Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I'm only funny in person

I'm funny as hell.

I really never used to think about it. I mean I knew I was funny, but I thought everyone was. It was only two years ago, when I went to a retreat with other Caribbean nationals, that it really hit home that wasn't the case.  We had to pass around these little memos and write messages for different people. When I got my memo back, it was filled with, "You are so infectiously happy," and "I laughed til my face hurt all weekend, thanks to you."

This weekend was more of the same. I did another presentation on blogging for writers, this time for SCBWI Tokyo. Afterwards, a few of us headed to a restaurant for dinner. I was just talking my usual talk, but before long every one was laughing so hard, that we might have been afraid of getting kicked out if those guys weren't already used to us. Now I don't think I was the only funny one in the group, but I was definitely getting my fair share of cackles.

Enter: MS3. You'd think with all my fans rolling in the aisles, I'd be able to put some funny in my novels. But if I'm killing in real life, I'm dying on the page.  So I enlisted the help of a view Kindle editions about writing comedy and, apart from realising that there a million books on comedy for screen and stage but fiction is seriously lacking, they helped me uncover a few reasons why it's difficult for me to get the humour down.

1. The formalities

Y'all already know I grew up in Barbados, the most easterly place in the Caribbean (and the West - depending on how you define it). Barbados takes pride in being very formal. I often joke that we're more British than the Brits, with our love of ceremony. I mean, there must be a reason they call us Little England. Top that off with my family and their neuroses. I nicknamed my mother Mrs. Bucket, after the star of Keeping Up Appearances.

Despite me being a really laidback person in general, things like presenting and writing feel formal. It feels like I should speak or write properly. I'm able to let go of this enough to stamp my voice into my writing, but I think the formality is eating the humour.

2. Table tennis

There are different formats of comedy. For example, there's the funny monologue. One person talking, telling a funny story. That's not me. My funny bounces off others. It comes from hearing someone say something and either having an unusual thought or seeing a humourous spin. I never set out to be funny in informal situations. Someone says something and, next thing you know, I'm off and running and people are holding their sides and wiping their eyes.

3. Randomness v. Rehearsal

Like I said, my funny bounces off others. That feels totally natural to me. But orchestrating funny? That feels totally disingenuous. Like helping old women across the street to earn a Brownie badge. Or joining a charity expedition to get out of the office without using a vacation day.

As a co-pilot(/translator) on a passenger submarine, I was responsible for lots of bits of machinery, served as a second pilot on board, and periodically needed to use my French, Spanish and Italian. (I didn't speak Japanese back then.) In addition, co-pilots were often required to give tour spiels. Many of my colleagues used to joke all through their spiels. "A submarine is safer than an airplane because there are more planes in the sea than subs in the air!" But it always felt wrong for me.

Combine this with the formality bit from before, and anything I speak I come off as super-stiff and organised. And that's so not me.

4. BLAH!

When I was at the Coast Guard Academy, I played in the marching band. One of my friends had this way of randomly playing a bit of music really loud. An instructor told him that it was like you're walkin down the street and a guy is in front of you. Suddenly, the guy shrieks, "BLAAAAAAHHHHH," jumps up and down, runs around, and then just goes back to walking.

Un-reigned in me is like the guy screaming BLAH. I'm too loud. There's no connection between my brain and my mouth. All social graces go out the window.

And I'm funny as hell.

I have no problem dropping the reigns in informal situations, where there's nothing at stake. Dropping the reins is crazy fun. But in some situations, I feel like there is something at stake, or I have a responsibility. And I want to stay in control. Who knows what might come out at the wrong time if I don't?

In Conclusion

I'm still working on it. I know I'm funny, and I want my writing (and my public speaking) to be funny as well. Why? Because I love dystopians, and work that deals with heavy topics, but I often feel drained after I read them. And I want to energise the world. What better way than to bring the funny?

1 comment:

Marsha Sigman said...

I feel your pain. It took until my fourth manuscript to really get the hang of it in print.

Keep at it!! You ARE funny!