Friday, January 1, 2010

Humor is subjective, and so is this opinion

George Waters column for Sunday, March 9, 2014:

I judged a humor writing contest recently, and it reminded me just how hard it is to write humor if you are not in Congress. The entries were anonymous, but none of them proposed comically self-serving legislation, so I am pretty sure none was written by elected officials.

I have entered a few humor contests myself without winning, and I have learned two valuable lessons: 1) humor is very subjective and 2) humor contest judges are humorless hacks.

I do not have any evidence, but the vibe I get is that contest organizers are just happy to find anyone who is willing to sit and read several dozen essays, even if their humor credentials are limited to having once watched an episode of "Two and a Half Men." Or, for that matter, a funny show.

I once attended a conference at which humorist Dave Barry listed his three main rules for writing humor: 1) it should be funny, 2) it should contain the word "weasel" somewhere, and 3) if there were any real rules for humor, there would be no "Marmaduke."

I tried to hold this in mind while judging, and tried hard to keep my funny bone as limber as possible, and wow, I apologize for what a creepy visual that is.

Amateur humor writers tend to write about something which actually happened to them, and then embellish that into something funny. It is the second of those two tasks which usually gets lost in the effort.

Again, it is totally subjective, though. I may not think that a dog getting into the laundry basket and running down the street with grandma's bra dangling from his nose is funny. Someone else may, especially if someone else is grandpa, who never saw the value of a dog until this moment.

I have a friend who persistently enters humor writing contests, and when she loses, and I compare her entry to the winners, it is clear the judges must have come straight over from judging at their ice dancing gigs.

Mark Twain wrote, "Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place." He was right. And for insurance, it never hurts to keep a weasel in your back pocket.

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