(Note: This post first appeared on Fresh Fiction’s blog on April 7 of last year, or maybe the year before — well, some year — during a blog tour promoting My Own Personal Soap Opera. It has been updated to
shamelessly try to sell promote my new comedy Aefle & Gisela.)
By Libby Malin
When I was a graduate student at the University of Gussberry-on-Hornsplat reading for my doctorate in “Humor and Humorlessness in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Proto-European Monographs,” my professors often referred to a theory they loosely called “The Banana Peel Slide.”
This meme postulated that a humorous trope—such as the man-falling-on-banana-peel— loses its ability to trigger amusement after it becomes part of the greater eco-social-spiritual consciousness, leading to a revolt by sophisticated elites against populist humor grounded in laughing at another’s misfortune, and eventually coming round to popularity again throughout the entire societal continuum when the joke takes on a wry postmodern irony encapsulating the laughing-at-the-laughter-of-those-who-laugh at such simplistic slapstick (See I.M. Gully-Bull, “They’re Laughing With Me, Not At Me, an essay on the struggles of a stand-up comic in the world of spelunking,” Psychiatric Journal of the Criminal Mind, Jan. 09, 43-57).
In other words, slipping on a banana peel was HIGH-LAIR-EE-YUS when first viewed by Cro-Magnon Man, until his momma rapped him on the knuckles for laughing at another Cro-Mag hurting himself, and then became funny again when Momma started giggling about it herself.
But humorous tropes grow stale, so the banana peel gag loses its luster (or “lustre” as we were instructed to write at UGH) when viewed too often.
Humor, of course, varies from place to place and generation to generation (see Habe R. Dashery, “A Most Dreadful Hat: Materialism and Comedy in the Works of Jane Austen,” Oxford Community College Press, 1998, 90), but one thing remains constant—laughter usually accompanies surprise. One expects the man walking down the street in his fine new suit and boater hat to find his path smooth and journey uneventful. Then—surprise!—banana peel, meet foot. What’s not to love?
Nonetheless, humor writing is more than the mere description of slapstick moments which are, in reality, difficult to capture succinctly while retaining the laughter-inspiring elements. Written humor, in fact, depends a great deal on the effect of the words themselves, their groupings, their compilation, if you will, into a contextual image that ignites some inner Jungian childhood-pleasure-memory within the reader (see Diep Krappe, “Syntastic—Grammar, Puns, and Humor from Iambic Pentameter to ‘Yo Momma’,” Journal of Polska Witticisms, Aug. 01, pp. 3-87).
This is not to say one can’t describe slapstick effectively on the written page. As the great humorist J.P. Sartre (not to be confused with her more well-known and morose second cousin Jean-Paul), once wrote: Je vais chercher du bon vin a la cave, which, loosely translated, means: “It is possible for anything to be funny as long as the writer knows how to effectively communicate the core elements of the humorous situation, whether they be a physical action, a tres amusent observation a la ‘but other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln,’ or even, perhaps, the acting out of despair in a completely unexpected way. It is not the full bottle of wine in the wine cellar that makes one smile. It is the empty bottle of wine in the . . .” (the rest was lost to posterity, but the major components of Sartre’s take on humor appear in the brilliant essay by Dom. Pear I. Gnon, “The Banana Peel and the Descriptive Verb: Physical Comedy in a Linguistic Setting,” Wine, Laughter, and More Wine, Lots More Wine, More Wine . . . Please, June 02).
So, what, aspiring authors ask, is the secret to writing a successful humorous novel? Good spelling and grammar help (see Strunk N. White, “Spats, Spoofs and Spelling: The Dialectics of Inter-Class Dialogue in the Works of George Bernard Shaw,” Auckland Council Kanberry, ACK Journal of Pedants and Proofreaders, Sept 1910). But beyond that, a funny story is really any one that makes people laugh or smile. If it does so for you, the author, you might be on the right path toward igniting the same reaction in others.
Humorous fiction comes in all varieties, from the zany (L. Malin, My Own Personal Soap Opera, Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places, Sourcebooks 2010) to the zanier (L. Malin, Fire Me, a Tale of Dreaming, Scheming and Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Sourcebooks 2009) to the apex of zaniness (L. Malin, Aefle & Gisela, Istoria Books 2011) and more.
There’s no telling what will tickle any one particular person’s funny bone at any one particular moment. There is no formula for success, in other words, just a keen power of observation—keep your eye on that banana peel, sweetie—and the ability to write characters readers care about even as they face unrealistic situations that could make them laugh or cry (see Gloria Steinmart, “That’s Not At All Funny,” Feminism Yesterday, April 1971).
If you’d like a peek at my latest oeuvre, Aefle & Gisela, go to Amazon, BN.com or Smashwords to download free samples (after which, of course, you will buy the book. Right? Right? Right? Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please, oh, please….) It tells the story of a timid college professor, an expert on an obscure poetry-writing medieval monk named Aefle, who stops a wedding on a dare…and ends up, well, slipping on a banana peel….
Hope you like it—or that degree from UGH was a total waste of time!
Did I mention that Aefle & Gisela is only 99 cents for a limited time only? Yes, I know, it’s a steal — go on over and steal it for 99 cents! Don’t wait! Who knows when the price will go up to its true value– a case load of gold doubloons! Think how hard it will be to send that to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords. Better get it now while the price is manageable in every way!
Libby Malin did not attend (nor go anywhere near) the University of Gussberry-on-Hornsplat. In fact, she holds a bachelor’s and master’s from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. When she finally turned to her first love, writing, she began penning women’s fiction and young adult mysteries (which she writes as Libby Sternberg). Her first YA mystery, in fact, was an Edgar nominee. Her three previous humorous women’s fiction books (Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Fire Me!, and My Own Personal Soap Opera) garnered critical praise. Here’s a sample of some of it:
MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA by Libby Malin:
- Malin creates a world of wit and chaos that is …smart and insightfully written. – Booklist
- Malin’s latest is heavy on humor… (she) coaxes plenty of laughs…- Publishers Weekly
- I wholly recommend this romance… You’ll not be disappointed. Trust me! Rating: 5 Stars. – Love Romance Passion
FIRE ME by Libby Malin:
- This fast-paced, humorous book kept me giggling throughout the night. – A Novel Menagerie
- Fire Me …had this reader chuckling out loud. – Jo-Anne Greene Lancaster Sunday News
- Libby Malin pens a tale that is hilarious while still being poignant and introspective. – The Romance Studio
LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT by Libby Malin:
- The love story is charming and will be appreciated by any woman with bad taste in men who somehow inexplicably ends up with Mr. Right. – Washington Post
- A whimsical look at the vagaries of dating… an intriguing side plot adds punch and pathos to the story… – Publishers Weekly
- Malin’s clever debut toys with chick-lit stereotypes and offers quite a few surprises along the way. – Booklist