When someone asks, “are you trying to be funny,” they’re really schooling you for trying to be funny and hoping to make you feel small.
Flack from Juliaworld
Ages ago, I read an essay on stage at a literary conference. The essay, Juliaworld, was a light, silly piece. A lark. And yet, God bless me, it still makes me laugh when I read it. Onstage that night, the live response I received ranged from stony, bitter silence to loud laughter and applause. Most of the feedback I got afterward was positive. However, one woman confronted me loudly.
“Sharon Stone is beautiful,” she said. “Julia Roberts is too. They’re both really beautiful and famous.”
“I know,” I said.
“And they’re great actors,” she said.
“I’m aware,” I said.
“I don’t think you are,” she continued. “I’m sorry, but the whole time you were on stage I kept wondering, ‘Are you trying to be funny?'”
Another conference attendee wrote me an email a few days later. She wrote: “Denzel Washington’s wife is named Paulette [sic], and she and her husband are good friends with Julia Roberts. I just thought you should know that.”
A week later, I received an email, also presumably from someone else at the conference. I didn’t recognize the email address, and the sender didn’t sign their name. Ten or so days after hearing me read my eight-minute essay on stage, this someone wrote this:
“Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone are a hundred times more beautiful than you and a thousand times more talented than you’ll ever be.”
Yikes. I mean, just plain yikes.
Satire is meant to ridicule power. I wasn’t harassing or bullying defenseless women. The idea that wealthy, smart, beautiful, famous women like Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone need to be protected from yours truly is, for lack of a better word, funny. The idea that I need to be knocked down and put in my place because I dared to try to be funny — well, that’s not funny at all.
Are You Trying to Be Funny?
One of my favorite movies is Clue. Watching it makes me happy. It’s like old home week. I’ve seen Clue 432 times (approximation), and many of my friends don’t at all get why I love love love this film.
I’m a fan of Monty Python and Ferris Bueller and The Thin Man movies, along with the humor in Parks and Recreation, The West Wing, The Office, and Arrested Development. I have a friend who thinks Arrested Development is the worst show they’ve ever seen. I have several friends who can’t stand to watch so much as one episode of the “sanctimonious” West Wing. I know many people who couldn’t make it through two episodes of Parks and Rec. And so it goes.
I think Schitt’s Creek is delightful, but I don’t find it very funny. I made the mistake of saying that I think it’s overrated, and I almost earned myself an ass-kicking by three people downing shots at a bar. I also once said that I think Forrest Gump is a bad movie and got yelled at by several people in a writing class. I’ve since learned the art of keeping my mouth shut — at least some of the time.
Here’s the thing. Humor is hard work. It’s an act of courage. And what’s funny to me isn’t necessarily funny to you.
I get that. I do.
Am I trying to be funny? Not always. But some of the time, definitely. You can get my humor. Or not. Either way, rock on with your bad self. You do you.