Thursday, April 06, 2006

Funny Business

I think that there's a delicate balance between making a point through humour and being considered a smartass. I've been walking this particular tightrope my entire life; I tend to instinctively look for humour in the world around me. While I was watching the final - and pivotal - scene in Memoirs of a Geisha, which takes place in a visually spectacular Japanese garden, I couldn't stop myself from blurting; "man, I really need to redo my backyard".

Maybe I'm a smartass, perhaps I'm just a tad irreverent. It's hard to know. I actually have a fairly typical Scandinavian temperament - reserved, serious, a little morose, even. I just like to make people laugh. Of course, Estonians are also known for having a little fun now and then. I mean, how can you not see the funny side of being the international Wife Carrying champions?

It used to upset me if people didn't get my sense of humour, but I stopped worrying about that years ago, because, well. It turned out that I don't care. You can't really, if you want to be true to yourself. Over the past few years I've been trying to convey humour in print, and I've found it an interesting experience to both find an appropriate place for humour and to relearn to shrug off people who don't get it.

The fact is - everyone has a different sense of humour, and some people are just not looking for a laugh when they pick up a book. My high school curriculum introduced me to a parade of deep, meaningful and decidedly humourless literary work that made me want to poke forks in my eyes. It was the first - and only - time in my life I didn't enjoy reading, but clearly there are readers out there who prefer their stories with an ample dose of serious. Me, I prefer to save my fork poking for other occasions.

I'm still at the phase where I'm trying to balance story and humour, but there are a number of people who do this well. Anne Lammot's Bird by Bird, which I've flogged ad nauseum (but really, read it!), is both hilarious and serious when warranted. Hypocrite with a White Pouffy Dress is alternatively hilarious and meaningful as hell. Beauty Tips from Moosejaw is the funniest travel book I've ever read and is also meticulously researched and written. (Although there's some contention about Peter Benchley's sense of humour, his first draft of Jaws was so full of jokes that his editor cut them all out. See, I would have LOVED more jokes in Jaws, but I guess that all that judicious editing worked out okay for Benchley in the end.)

As I'm rewriting I'm seeing opportunities to add in a bit more humour but I'm also trying to restrain myself. The feedback that I got from the freelance editor was that I need more conflict, not more funny business. (I just happen to like funny business a lot. I mean, is it wrong that I sent this to BHJ while laughing my head off?)

With any luck, this draft will be done Easter weekend. After that, I'll be busy experimenting with a drink that consists solely of hollow Easter bunnies and Kaluah.



Flikka said...

Scandinavian humour is very particular and you even have to have the right Scandinavin/Baltic person across from you to really like/appreciate it.... I've met a couple Estonians who are so straight-laced....ugh. I think they "get" the humour but are so much better than me... same goes for Finns.

Maia said...

I've met a couple Estonians who are so straight-laced....


Oh, dear god, I know what you mean. My first trip to Estonia, I was in the airport with a girlfriend. (I was 22 or so). We were flying Finnair, so the whole line was Finns and Estonians - most of whom were completely silent.

We were very excited and making a lot of noise, laughing and pretty much carrying on. Finally, the woman in front of me turned around, looked right at me, and said, in Estonian, and in a tone of voice that made my spleen hurt; "Is this your first time on a plane?"

Of course, once everyone was on the plane and had a beverage, they were much rowdier :)

Koik head/all the best,