Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On Being Funny

We had our first real snow of the winter last night. Yeah, in March. And yeah, after an 80-degree Saturday. I'm not entirely ruling out ashes from a destroyed alien spacecraft overhead because that actually makes more sense. And now today it's like it never happened. It's still a bit chilly, but it's bright and sunny and there's no sign of the snow that was falling heavily last night.

I generally think of myself as a reasonably funny person. I write humorous books, can tell a story in an amusing way, have a quirky sense of humor, and my reputation as a convention panelist is of either having something funny to say or reacting in a funny way to something funny someone else says (I'm prone to convulsive giggle fits). But last week I read a book that pretty much told me I'm not nearly as funny as I think I am. The book was The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro, and it's a collection of newspaper humor columns about Laurie's misadventures. Some parts of this book were laugh-out-loud, tears streaming down the face, go into convulsions funny. And although I'm sure there was some exaggeration or tweaking for comic effect, most of these things supposedly really happened. Alcohol was a factor in some of the situations, but a lot of it seemed to be because this woman (and, apparently, her family and friends, to a large extent) has managed to turn off that little warning voice in the back of your head that lets you know that what you're about to do probably isn't the smartest idea you've ever had. As a result, she does things like get her teeth stuck in a candy apple while waiting in the bank drive-through line, flash her doctor while wearing tights with a strategically placed hole in them and no underwear, and get pulled over for suspicion of driving drunk on the one occasion when she hadn't been drinking. It's like a louder, drunker, younger, less suburban Erma Bombeck.

While I've toyed with the idea of doing some kind of humor column, since I am supposedly mildly funny, reading something like this makes me aware that I will have to mostly remain fictionally funny. I'm way too reserved to get myself into truly funny situations, and that little warning voice in my head is probably overdeveloped. I may have a witty comment on a situation, I sometimes have funny thoughts, and the gap between my imagination and reality is often good for a laugh or two, but it tends to stop there. I fail to maximize on the funny potential by not following through. So while I may think I was invited to an office party to be set up with someone's co-worker when I was actually being invited to a family party to be set up with her son, I don't actually say or do anything based on that because the warning voice is saying, "Better keep your mouth shut until you're sure what's going on here." To get a great humor column out of the situation, I'd have had to make a comment on how the office must be a great place to work because it was almost like a family, or how this guy must be employee of the year because he was practically treated like family (and to really maximize that, he'd have to be an adopted foster child who's still self-conscious about his place in the family). In fiction, I can take it to the next step and get the payoff, but if I'm keeping it in the realm of the remotely real, it's never going to be as funny as it should be.

Oddly enough, while I was planning this topic for today, The Park Bench, a blog for nerdy women, had this post today about the social awkwardness that can come with being nerdy. I think it's that kind of awareness of potential disaster that has enabled me to develop a sort of sixth sense in which I can envision the disaster potential before it actually happens and act accordingly. That sometimes boils down to not acting at all. For instance, when I got to go to the Serenity premiere, I didn't eat at the party, even though they had a chocolate fountain. My first thought was "Ooh, chocolate fountain! Must go try it!" But then I had a brief flash forward in time, in which I saw exactly what could go wrong with melted chocolate in a public setting -- in perhaps my one lifetime opportunity to be in a room full of movie stars -- and decided that I could pass on the chocolate for once. Maybe I didn't enjoy myself to the fullest, but at least I don't have to live with the shame of knowing that in my one opportunity to be within mere feet of Nathan Fillion, I had melted chocolate dripping down my chin and didn't realize it. He may not have the slightest idea that I even exist (unless he noticed the Infamous Red Stilettos), but at least if I ever run into him again he won't know me as the chick with chocolate on her face (and, come to think of it, he might know I exist, since we both had essays in Serenity Found, so it's even better that there's nothing embarrassing from that premiere party if he ever puts a name to a face).

This sixth sense developed from plenty of embarrassing incidents earlier in my life. I hold Olympic and world records in the "waving back at someone I think is waving to me but who is actually waving at the person behind me" and the "responding to someone I think is talking to me but who is actually talking to the person behind me" events. I don't trip and fall down often, but I have been known to drop things or to walk into things when I'm not paying attention (such as the men's bathroom at DFW Airport -- which is not well-labeled, I must say). I have a terrible memory for names, especially when I see someone out of context, and that has caused a few tense moments for me (I will always ask people's names and how to spell them at book signings, even if I'm related to them). I've just been fortunate enough to avert disaster in most occasions. Now, though, I'm wondering if I'm cheating myself out of potentially good material by not wanting to make a fool out of myself.

Most of my funny stories have to do with funny things other people around me have done and my reaction to them. Come to think of it, my funny stories are almost always more about my reaction than about the actual events. I guess it's a different kind of humor. And to really get good funny stories about my life, I'd have to leave the house more often. Or, you know, ever.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

*hi-fives* To reactionary humor! (I'd say "Cheers," but I'm not yet 21. Anyhoo…)

It's so fun reading your blog. Today was another one of those times when I'm reading it and nodding, thinking, Yep. Uh-huh. Oh, most definitely. This is me, all right.

For example, when someone pulled a fire prank on me when I was at camp at age 15 or so, and the fire alarm was going off, other girls were screaming and checking the door and all that jazz. I noted others' door-checking and pulled on my jacket, thinking It's gonna be cold outside.

Then we ended up having to go out the window. I got to it, said "Oh," and rolled out into the bush below, temporarily losing my sandal in the process. (I was thinking Oh, that's higher than I thought. I found out later that only the "Oh" was vocalized.)

And then there's the way people give me funny looks and talk about me in the third person to others while I'm there at work. And the fact that I evidently terrified one of my friends the first time I met her, until someone else told her that I'm often how I was at that meeting.

Eh, don't worry about responding to this if you don't want to. I figure that you might find it amusing to read.

Oh, and it will probably be a little longer than I would've liked before I can buy your books—I kinda got laid off yesterday. >_< It's a gradual layoff, at least, with a reasonably nice severance package (especially considering I've been working there a month and a half), but I currently have no idea where my paychecks are gonna come from after that.