What’s the saying that advisors give to public speakers – “only tell jokes if you’re funny?” I think the same applies to writing, but that said, I think that humor is highly underrated in writing, especially nonfiction writing.
Take, for instance, Dave Barry – whose review of the new book Send is quite funny. Barry has insight, honesty, and wit to boot. He may seem silly, but all in all, he’s got something to say, just in a funnier way that most of us can manage.
Or Anne Lamott – no one else can describe an estranged boyfriend’s befuddlement over finding her in his bed quite like she does. “He looked as if he might be about to burp up a newborn chick,” she says in her new book Grace (Eventually).
There’s something profound about discussing sincere matters of life with a touch of humor. My friend Joel Tan once told me, about an essay that was eventually published in the Santa Monica Review, that I needed to add a little humor. The piece was well-written he said, but since it was about my dad’s depression and my process of dealing with that illness, he suggested that lightening the tone and weight a bit at points might bring the depression itself into bright relief. What a smart guy!
But I find myself, most of the time, wanting to be so sincere, so profound when I write, that I forget that many of my most painful moments are lanced with laughter. Sometimes humor is all that keeps our lives, these cracked jars of clay, from exploding out like so much shrapnel from under our covers where we lay crying, giggling, trying to survive.