rant on how to construct a truly red squirrel-proof birdfeeder (you may have this topic, with my blessing).  All that remains is style and rewrites and an ability to stylize and pen again in a way that seduces your readership like first love at a drive-in movie.

Be ready with the basic tools. If you can’t spell, and you think syntax is the price you pay for a moral offense, sweeten up your spellchecker and pick up Strunk and White on your way to the drive-in. You can keep Strunk in the trunk and send White out for Milk Duds, but they should come along for the ride. This is not to say that you can’t break the rules, but you must first know them and their abstracts. Picasso got away with having elbows emerging from ears, but only because he knew where knees belonged.

Know your markets. If Ratchet Wrench Monthly is looking for a two-hundred-word filler anecdote on the latest torque converter, don’t send the editor a thousand-word ramble on funny beehive politics.

Skip the hardcore profanity, or be willing to see your column only in profane publications. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve adorned a few silken ears with sow’s curses; I’ve just elected not to do it with my musings. Rank expletives are lazy language, anyway, and as a humor columnist, you’ll be fending off enough built-in sloth without dragging your words into it.

Lastly, be willing at the outset to sell your muk-yuks for less than zero. Sure, keep the rights to your works, but if your rewritten historical stylisms are destined for seriocomic greatness, they’ll get there, along with the livelihood.

Publish or perish, and be willing to work out a payment plan, for now, with your plumber.

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Senior Wire News Service Syndicated Humor Columnist B. Elwin Sherman writes from Bethlehem, NH. He is an author, humorist, poet and agony uncle columnist. His latest book is "Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist!, now on Kindle and in paperback, from Curry Burn Press. You may contact him via his website at Witbones.com. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

ONE WAITRESS TO GO, AND HOLD THE DRAGON


(WARNING! The names of individuals and eateries below are fictitious, but the persons and places are not. Any resemblance to real people and restaurants is purely intentional.)



    I don't pretend to be a gourmet, and this is not the place to find high-toned hints on where to dine out, should you have an epicurean palate and a double-platinum American Express card.
    But, neither am I content with frequenting only drive-through burger shacks, where my comestibles and condiments are wrapped in foil packets, tossed into a bag, and shoved at me through a window and exhaust fumes.
    I suspect I'm like most of us: happy with the minimal amenities of a knife, fork and spoon, a Naugahyde booth, the faux charm of “vintage” wall hangings, and a non-teetering table top. All the rest is good food.
    If it must be the working man's rendition of gold chanterelle mushrooms baked in almond cream, I won't squawk. Just make sure I have a napkin and try not to stick me with a fork.
    But, yesterday, when Tiffany (not her real name), the waitress at Crocklebee's (not it's real meaning), announced, as she fairly lurched into position at our table with all the subtlety of a roadside bomb, that “Hey, guys, I'm Tiffany, and I'll be hanging out with you today!” my comic juices began to sizzle, and here we are at the do's and don'ts of food-servicing a humorist:
    If you are my waitress, I don't want to know your name. Familiarity breeds contempt, and I don't want mine being inflamed or diminished because I can later accurately name you in my lawsuit as the person who forgot my ketchup. If you want to name names, tell me who's doing the cooking and washing the dishes.
    Next, we're not “hanging out” (another vehicle of chumminess I'd rather not ride with my waitress). I'm a patron of your employ. You are my server. Unless you intend to sit down with me when you deliver the food and pick at my salad, I'd rather you hung out in the kitchen.
    As a personal preference only, I must add this: If you've found the need in your prior, extra-vocational pursuits to cover your arms with tattoos, please wear something long-sleeved. I'm not sure why, but when the human extremity holding my plateful of veggie burger comes at me covered in Komodo Dragons, I'm put slightly off my feed.
    Another point of order: Diet Pepsi is NOT the same as Diet Coke. I won't name my preference here, but the next time I order the one you don't have and you offer me the other with a loud and curt: “It's the same difference,” I will ask you why you didn't opt for Loch Ness Nessies on your forearms instead of Mr. & Mrs. Komodo. Same difference.
    In the art of table-waiting, here's a peeve motion that I'm sure my readers will second: Timing, close observations and silent interventions are prized above all else. I was raised to not swallow and speak simultaneously, unless I'm being waterboarded.
    To this end, if you catch me in any phase of mastication, including the act of just raising food to my mouth, DON'T ask me a question. If I'm indeed in the midst of chewing (hint: closed mouth, grinding jaw) or swallowing (non-verbal, and Adam's apple receding), WAIT until I resume open-mouthed breathing. I will then nod in your direction.
    Trust me, without knowing your name, I will let you know when and if I or my fare need to be monitored. If my veggie burger has been delivered sans burger, I will raise the empty bun into the air and entertain my neighboring consumptioneers with shadow puppets until you return.
    Another personal preference: There is no need to ever announce: “Here, let me get that out of your way,” then remove anything from my table, especially any plate, bowl or glass still containing food or drink, or any eating utensils I still have in motion.
    Speaking of which, if you have any power of this, DON'T vacuum-wrap my silverware inside my napkin. It renders the napkin into goat-shaped origami, and this isn't a prison cafeteria.
    I like having my eating surface cluttered with all the spent utensils of my foodfest. Despite my vegan leanings, there's something carnivorously primordial about a post-prandial table. Makes me feel like I'm guarding what's left of my prey. Please, leave my vessels and me alone together to bask in the banquet of my hunting prowess, even if it is a shred of slaughtered tomato.
    NEVER “freshen up” my coffee. This ruins my carefully mixed mixture of creamer & sweetener and upsets the balance of nature. Mine, anyway.
    Lastly, here's a tip on tips:
    I ALWAYS tip well, because I know that waitressing is a tough job, and you're not here because you emerged from the womb with a burning desire to feed strangers. I know about the indignities you suffer: the sore feet, the inanity of repetition, and the rude shadow puppeteer in Naugahyde Section B, blaming you, not the cook, for his burgerless bun.
    So, you'll always get a handsome gratuity from me, unless you intentionally stick me with a fork or fall into my soup.
    If you do the latter, just please don't hang out in there.

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   Senior Wire News Service Syndicated Humor Columnist B. Elwin Sherman writes from Bethlehem, NH. He is an author, humorist and agony uncle columnist. His latest book is "Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist!, now on Kindle and in paperback, from Curry Burn Press. You may contact him via his website at Witbones.com. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.