The Basis of Comedy (Carolyn McSparren)

I can’t remember who said that survived disaster is the basis for comedy.

How many times have you retold some family story about an event that seemed like a mess at the time, but once you were happily through it, became funny in the retelling?

James Thurber was a genius at this. One of his stories is entitled, “The Day the Pig Fell in the Well.” Then there is Eudora Welty’s, “Why I live at the PO.”  Take a serious look at what actually happens in each of these stories, and you’ll discover the events weren’t funny at all while they were happening.

Disaster that is not survived is just disastrous. Nothing funny about it.

But the perfect day isn’t funny either. Nobody laughs at things that go right. Happy events, nice people, no conflict… No laughs. Comedy, unfortunately, arises out of pain. But remembered in safety.

People tell me I write funny. My latest romance for Harlequin is about retraining five wounded vets to drive carriages. Not funny, huh? But there are definitely funny elements in it, as there are in both my published mysteries for Belle Books, One Hoof in the Grave, and The Cart Before the Corpse.

Because we human beings are psychologically pre-disposed to hope, to pick ourselves up once we are on the other side of whatever bad thing has happened, we look back and laugh. We turn the event into a myth, and a funny myth at that. Of course, we pick and choose what to highlight and what to downplay, but then hyperbole is another element of comedy.

Case in point. My husband, George, is recovering from a mild stroke that has left him with hallucinations. He’s aware of it. We make a game of it. One morning last week I was drying off from my morning shower when he banged on the bathroom door and informed me that there were three Chinese ambassadors waiting for me in our bedroom. Could I please come and speak to them right away. I told him to tell the ambassadors that I was buck-nekked and would see them after I got some clothes on. He did, and they immediately disappeared.

Where in his psyche did they come from? Who knows, but they solved his problem of worrying about the closed bathroom door. Later, when we talked about it over lunch with no hallucinations in the neighborhood, he thought it was hysterical.

Someone told me I should keep a journal. I’m planning to call it, A Journal of the Plague Year.  Take that, Daniel Defoe.





4 thoughts on “The Basis of Comedy (Carolyn McSparren)

  1. I am sorry about your husband but that bathroom story is hilarious. Hope he is better soon. Your story made me think of the time my mother experienced transcient global anmesia. She knew who she was but it messed with her short term memory. She was in the bathroom getting dressed for church for several hours. She thought she had only been in there for a few minutes. We all thought she had had a stroke. She was fine after 24 hours. During that time she didn’t remember anything for even a few minutes. My brother,Dan, told her she was oinking like a pig knowing she wouldn’t remember any of it. My Dad and other brother didn’t think what Dannny said was funny. When my Mom heard about it the next day she just laughed. Years later, after we lost my Mom to cancer, we sat around laughing over that story once again. We shared it at her funeral too. I laugh every time I think about that story.

  2. Carolyn, your story reminds me of when my brother was dying from AIDS. By the time he finally came home, he was taking as much morphine as he wanted, as often as he wanted it- the disease was eating his bones, among other things. He, too, knew he sometimes hallucinated. We were sitting in a covered bus stop one day, with other people, I might add, when he said, “Did you just see those pink elephants go by?” I must have had an odd look on my face, trying to figure out how to respond, because the next sentence out of his mouth was, “They aren’t real, are they?” The entire group of strangers cracked up, including my brother!!!

  3. I was afraid that the readers wouldn’t get it, but you obviously did. What else can you do but laugh? George told me his little brown men were in the den refinishing the furniture. I certainly wish they would, but so far they don’t seem to have accomplished much.

  4. So glad to have you amongst us here at StoryBroads, Carolyn! I loved it when you provided a Guest Post, and now we get to hear from you every week. Welcome Aboard!

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