Is Humor the Stuff Written by Comedians?

Maybe it’s  nervous tic of mine. Maybe it’s a side effect of using the Kindle and always putting the books into different folders with names like  “history”, “fiction”, “science”  . . . etc.  Maybe this leads to the habit of always deciding that a book primarily falls into this category and not that other. The cumulative effect is that I think of books as belonging in bins: each book goes into a single bin, and all books are in bins. In set theory, this system of division is known as a partition. (Incidentally, in case you wonder, mostly about how far my madness goes, set theory falls under the bin of “mathematics”, which is itself in the “science” bin. I don’t know if the Library of Congress would agree with me.)

The other Kindle user in my household, crazy soul, has a folder named “humor”. This is complete anarchy! What could possibly go into such a bin? “Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter?” the angel on my shoulder timidly suggests. “Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants? Anything by Tim Allen?” “Silly angel”, say I, as I swat her aside. These books are all by comedians. What kind of categorization is it to say that humor is something written by funny people? What’s the point of having a cataloging system if its rules are to be circular like that?

“What about Ephraim Kishon? Sir Max Beerhohm?”, thunders the devil on my other shoulder. “Ah, you can say that”, I falsely concede, intimidated by his muscularity. My true feeling, however, is that although Kishon is side-splitting and Beerhohm hilarious, one would not want to categorize their works as humor. Beerhom is a novelist; he writes literature that is often satirical and immensely funny, but he is no more than humor-writer than Oscar Wilde should be considered one. Likewise with Kishon who should’ve won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He writes humorous travelogues ;  he pens plays and produces movies that have the audience roaring and their seats with laughter; his essays read like skids that can be performed by the Monty Python; he does not write humor. These people write with a flair that make us laugh, but their writing is literary and pointed. They have something to say other than “look at me, I’m funny”. They are witty and use humor to deliver their message, but in their cases, the medium is not the message. Their writings do not fall in the humor bin.

This is because humor is style and not content. A humor bin, should it exist, serves only as an absorbing state, a catch-all into which funny things may go, after they have not made a significant impact in any other category.*

(*Please read this as “In my opinion, this is because humor is style and not content”. I did not write it as such because, since a lot of what I write is my interpretation of the world, “in my opinion” is a redundant phrase that would stick out like a sore thumb should I use it as often as it is to be understood as being there.)

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2 Responses to Is Humor the Stuff Written by Comedians?

  1. Esa says:

    Thank you for that, as I was curious as to what exactly you do when you aren’t occupying the ‘ blogworld ‘. It was an enlightening essay on your ‘ realworld ‘.

  2. teasandbooks says:

    For yet another example of the distinction between writing by comedians and humorous writing by writers, please see Ellen Degeneres’s “Seriously . . . I’m Kidding” and Calvin Trillin’s “Quite Enough of Calving Trillin”, both recent & entertaining publications.

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