So yesterday I was having kind of a crappy day. Seems to be a lot of that going around. Maybe we’ve hit the summer BLAHs or something. At any rate, I happened to come across an article called “25 Lesbians Every Gay Guy Should Know” (personally, EVERYBODY should know about these lesbians, but whatevs).
I read through, learning things and thinking “COOL” and then I got to Tig Notaro’s entry. Some of you may be familiar with Tig. She’s a hell of a comic. I’ve seen a few of her routines on YouTube, but what I didn’t know was that in 2012 she had the.worst.year.ever. You won’t find mention of everything that went on that year in the entry in that article. I did some digging to find out more, including watching a brand new documentary on Netflix about her (called “Tig”. See it.).
Her horrendously bad year included a near-fatal bout with C. diff, which is a horrific bacteria infection that screws up your guts; the death of her mother soon after that; a break-up (she doesn’t talk much about it) and then, because she apparently hadn’t gone through enough, a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer, which required a double mastectomy. This is all in the span of, like, 6 months.
So how did Tig respond?
Soon after her cancer diagnosis, she decided to do a show at the Largo Comedy Club in Los Angeles. That show changed comedy history. It’s no longer available at Louis CK’s site (as that article says), but you can get it at iTunes. It’s audio and not video; Largo doesn’t allow video. And it’s not Tig Notaro Live (as in “alive”; it’s live, as in “we all live for Friday”). She went on stage that night at Largo not knowing if it would be her last show ever and she just laid everything out on stage, all the things she’d been going through.
And the audience responded in most incredible ways. The show itself didn’t go viral. The IDEA of it went viral. The morning after that show, Tig woke up with hundreds of email messages and a full voicemail box. People who had been at the show like Louis CK Tweeted about it, because everybody knew they had witnessed something amazing and something really special, that comes along only once in a while. And all of a sudden, Tig was on everybody’s map.
It’s walking a razor’s edge, comedy like that. Finding the humor in horrendous things that happen to you without weighing the audience down in a bad way takes a deft touch and I don’t think anybody but Tig could have pulled it off.
I haven’t listened to the complete audio of that legendary show Tig did at the Largo in 2012 because it hits a little too close to home still. One of my not-so-great years was 2011, starting around March. It involved terrible back pain, not walking, sitting, or standing for 8 weeks, back surgery, the death of my canine companion, and a couple weeks after that, my own breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy in February of 2012. Which I, too, have discussed openly.
Which brings me to my point.
Humor is a flipside of pain, and it’s part of my creative process. I’ve used humor as a way to blunt the effects of the chronic depression I deal with, as a way to get through difficult patches, and as a lens to view the world in general. Without humor, I’d be even more of a mess.
And not just any humor. I’m not into the kind of humor that takes cheap shots at people — mean-spirited humor — because I don’t think it helps anybody, least of all the person who wields it. Not that there’s no place ever for that kind of humor. Sometimes that type of humor can be used to call attention to things that need to be called attention to. But I’m more the poking fun at myself type, and the goofy absurdist humor type, and every day brings new possibilities for finding something funny in this crazy bucket we call life.
I admit, it was freaking hard to find humor in my icky year. I like to think that I did (still waiting for my superhero cred as the one-tit wonder — think of the uniform possibilities!), and that I still do, because humor plays a crucial role in my life overall. It plays a crucial role there, and also in the lives of the characters I write.
Those of you who are familiar with what I write know that. I write different levels of humor for different characters — some are definitely funnier than others — but in my world, humor humanizes and heals, even in the midst of upheaval and pain, whether emotional or physical. Consequently, in the stories I write, humor is present in some form. Sometimes it’s overt, other times it’s not. Often, I engage it in the interactions between characters, and it shows in the dialogue or in a particular phrase a character uses. Humor can also be effective through context. That is, maybe it’s not so much WHAT a character says as HOW a character says it and what the character is doing as the remark is made.
I think humor is also an effective tool in flirting, and I like to employ it as such in the romance writing I do. I find humor sexy and appealing, and I think it can totally add layers to a developing relationship. Speaking of, if you decide to watch the documentary on Tig, you’ll see the role humor played between her and her now-fianceé, fellow comic Stephanie Allynne in the development and evolution of their relationship.
So for me, reading about Tig’s experiences and watching the documentary about her reminded me how important humor is to my creative process, and the role it plays in my stories. And I love to read writers who inject humor into their stories, whether through character interaction, situations, or a combination of both.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I have been able to write a short story with a main character who is a breast cancer survivor. That’s forthcoming in an anthology that’ll be out later on. And yes, there’s a bit of humor in it, between the characters. Imagine that. . . 🙂
At any rate, how about all y’all? What’s the role humor plays in your life and/or creative processes? And what makes you laugh?
Happy Friday. Live, love, LAUGH.