October 19, 2021 § Leave a comment
By Sarah Garfinkel & Julie Vick
Two humor writers walk into a bar.
The first one says, “Ouch!”
The second one says, “No, go with ‘Yikes!’ because hard sounds like K are funnier.”
Julie Vick and Sarah Garfinkel are a lot funnier than that. For the launch of Julie’s new book, Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?): An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood, Julie and Sarah (assistant editor for The Rumpus’ Funny Women column) talked about blending genres, building an online writing community, and teaching humor writing.
SARAH: In your book, you seamlessly weave personal anecdotes about parenting with satire. There is also extremely practical advice, such as this recommendation on getting through a baby shower: “Divide up the guests based on who likes playing games versus who doesn’t like to. Then let the extroverts play games while the introverts talk quietly or just sit in the corners eating cute tiny finger foods.” How did you find this balance between satire and nonfiction?
JULIE: The hybrid format came about over time. I debated whether the book should be straight satire or have some actual advice and landed on something in between, partially because I had read other parenting humor books that did something similar and partially because I thought some actual advice might be helpful for the audience. On the advice of my editor, I also worked in more personal anecdotes in spots, and I think that also gives it another interesting dimension.
Something I love about your humor is how you pick up on subtle things people do and say. In your book, you write that introverts are good listeners. How do you think introversion has influenced your humor writing and ability to notice the humor in everyday life?
I think being more of a listener/observer does help me notice small details that can be useful for humor writing. In the first humor writing class I took, the instructor told us to notice when we were noticing something. So now I’ve trained myself to make a mental note (or an actual note in my smartphone’s note app that only sometimes makes sense to me later) when something seems like a good detail or potential premise for a piece.
I also really like observational humor, where you point out the humor in everyday life (one example is one of my favorite headlines from The Onion). So, I gravitate toward writing those pieces which thus makes me look out for details more.
You are also skilled at community building and supporting other writers. How have you built your online writing community?
I think the short answer is I just try to be nice and a good literary citizen. I share others’ writing and interact with other writers’ social media posts (even if it just involves a gif reply which should take two seconds to send but sometimes takes me closer to 20 minutes because I need to search for the exact right one). Over time, I’ve made a lot of writer friends on Twitter and in Facebook writing groups.
I’ve also forged friendships at in-person writing conferences (sometimes meeting people in person that I first met online). Even though conferences are draining for me as an introvert, I always get a ton out of going to them and really miss being able to attend in real life.
As a writing instructor at the University of Colorado Denver, you’ve taught humor writing (among other subjects). How has teaching humor writing influenced your own writing?
One thing I’ve realized is that some people think you are either born funny or not, but the truth is most babies are not great at telling jokes. There are actually several techniques you can learn to use when writing humor—things like the “rule of three” and using hard sounds (concepts that are outlined in this New York Times piece). So people need more of a growth mindset about their ability to write funny!
As with other writing, just studying humor can help too—reading more of it and then choosing some pieces to deconstruct the structure of or highlight where the jokes are and see how they are working. I had some success with humor writing before studying it more formally but learning more about it has only helped me improve. I can now see a lot of underlying craft in things that may seem really simple on the surface.
Online parenting forums inspire several memorable jokes in the book. What is your advice for satire writers who are seeking inspiration?
One of my biggest forms of humor inspiration is frustration. If I’m feeling irritated about something—whether it’s about parenting or my inability to pick out a good melon—then that is often the kernel of an idea for a humor piece. I could write a journal entry or vent to a friend about these things, but turning them into satirical pieces is often a way to process the frustrations other than just ranting (although sometimes the first draft is more of a rant). There is definitely something therapeutic about turning your frustrations into humor.
Julie Vick is a writer whose work has appeared in New Yorker Daily Shouts, Real Simple, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She is the author of Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?): An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood (Countryman Press, 2021).
Sarah Garfinkel is a humor writer and educator. Her writing appears in New Yorker Daily Shouts, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Electric Literature. Sarah is an assistant editor of the Funny Women column at The Rumpus. You can find more of her work at sarahgarfinkelwriting.com.
June 7, 2017 § 26 Comments
That Writer. Every writing group or class has one. The person who talks more than everyone else combined. Who comes in stoned, or just high on life. Who interrupts the teacher we’ve all paid big bucks/gone through a tedious application process to hear. Who comments as if they themselves are the teacher. Who says things like “Well, you know what Flannery O’Connor said” as if we all know exactly what Flannery O’Conner said, and it wasn’t “Nobody cares, shut up.”
Look around the table. Do you see That Writer? No no, don’t point—Instead, draw a smiley face expressing pain and show it to the writer next to you by turning your notebook on the table.
If you can clearly identify That Writer, I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do. Practice your expressive smileys, and how to say “could you unpack that a little more?” with respectful seriousness for the days you haven’t done the assignment and are trying to run out the clock (That Writer has their usefulness!).
Wait—what? You don’t see That Writer? Oh dear. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you carry a bag of pens? Do you rummage in this bag more than once per class?
