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Soundbites from the Funhouse

Six creative types reveal what makes them laugh

By Nathaniel G. Moore

Elyse Friedman: “I once watched a documentary about a doctor and a team of nurses who removed a seven-pound tumour from someone’s face. The narrator said that the surgical team laboured for fifteen hours straight, and that the nurses had to periodically leave the room because of the over-powering stench. I looked at my partner and said: “It was the doctor that smelled”. I then proceeded to laugh like an idiot for about twenty minutes. Since then I have related this joke to numerous individuals, none of whom have found it remotely amusing. But it still cracks me up.”

Katie Crown: “It depends how it’s used and interpreted. Not everyone finds the same things funny. Also there’s a time and a place. I don’t think bar graphs about serious stats should have easy-going clip art on it, but other people at the meeting thought it was a real home run. I’m all over the map. I can sometimes come on stage with a half-thought-out idea and see what happens with it, or other times I’ll have prepared material and I know where it goes. Also, you can surprise yourself in the moment and say things you would’ve never thought of when writing them. It’s not a process I’m consistent with. Or I think anyone is, really.”

Jessica Westhead: “I love the humour that arises out of uncomfortable social situations. When I start writing a story I don’t think, ‘Yeah, let’s make this a knee-slapper!’ I usually start off with an unhappy character who’s dealing with an unpleasant event, and then something funny will happen to break the tension. That way, especially since humour is such an incredibly subjective thing, I like to think my stories will stand on their own whether or not they make a reader laugh.”

Sonja Ahlers: “I think a lot of people don’t understand my sense of humour. It’s hard to translate sarcasm — especially in print. I’ve had to do a lot of explaining over the years. The first five dollar word I learned was ‘facetious’ — enforced by my dad. He is really funny. He taught me how to make fun of society. I’m well known for my laugh. My overused word is ‘hilarious’. All of this ‘backstory’ contributes to how I incorporate humour into my routine/practice. It comes naturally.”

Claudia Dey: “It helps — not only in legitimizing, elevating and illuminating the work, but, to be deadly serious, it helps this ragged-edged human condition — like any balm, any succor, it gives us relief. Humour: it is the good scotch you are drinking alone on a bar stool while a rat climbs up your pant leg.”

Lynn Coady: “There were a lot of jokes and scenarios in Strange Heaven that I’d been saving up in my head for a while. In a way the novel organized itself around a series of jokes I already had lined up and ready to go. That’s true of Mean Boy and Saints of Big Harbour to a lesser extent, but with those books there was also an element of seeing how far a particularly outlandish character would go if I let him off his leash. Like with Isadore in Saints, the key to his character is that he can justify the worst possible behavior to himself–no matter what he does, he’s always blameless. Not just blameless, but usually considers himself persecuted and unappreciated to boot. For me the funniest moment in Saints, even though it is awful, is when he steals his sister’s TV on Christmas Eve and on his way to the pawn shop feels hurt and aggrieved and compares himself in all earnestness to the baby Jesus. Or the scene in Mean Boy, another Christmastime scene, where Jim gets hammered and belligerent and gives the poetry reading from hell. Here I just asked myself: what would Jim have to do and say to make this scenario as awkward and uncomfortable as it could possibly be-and then make it even worse? So that kind of humour involves being willing to kind of push your characters off a narrative cliff and jump over after them to see what kind of mess you end up with.”


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