“Most people have a sense of it [humor]. Some people don’t. I feel sorry for those people. The humor impaired.” Dave Barry, writer.
“I live in hotels tear out the walls, I have accountants pay for it all.” Joe Walsh, musician.
Around their third or fourth album, cd or “collection of tunes,” rock musicians often come up with songs about how hard life on the road is, how they paid their dues, how their lives suck even though they’re now worth millions. We’re supposed to feel sorry for them because it’s just so difficult being a millionaire with groupies throwing themselves at you.
A lot of movie stars do the same thing. They cry to Barbara Walters or whoever will listen, how their last movie ruined their marriage, ran off their dog, or alienated their friends, and the mere little $10 million they got paid just wasn’t worth it. Of course if asked if they would give it up and stay home the answer is usually a resounding “no.”
Artists are another breed altogether. They start suffering at birth, they disdain money and you are supposed to buy their artwork because it shows their inner turmoil over dealing with the unfair and heavy-handed forces of the universe. You can tell them apart from musicians and actors because, when interviewed and asked to talk about their angst, the response is usually something like “I speak through my art, not with inconsequential words strung together like a bad pearl necklace resting uneasily on the bloated neck of immortality.”
Today it’s not just the creative types who suffer and tell tales of how hard life is on the road. Bankers, financiers, politicians and many others have joined the “life is hard” crowd. Former President Bush and Dick Cheney both wrote books about their ordeals while in office, possibly hoping we will believe that the invasion of Iraq was really just due to indigestion or an off day. We expect a similar volume from the current president one day about the rigors of trying to take a Hawaiian vacation while getting constant phone calls about terrorists lighting their pants on fire.
Financial people are, of course, hard to feel sorry for in any situation, although some did have a tough time getting into their limos and past the hecklers during various protests. And of course you will hear from many of them how hard it is to make any real money with all those government regulations choking their businesses. If only we could bring back child labor, sweat shops and 60-hour work weeks, some will argue, America could be great again. On top of that, just being burdened with a name like “Morgan” is such a hardship because the little people just won’t hang you with you.
One group that suffers for their art but doesn’t talk much about it are writers. Usually they are so happy and relieved to get anything published they don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart by complaining about life on the road during book tours. Besides, the budgets for that are usually pretty slim so trashing a hotel room or wiping out a mini-bar are not serious options for most authors. So we feel it’s time to open things up and let authors complain about how hard their lives are.
Take a look around and tell us you see lots of funny things to write about. You can’t can you, huh? No, because there is a serious shortage of funny in the world today. There may be just as many things to make fun of as ever, but writers risk their lives by satirizing people and events and situations that various special interest groups have made serious.
For example, our favorite author Jean Shepherd was able to build an entire story around a neighborhood bully and how his character Ralphie stood up to him when he was just eight years old. Today, that story would require vetting by a panel of psychiatrists, approval from school groups, consideration of any ethnic or economic conditions and, of course, a discussion on the history of bullying and legislative actions to eliminate it. Shepherd’s story, if done today, would have Ralphie in counseling, the bully sent off to a rehab program and the parents involved in a class action suit to implement zero tolerance rules. We dread to even think how the satiric bits about bullies in a Clockwork Orange would be affected today.
Sometimes a humor writer has to make something funny happen at great risk of physical harm or mental anguish. Making up a funny story about a nagging wife (or husband, calm down…) can lead to serious marital issues because the spouse is likely to take it personally. Describing a neighbor’s fall down the stairs while taking out the garbage is probably going to get you labeled as insensitive, and making fun of a neighbor’s loud music might get you a punch in the nose.
So here we sit, downtrodden, with no groupies and no tours and no hotels to trash, feeling sorry for ourselves. Humor writers pay their dues every day. We risk it all for our readers. The more we write the more despised we are by just about every special interest out there. They’ve made it a serious world and we are the last hope, the last stand against the anti-humor forces. It’s up to us to keep on stringing words together like a bad pearl necklace resting uneasily on the bloated neck of immortality.
Note: Many writers and performers, humorous or otherwise, have great affection for their audiences or readers that is rarely seen or discussed. Here is our favorite sentiment about that as told by the late Red Skelton:
“If by chance some day you’re not feeling well and you should remember some silly thing I’ve said or done, and it brings back a smile to your face or a chuckle to your heart, then my purpose as your clown has been fulfilled.”