Have you ever cut your nails in class, you know, just that once when you had a bad hangnail and it was under the table and really quiet, not at all like it might be additional punctuation in the story of whoever was reading out loud at the time?
Does your jewelry make a delightful collection of wooden and metallic sounds?
Have you ever entered the room prior to class to find a previously arrived fellow-writer typing vigorously, earbuds in, and signaled that you need their attention? When they remove one earbud and say “yes?” in a sharpish tone, have you then courteously let them know you just need to use the printer and will that be OK? Did you then sing quietly to yourself while printing?
Have you written a chapbook of poetry, not self-published by any means but issued by the small independent press you own that has published several of your chapbooks and those of two other writers? Would you like to give a copy of that chapbook to every member of the class, and a few days later discuss it over coffee?
Do you often have a different interpretation of the work being discussed, possibly rooted in Freudian theory or any psychology named after a dead Slav?
Do you make sounds that people think indicate you are about to speak, but you are in fact just signaling agreement or a blocked sinus?
Have you ever started a comment with, “Well, this may be a little far afield, but this just puts me in mind of Wittgenstein, when he says…” and ended that comment four hundred words later with “does anyone else get that?” Were you discussing a humorous parenting memoir?
Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 1.5-spaced, 10-point sans-serif is “really a pretty quick read”? Is there an explicit sex scene on page 9? Does it have anal? Do you need to discuss how anal sex symbolically represents your relationship with the patriarchy/your creative muse/your mother?
Look at the body language of the person on your right: is that writer scooted to the extreme other edge of their chair, tilting toward the teacher as far as possible without falling off? Are you sure the chair-legs are uneven?
Have you ever said, “I know we’re not really workshopping today but perhaps we could just talk through my pages sentence-by-sentence?”
Are you disturbed by the number of questions you’re answering yes to? Are you just trying to help? Have you noticed other writers angling their notebooks towards each other, scribbling what can only be pictographs of the deep emotional reaction they can barely contain in response to your work? All is not lost!
First, take your pages for today’s reading. When you get to page six, rip it off and any following pages and throw them in the recycle bin. Trust that your lengthy story summary prior to reading will cover it. If there are any chapbooks in your bag, remove them. Have you smoked pot yet today? Skip it. If that horse is already out of the barn, maybe consider taking a sick day and coming to class next week instead. Or smoking later today, especially if it’s a 10AM class. Now remove your jewelry. Select a single pen and one additional backup pen, leaving your pen-bag aside. Check your manicure. Once in class, open your writing notebook. Every time you think of something to say, write it down. Make a tick mark by anything you thought that anyone else says. Now you don’t have to say it. Of every five remaining un-ticked comments, speak one of them. Then bask in your Buddha-like silence and smile wisely.
And don’t ever quote Wittgenstein again.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!
February 17, 2011 § 4 Comments
To review: Bristol Palin is reportedly writing her memoir.
Memoirist Sue William Silverman found this idea somewhat absurd, given that Palin’s life so far has included 1) being a rather flawed spokesperson for abstinence, and 2) Dancing with the Stars. Memoirist Robin Hemley made a joke about Bristol’s possible future as a lyric essayist. We here at Brevity, deep into our third bottle of Malbec, decided that a Bristol Palin Lyric Essay Competition was just the thing to brighten a dull February.
Yesterday we posted some of our favorite lines from the numerous, wonderful, rich-with-grizzly-bear entries.
Today, we post our winner, and two runners-up.
And then we promise never to mention Bristol Palin again.
THE $25 whopping American dollars WINNER:
Nine Months to Now
A Lyric Essay by Bristol ‘She-Ra’ Palin
As told to Laurie Ann Cedilnik
Mama cocks the shotgun, and we’re off. She has her target, I mine. Her words are bullets, and they fall without mercy. I am hit. Utterly without protection. His seed is a hail of bullets, and I do not duck.
Really craving pickles this month.
The Nifty Runners Up:
A Lyric Essay by Bristol Palin
As told to John Warner
It’s lonely in Alaska. That’s why families are big, so there’s always someone else around, but your family isn’t around, and maybe that’s why you fall into the arms of the handsomest hockey player in town, let him take your clothes off, let him place his hands on your hips and look at you and bring his lips to your belly and call you beautiful, which is something you’ve been taught to value.
A Lyric Essay by Bristol Palin
As told to Amy Butcher
Call me Ursidae. Call me whole.
As a child, I sifted river rock from the sandy collarbone of Wasilla Lake, stood ankle-deep in the cool, crisp water. We were twinned then, the water and I both: each of us free, each of us moving at an inexhaustible speed. The current carried the weight of the world: dandelion seed and pollen.
It was in an inlet in October that I saw him: the bear, that hulking bulge of brown. He stood by the water and then was in it, found a fish and took it whole. He swallowed its flailing, flippy body down.
Thanks to all of our awesome entrants, and congratulations to our winners, and Bristol.