Making Funny Count (And Avoiding the Nasties)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

There are humorists whose words are assaults—funny, perhaps, but mostly acidic, pointed, seething. Anger lies at the core of such humor. A hint of retaliation.  A hope, perhaps, that by glossing a story with the ha-ha funnies no one will notice what the tale is really about, or how deep the damage runs. 

There are humorists, conversely, whose jests come at the expense, mostly, of themselves.  Childhood was funny to them; childhood was a boon.  They grew up awkward or they grew up confused, and anyone who happens to stand in their wit's way has (it's clear) been tenderly assessed.  They will be getting ice cream later.

I prefer Humorist Type 2, and Haven Kimmel is a star among them.  Consistently funny, highly literary, surprisingly facile in her rhythms and subject matters.  For those looking for something to do on this hot-across-the-country day, I recommend her deservedly famous memoir, A Girl Named Zippy.  You'll forget that you are sitting alone by the window fan, your lemonade glass empty.  You'll stop praying for a breeze.

A passage to get you started lies below.  Before I get to that, though, I feel that I must say this:  I love the little girl above, whom I snapped one day at an event.  The only thing she has in common with Haven's description below is that she is, obviously, a dear, dear thing.

We tried a variety of hairstyles in those early years.  The really short haircut (the Pixie, as it was then called) was my favorite, and coincidentally, the most hideous.  Many large predatory birds believed I was asking for a date.  I especially liked that style because I imagined it excused me from any form of personal hygiene, which I detested.  I was so opposed to bathing that I used to have a little laughing reaction every time a certain man in town walked by and said hello to me and I had to respond with "Hi, Gene."

After a year as a Pixie, my sister decided what my hair needed was "weight."  Melinda executed all the haircutting ideas in our house and, in fact, cut off the tip of my earlobe one summer afternoon because she was distracted by As the World Turns.

The weight we added to my hair made me look like a fuzzy bush, a bush gone vague.....

Note:  After posting this earlier today, I read this beautiful Alessandra Stanley tribute to Nora Ephron.  It includes these lines, much smarter than my own, about the power of being funny without cruelty:
It’s hard to be funny without malice, and discontent is so often the flint for humor. Nora turned dross to gold and didn’t hold on to rancor. She suffered fools. That fundamental good humor was a high octane fuel that let her produce five times as much as anyone else and still find the time — effortlessly — to host a dinner, show up at a protégé’s book party, or make a photo album to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday.


Becca said...

I’m never amused at comedians who poke fun at others. It borders on meanness, and I don’t find anything funny in it.

But this Haven Kimmel (a new name to me) sounds as if she’s got the right idea. And I definitely sympathize with girls who have difficult hair!

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