Friday, April 21, 2017


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 métier, 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 Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

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