Central Snark


Humor Books Suck by mattresspolice
Thursday, 21 June 2007, 8:28am
Filed under: funny..., Pop! goes the Diesel

DieselI’ve been thinking about writing a book for a while. By “a while,” I mean like six months, but in truth I’ve been thinking about it since I was about seven. It’s only recently, however, that I’ve started to think about writing a humor book. If you’re familiar with my site or the stuff I’ve written for the Snark, you may be surprised to learn that it’s only recently that I really started to write humor seriously. And if you don’t think you can write humor seriously, you should see the joke that my non-humor writing was.

For some reason, I always thought I was going to be a science fiction writer. I love sci fi, and I’ve written several sci fi short stories. You won’t find any of them posted or published anywhere, though, because they pretty much suck. I’ve got the rejection letters from a number of prestigious sci fi magazines (ha!) to prove it.

Here’s the problem: I don’t have the attention span to write serious fiction. I get bored with my characters and situations, and keep coming up with crazy new ideas that I want to incorporate. My characters start to question why they’re stuck it such dull, preposterous situations, and refuse to do what I want them to do. They crack jokes at inappropriate times, and their grave predicaments are undercut by my inability to comment on anything without irony. I guess the real irony is that I always thought this was a handicap. If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know what a talented writer can do with a cast of wise-ass characters stuck in a bad sci fi story.

I’m no Douglas Adams, but after 30 years of trying to emulate Isaac Asimov I’m finally starting to find my groove as a writer. I’m working on a compilation of my better Mattress Police posts, and I’ve been making some progress on a humorous novel about the apocalypse. If I ever do get a book published, it’s going to be something in the humor vein.

With that as my goal, I’ve started browsing the humor sections of bookstores to see what kind of humor books get published. This may shock you, but what I’ve determined is that most humor books are crap. Of course, it’s my opinion that most of everything is crap, but humor books certainly are no exception. The conclusion that I’ve come to is this: To get published, a book has to sound funny. That is, it’s got to have a title like 100 Ways to Kill a Penguin With a Banana or Bring Lots of Water: How to Make the Most of Your Vacation on Mercury. The problem with books like these is that except for the title, they aren’t funny. At all. Ever.

Here’s the reason: The title IS the joke. That’s why it sounds funny. The problem is, there isn’t a joke in the world that can be stretched to even a hundred pages and still retain any of its humor content. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wishing for a nice punchy obituary section to liven things up a bit by the time you get to page four.

For example, there is a book called The Zombie Survival Guide. It’s a guide for what to do when zombies take over earth. Funny, right? It’s one of the most popular humor titles out right now. The thing is, it’s not funny. I browsed through it for about ten minutes before it dawned on me that the book had exactly one joke in it. Zombies, get it? It’s not a humor book, it’s a zombie book. If you like zombies, or you are a zombie, I’m sure you’ll love it. Personally, I had to put the book down when I began to groan and drool on the carpet at Border’s.

(Note: There are some exceptions, but these are almost all books by ‘name’ authors like Dave Barry or P.J. O’Rourke. Basically, the people who can get away with publishing a book that doesn’t have an extremely narrow theme.)

A friend recently put my in touch with an editor at a company that publishes a lot of humor books, and she confirmed some of my suspicions. A funny title, funny chapter titles, and funny pictures. That’s what sells. I pitched her a couple of ideas, one of which had a very narrow “guidebook” type theme (sort of similar to the zombie book), and another that was a much broader idea, which would allow me some wiggle room to write more in my normal semi-coherent ADD style. She liked them both, but basically said that for them to use it I would have to take out the first person stuff — which would make it a more formal, third person style book. (I should mention, on the off chance that she reads this, that she was just communicating the realities of the market, and I’m extremely thankful for her frank advice.)

Anyway, so now I’ve got an opportunity to write a book for a reputable publishing company, but the rub is that I’ve got to try to do exactly what I’ve just been telling you seems to be impossible: I have to take a funny idea, break it up into a bunch of funny sounding chapters, and then drag it out for 170 pages without ever breaking the theme of What to Do if Your Spouse is a Werewolf. (That’s not the real title. But hell, maybe I’ll pitch that next.)

So, any ideas?

~Hopeful Diesel

Look for How to Succeed at Laughter Without Blowing Stuff Through Your Nose in the comedy aisle at Humor-blogs.com.

