Please. Make me laugh (on humor and its uses).

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. Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 11.04.25 AM

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.

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15 thoughts on “Please. Make me laugh (on humor and its uses).

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Andi. I saw Tig on a documentary with another comedian where they went around these Podunk towns and did their routines. It was great. I agree with you about humor. Totally. And I understand about bad years. We went through two really bad years, but seeing my dad’s humor and how he dealt with his impending death was inspiring to me. Everyone needs to laugh… even in the face of some very difficult “life” stuff. Thanks again. Great seeing you in New Orleans!

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    1. Back atcha, Chris! I’m glad your dad maintained his humor even in the worst time, and I’m glad that you found inspiration in how he faced that worst of times. Yes, we all need to laugh. Even when sh*t is hitting every possible fan. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Humor (not the mean kind) is definitely a not-enough-sung hero in the world. It has gotten me through many, many years and many trials. Borrowed from Daniel Tosh: “If you can finish the sentence ‘There’s nothing funny about ______’, I probably don’t want to spend much time with you.” The people closest to me are all very, very funny people who can laugh when others might fret or cry. I have raised my children to see the humor in everything, as well.

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    1. Well, there are some things that I personally will never find funny and I will not make jokes about them. Rape is one. Genocide is another. There are also certain historical events that I’m not comfortable joking about. But for the most part, I think life can be really, really funny even in some of the darkest times. So, yes. I agree with you, for the most part. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. Well said, Andi. I heard Tig’s story on NPR and thought what a remarkable woman. Then I thought that there’s a lesson there for all of us so maybe we can become remarkable too. Humor is the tool I’ve used to fight low-grad, chronic depression.

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  4. As I *started* to enter crappy day number three, just the blog I was looking for. I’ll find some humor and leave it at day number two…
    Ona

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    1. Sometimes, though, finding humor is hard. I get that. But a little glimmer of humor might help alleviate the crappy, if only for a bit. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and get through.

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  5. Humor has taken me through many days since last August when my elderly Mom suffered a stroke which robbed her of the ability to speak clearly and correctly. She has expressive aphasia and ataxia. She continues to verbalize, but she utters nonsensical words. Once in a while she says a couple of phrases perfectly. My favorite is, “How shall I say this?” which she follows with a gibberish paragraph. I always grin and then pray for the restraint to keep from answering, “For God’s sake, please say it in a way that I can understand!” I believe she understands both my grin and her inability to speak clearly, because she usually laughs when this occurs. I hope that humor never forsakes her. And Andi, I don’t think I’ve EVER read any of your posts without smiling. I absolutely love your humorous sensibilities!

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    1. OH, wow, Renée. I’ll bet that is really frustrating for your mom, especially if she’s aware that she’s not able to speak clearly. But I do hope that her humor doesn’t forsake her, either. Thinking good thoughts for both of you! And thanks for stopping by! You rock.

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  6. Tig has a special on HBO called Boyish Girl Interrupted. I had never heard of her until I saw her on a late night talk show and was struck by her deadpan delivery. Her documentary was heartbreaking and funny, using her humor to get through very difficult times.
    There are several topics I would never find humorous but overall, I do think that humor gets me past some hard times.

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    1. Everybody’s got their fave type of humor. I just watched (on Netflix) a 90-minute or so comedy special with Jen Kirkman (“I’m gonna die alone and I feel fine”). I wasn’t too familiar with her work, but OMG this particular show, for the most part, had me laughing so hard in a couple of places that I cried. She did a lot of stuff on turning 40 (which all women can relate to who hit that age), relationships (she’s a straight ally), crankiness, and her own hang-ups. Laughing always makes me feel better, even if I’m in the midst of a bad day. And studies show that laughter really does heal. 🙂

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  7. Andi – I love humor in books and yet it is really hard to pull off effectively. Hats off (he he he – did you get that reference) to the great authors out there who do it extremely well. I have loved your books and probably because I can relate to your brand of humor. I agree that humor at the expense of others is not funny. I’d like to think I use humor effectively here and there, but as I said before it is hard to do well….perhaps someday I will nail it! Finding humor in the pain is a really good coping mechanism. I hope your crappy summer turns around and you let the humor flow through you.

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    1. Heh. Nice reference!

      And what’s that old saying? “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard”…? Anyway, I think getting the humor right in a story is really difficult, and is contingent on so many different things working in harmony. Or not — sometimes you want humor that jars, and in that case, that, too, is difficult to pull off so that it works within the context of the narrative. Because when humor falls flat, oh lordie. SO uncomfortable.

      And my summer hasn’t been crappy. I was having a crappy day in a difficult week, but no, my summer has been really busy, for the most part, with a lot of cool stuff going on. I was alluding to R.G.’s post the day before mine when I said “seems to be some of that going around” because R.G. was having a bad day, too. And these days, toward the end of summer, tend to be really busy and for those of us in the northern part of the world who have been going through a really hot, dry summer, you get to a point where you’re just, “omg could we please have fall now?” Like that. Summer doldrums, thus.

      Thanks for stopping by and keep on with the humor!

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