These columns first appeared in the April 1, 2008, issue of Booklist. We’ve shared them here today to help celebrate Booklist‘s first-ever Spotlight on Humor.
That’s Not Funny—That’s Sick
Hey, pssst: fellas. This column is about humor, but you and I both know it isn’t really going to be aimed at you. Men and women both love a good laugh, but the purest male glee is often inspired by stuff that is just seriously wrong. You know, like the lung-draining, prostate-clenching laughter at a vicious, twisted stand-up routine by the late great Bill Hicks (who has a hilarious book). But we shall not indulge here in raunchy snickers at a really dirty joke well told and told well out of the earshot of women, or the eruptive Chaucerian mirth of a perfectly timed fart. That’s just childish, guys.
So I’m not going to drag down the level of discourse by mentioning books like the Penis Pokey Board Book (2006; not recommended for public libraries, for sanitary reasons) or the appropriately titled Should You Be Laughing at This? (2007) by one sick and twisted Icelandic dude named Hugleikur Dagsson. (Though I did. Laugh at it. Loudly. They say that bookstores are good places to meet women, and I’d say that any sober woman caught laughing over a copy of this book should probably be short-listed in the mate-for-life category.) But far be it from me to sully this column by describing the crudely drawn non sequiturs to be found in Dagsson’s vile little gem. The cover illustration of a stick figure vomiting into a baby carriage is fair warning. Really, guys, grow up.
Nor would you ever want a woman to catch you chortling over the foul, misogynistic pages of Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (2006) or the puerile, amply illustrated idiocy of The Alphabet of Manliness (2006), by Maddox (“U is for Urinal Etiquette”). Even worse than its complete lack of redeeming features is the fact that Maddox’s testicular tome devotes just six scanty pages to Chuck Norris! Fortunately, we now have Ian Spector’s The Truth about Chuck Norris: 400 Facts about the World’s Greatest Human (2007) to give the sultan of whoop-ass his due. (Like the Max and Maddox books, the Chuck Norris compendium is the ill-gotten spawn of the wild, wild Web, but don’t blame me if you get caught snickering over this filth on your computer at work: I warned you to stay away.) Very much in the antic spirit of those freaky Bill Brasky sketches that used to appear on SNL (also online) is the now infamous Chuck Norris fact generator, where you’ll find such nuggets as Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer—too bad he has never cried—or that while some kids piss their name in the snow, Chuck Norris can piss his name into concrete. The world’s greatest human himself is currently suing the book’s publishers, so be careful: if Norris catches you with this book in your possession, you’re toast. So please, guys, don’t read it.
And what kind of a librarian would I be if I were to steer you toward Look at My Striped Shirt: Confessions of People You Love to Hate (2006), by the Phat Phree? I know you guys are way too mature to find humor in such testimonials as “Having a huge penis is not so great.” Just like we’ve moved beyond the kind of inspired obscenity found in the pages of Jim Norton’s Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty Breasted Zilch (2007). I mean, how sick are we, guys? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
We’ve tried, guys. Honestly, we have. But we just don’t get it. We don’t understand why you’re so amused with the sound effects and emissions produced by every orifice of your bodies. Women have enough body issues, thank-you-very-much, and there’s not too much to laugh at. Besides, the dramas of our anatomical obsessions are no match for the comedies that pass for our daily lives. Which explains why women have adopted what I call a zany Zen sense of humor. To wit:
For me, it all started with Judy Blume, who asked, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970). Sure, Margaret was fixated on menstruation and breasts. But those concerns paled in comparison to the absurdity of socializing at boy-girl parties, looking for religion, and buying a bra, by itself the most ridiculous activity in which a woman, budding or otherwise, can engage.
“Fix up” is a phrase that brings on gales of female laughter, implying that a blind date is somehow a cure-all for our woes. Our favorite matchmaker is the title character in Jane Austen’s Emma. She’s so lovably clueless and stubborn in her would-be altruistic efforts that we can’t help but smile when she wears egg on her face after all her love schemes implode. Other women’s foibles are much more entertaining than our own, even if they are our own. Witness that other charming Emma in Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? (2004). Terrified the plane she’s on is about to crash, Emma spills her guts to the charming stranger in the seat beside her. The next day he pops into her office, as, what else, her new boss. We can relate. We’ve all said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Lauren Weedman made a practice of it and got booted off The Daily Show. Just because she accused Jon Stewart of downloading some porn to her computer and claimed he was her new boyfriend. Lauren records all her most cringe- and chortle-worthy moments in A Woman Trapped in a Woman’s Body (2007), and we readers know that it’s Stewart’s loss.
We like some good snark now and again, too. No one makes us feel as intellectually smug as Florence King. In Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989), she slices and dices most of the institutions and ideals women hold dear: marriage, career, motherhood, friendship. We gleefully go along with Florence’s outrageous views, thinking maybe we’re better off unmarried, childless, and in full possession of a rapier wit capable of plunging straight to the funny bone.
Payback is not a bitch; it’s hilarious. No one knows this better than Terry McMillan, who takes the revenge fantasy to new heights on page 89 of Waiting to Exhale (1992). By the time Bernadine finishes packing her lying-no-good-cheating husband’s luxurious personal goods into his BMW, we know what kind of cherry will finish off this divorce-flavored sundae. With panache and lighter fluid to spare, Bernie lights a match to signal her freedom and ignites the birth of the “you go, girl” movement.
So, what are we laughing at, you ask? Why, we’re laughing at ourselves, warts and all. Ladies, do your boobs keep sagging? Tattoo a picture of yourself on the left one. When you’re 80, you’ll finally be tall and thin. See, guys, we like physical comedy, too.
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David Wright is Readers’ Services Librarian, Seattle (WA) Public Library. Kaite Mediatore Stover is Head of Central Library Readers’ and Circulation Services, Kansas City (MO) Public Library.