Laughter: a gift and a curse to the obsessed writer – David Lamb
By David Lamb
What can I say? I’m cursed – I love to laugh and I’m a diehard romantic. So it’s not surprising that one of the most romantic experiences of my life involved lots of laughter.♥
It was June 27, 2003 – opening night of my first play Off-Broadway. The show was sold out, and my wife and were stuck outside the theater listening to the show through the door. We had only been married a year and were now embarking on this crazy artistic journey together.
It was a nerve-wracking experience because as a writer I am obsessed with making my audience laugh, whether in a theater or reading a novel in the comfort of their home. Call me a nervous Nellie but laughter helps me rest assured that the audience is enjoying my work. So naturally I couldn’t wait for the first laugh. My wife’s and my ears were pressed against the door listening intently our hearts racing like it was the Kentucky Derby. Two minutes into the show and the crowd exploded in laughter. Then thirty seconds later another explosion. A minute or two later another burst erupted and soon the laughs were coming so often and so powerfully that I couldn’t keep track.
And did this shower of love cure my obsession? No — it only intensified my desire to make readers laugh. And unfortunately I’ve passed on this dreadful condition to my beautiful eight-year-old daughter who simply cannot accept that a joke or a scene in a movie is funny she must know WHY it is funny – with all the insistence that an impatient eight-year-old can muster. Poor girl.
So this is for my daughter, Kaira, and everyone who loves to write. Here are three tips for being a barrel of laughs.
1. THE RIDICULOUS NAME EXPLAINED BY A LUDICROUS BACK STORY
One of the best ways to evoke humor is a ridiculous back story for a character’s name, like the infamous ‘Jimmy Two Times’ from Goodfellas who got his sobriquet from the fact that he repeated every sentence, you guessed it, two times. In my new book, On Top Of The World, which reimagines the story of Scrooge in modern pop-superstar context, I’m blessed by the fact that Charles Dickens named his most hapless character Cratchit. Working with such great material I simply couldn’t resist putting a comical spin on such a delicious name. This contemporary Cratchit is no longer an anonymous office worker, but a famous comedian trapped under the thumb of one of Scrooge’s notoriously egregious contracts. His comedic instincts were embedded days before his birth when his father lost a foolhardy bet and was forced to name his new born son after Miami Vice’s Sonny Crocket only to then botch the spelling make his poor decision descend from the foolhardy to the ridiculous.
2. THE TWIST ON THE WELL KNOWN
One of the fastest routes to a quick chuckle is a spin on a well-known phrase that surprises the reader. For example, never judge an app by its icon or the tweet is mightier than the sword each bring a quick smile because they are familiar yet different in surprising ways. In On Top Of the World I open with a title we all know, The Devil Wears Prada, but with a twist — “The devil doesn’t wear Prada, he wears Sean John and I was the idiot who taught him how to shop.”
3. THE UNBELIEVABLE STORY THAT COULD ALMOST BE TRUE
Finally, an outlandish story that is nearly but not quite impossible. Like in Forrest Gump & Co. when Forrest creates an energy company rooted in the gas emanating from cow manure only to have it explode and cover the town in unwanted stench. Sure it’s unbelievable, but if a reader can imagine it for one second they can’t help but laugh. Now, imagine a college protest and the campus clown wants to make his contribution by cooking the protesters a meal, but in his zeal and culinary incompetence he nearly burns down his dorm by grilling a rubber chicken! Yes it’s almost unbelievable, except that’s what happens when Cratchit tries to support Scrooje’s college activism.
And believe me that pales in comparison to some of the stories I could tell from my college days, but for now those will remain safely undisclosed.
David Lamb is a native New Yorker, bitten with the writing bug since he was in elementary school. Like Charles Dickens, David grew up a poor boy in the big city who found that the pen really is mightier than the sword. He’s thrilled to share with the world his re-imagined Scrooge, no longer a crusty, aged Englishman living in Victorian, England but, Scrooje, a contemporary cad who is music’s biggest superstar with his face plastered on billboards across the globe and the monetary ambitions of an oil baron. On Top of the World is out now.