Humor writing gets very little respect these days

I’m a humor writer. Been one for a number of years now. Sometimes it involves fiction; other times it’s incorporated into non-fiction. Either way, it is something I enjoy doing.

What I have discovered is that no matter what genre or style I utilize it in, it rarely gets a lot of respect by anyone in those respective fields. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

First, as most people who attempt to write humor know, good humor is very difficult to write. You either know what you’re doing, or you don’t. Those who don’t know how to write good humor end up writing really bad humor, but think that they’re funny. Such writing is very difficult to read, and quite often these conversations go something like:

You: “Um, I really like what you did with this piece.”

Attempted Funny Person: “What did you find funny about the piece?”

You: “Um…” Which quite often is followed by you dropping one of those smoke pellets that were used in cartoons and really bad spy films, where you make your get-away, realizing that if you don’t disappear quickly you’re somehow going to have to answer that unanswerable question.

Which then leads to the mistake so many people make when they think that humor must be so easy to write, and anyone can do it, even though they personally can’t do it themselves. This culminates in the erroneous postulation that humor is never to be taken seriously, so therefore it is not important enough to be used by “real” writers.

And this is the problem I find myself in today. As a serious writer of fiction (when I fall into my self-important moods), I find that some of my best fiction has been the type that has been developed through humor. My novel The Ameriad is probably the best novel I have ever written, and it is a full-fledged story of humor, involving a Greek epic of ridiculous proportions. Having said that, I have also discovered that when I discuss this novel with other people, they don’t take it, or me, seriously. They hear the “humorous” parts and immediately fall into this belief that both me and the novel are not to be considered serious, as in writing and writers. The fact that it is some of my best writing ever does not seem to make a difference. The fact that it involves some of the strongest uses of metaphor and allusion that I have seen in most modern day novels does not seem to cause anyone to consider it seriously. To everyone who looks it over, it’s a 300 page joke that doesn’t deserve that much attention.

I’ve discovered this to be the case with most humor I write. And people don’t even seem to realize that much of the humor I put forth has very serious implications when dealing with important issues. It’s just a different aperature to observe such circumstances. But because it made someone laugh or smile, it’s not to be taken seriously.

This happens with my nonfiction writing as well. In a recent article, I attempted to deal with the concepts of cults and religions by pretending to create my own cult. The responses I received were usually derision and not very serious themselves. The fact that seriously important issues were being broached in an absurd way should have given people a reason to think about their own normal concepts, but instead of doing so, they saw a “ha ha” moment, and nothing was seen as being in any way serious.

Sadly, most humor writers, especially ones who write so that issues can be approached from a different perspective, are rarely taken seriously, except by very few readers who seem to “get” it. It’s like a conversation I had about science fiction on television, in which I was trying to argue that some of the greatest drama of our time has been covered by the science fiction genre. A person responded to me with: “I prefer real dramas, like Gossip Girl, so I don’t have time for science fiction.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t joking.

I find that same sort of criticism with humor. And no matter how many times I try to joke about it, it still manages to bother me.

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.

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