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Starting 2011 with a Laugh

Alison Leiby / Friday, December 31, 2010 View Comments

It has been a tough year, 2010.  It has been a year where we saw the economy continue to crumble, the environment destroyed by an oil spill, and Christine O’Donnell.  And after all of that, most of the country is paralyzed by an unexpected blizzard just as we try to ring in a new year.

There is a bright spot out there, and it’s taking the form of humor writing.  What better way to usher in 2011 than with books that can actually make us laugh?

First up is the anthology edited by Judd Apatow and published by McSweeney’s titled I Found This Funny.  The reigning king of comedic film has assembled his favorite humor pieces from a variety of writers into one impressive tome.  The list of authors ranges from Paul Feig to Jon Stewart to Flannery O’Connor.  Apatow acknowledges in the editor’s note of his introduction that not every story in the collection will be obviously funny:

“I am well aware that significantly more than three pieces in this book are not funny.  Well, they’re funny to me, but I don’t want to start a big debate about the definition of funny.  So please accept my apologies if you were desperately seeking a humorous escape from the pain and frustration of your day.  If you open up to tbe wrong page you might not get it.  To be honest, one third of this book might be depressing.   I was in a strange place when I picked these pieces.  If you really need a laugh, go straight to the cartoons.  And skip James Agee till you can handle the hard stuff.”

It won’t all be ‘hit you over the top of the head funny’ like Aziz Ansari’s character, Randy, in Funny People–though with contributions from Adam McKay and Conan O’Brien, there will still certainly be those moments.  Some of the humor may be darker.  And I think that’s great.  One of my favorite collections of short stories is Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help, a collection filled with pieces about adultery, dying of cancer, and strained families (thankfully, Moore is also a contributor to Apatow’s book).  Sometimes you want your humor with a dash of sadness or truth or bitters.  Wait, no, bitters are for my cocktails; bitterness is for fiction.  But humor grounded in struggle can be just as satisfying as whatever is the literary equivalent of on-screen slapstick comedy.

Few people understand ‘tough times’ better than writers.  We struggle to find our ownvoice, we battle seemingly unending bouts of writers block, and we usually are short on cash.  For these reasons I am eagerly awaiting the debut book from comedian and writer Michael Showalter, Mr. Funny Pants.  Showalter is most known for being a member of the sketch comedy group, The State and his roles in Wet Hot American Summer and Michael and Michael Have Issues.  He has written a book about writing a book.  He includes insight on the writing process in the Preface saying, “Being that I haven’t started to write this book yet, I think it’s irresponsible of me to write the preface first.”  But his good advice doesn’t end there.  He includes an outstanding recipe for gravy in a section of the book titled, “Holiday Recipes”: “Go to your local supermarket and ask the guy where the canned gravy is.”  And here I’ve been spending hours making gravy from scratch–if only I had known this shortcut at Thanksgiving!  I can only hope that the rest of the book has the same kind of shortcuts for the writing process so I can finally finish my own novel.  If writing can be as easy as buying gravy, I should have a three book deal in a matter or days.

So I say, “Bring it on, 2011!”  I’m ready to start a new year.  And over the next twelve months there will be some literary heavy lifting in the form of depressing non-fiction and harrowing essays and novels that bring you to (the not so funny type of) tears.  But me, I plan to at least start 2011 with a huge laugh (and most likely a hangover).

[Image: New Times]

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