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28 Comments so far
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so i guess “Cleaning Out the Sock Drawer ~ Darn those Things Anyway”, “OH the Humanities!”, and/or “Diesel Fitter” are out, eh?

i know 2 things:

1. Not only will your book be funny, it will be <em>hilarious</em>. because you’re just that good. (you are, you really are)

2. i am SO GRATEFUL to you for sharing this information in the form of a post for this site i could kiss you. no worries, Mrs. Diesel, as the “crazy aunt” — or, as i’ve now elevated your husband in my will, “crazy mother” — all kisses will be planted neatly on the top of Diesel’s head and/or on the side of his face. preferably after he’s shaved. and could he put on a clean shirt for the occasion, for G*d’s sake? i mean, what is this, a construction site? no. it’s his “new mother’s” blog. would it kill to show a little respect now and again? of course not. now, go sit down with your “sister”, teh Penguin, who will probably have a few words for you about the title of that first book. seriously, what’s wrong with you? everyone knows you can’t use a banana to kill penguins. unless you leave the peel out on top of the ice float. but why would you want to do that? why am i asking you? why am i going on about this? oy, where’s my medication, when i need it?

um… where was i? oh yeah. THANK YOU, my funny friend, for writing this post today, because the only thing i had to write about involved something about Nothing Nothing Nothing.

safe to say everyone else will thank you for sparing them from that fresh hell, as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ xox

Comment by One Hot Puppy

by the way, if memory serves, The Zombie Survival Guide was written by Mel Brooks’ son, Max. pretty sure that didn’t hurt his chances to get published and/or ability to get on a few talk shows, in order to pimp his book when it first came out. just saying…

connections are good. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Comment by One Hot Puppy

How to kill a penguin with a banana?

*leaves*

Comment by Penguin

Penguin: remember that wasn’t Diesel’s title, that was the title of a so-called humor book that he said wasn’t funny.

come back!!

*runs after pouty penguin with a piece of chocolate*

Comment by snuppy

I’ve no ideas about the book, but if you could figure out a way to be subversive about it, I’ll buy five copies just to support your bucking the system.

Comment by Howard

Ooo, maybe there is an idea right there. Being Subversive In A World Of Clones.

Comment by Howard

*comes back*

Ok, so I tried the old fashioned approach of just slamming the banana on my head…I am still typing, obviously that is not one of the ways to kill a penguin!

I have seen wonderful accomplishments in the sch-fi section combined with humor. I think I cna honetsly sya, that I have never read a single book that wa sjust humorous. I find that strange and wonder why that is. Humor seems to be more of the television branch, than captured in lieterature. I mena on its own, it always seems accompanied with another genre.

You might create something unique, if you succeed!

I could always offer myself for experiments, if you are really set on that Penguin thingy !

Comment by Penguin

Left Behind XIII: The Cosmic Coconut Cream Pie?

Comment by Doug

You mentioned Dave Barry. I read a book of his called “Big Trouble”, and it was pretty funny, but I think it was marketed as a regular novel. Also that guy Carl Hiassin (or however you spell it) writes novels that also just happen to be funny.

If it were me, I don’t think I would try to get a book deal with a humor-oriented publisher, I think I would just write a novel. If you can’t help but be funny, then it’ll be a funny novel. Then you find an agent and go shop it around to different publishers. I don’t think those “How to Kill a Penguin with a Banana” books sell many copies anyway. Seems like a very narrow market.

Comment by Captain Smack

Snuppy – This isn’t a construction site? Then should I stop whistling at all the pretty girls who walk by? You’re right about the Zombie book, it was written by Mel Brooks’ son, who I think was a writer for SNL. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, btw, but seriously, it’s one long deadpan joke, for like 300 pages.

Penguin – I almost changed it to a different kind of animal, but what can I say, penguins are funny. Penguins and monkeys. And you obviously can’t kill a monkey with a banana. Platypuses are kind of funny, I guess, but they try a little too hard.

Howard – Actually, that’s not a bad title. I’ll mention you if I steal it.

Doug – Those books have actually spawned several satires, as you can imagine. I started writing a parody of the Purpose Driven Life a while back, but I think that ship has sailed too.

Captain Smack – I’m working on a novel too, but I’m not going to say no to a chance to get a straight “humor” book published. In a way, novels have the same problem as the zombie book — you have to try to make your jokes fit into a very narrowly defined milieu. The nice thing about a novel, though, is that if it’s not funny for 3 pages, well, it still might be a decent novel. A humor book that isn’t funny for 3 pages is a waste of time and paper. What I like about Dave Barry is that you don’t know what to expect when you start reading something by him. He goes off on all kinds of bizarre tangents, which to me is they key to humor. If you tell people what you’re going to be writing about, you’ve already lost.

Comment by Diesel

SCORE!

Comment by Howard

Penguin Conditioning: Banana vs Chocolate

Comment by Chris C

speaking of Dave Barry (who happens to be a close personal friend. ish) Big Trouble was pretty darn funny. Tricky Business was significantly less so (in my humble opinion). i lovelovelove his columns, and own copies of every book he’s published, but think those two “novels” are suspiciously similar to the very wonderful stuff Hiaasen writes. Striptease? Basket Case? Sick Puppy? now those are funny novels.

that said, Dave is a fantastically funny writer, who doesn’t read this blog (that i know of), and so won’t know that i had anything but high praise for every word he’s ever committed to paper and/or PC. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Comment by snuppy

I think you should write a SF novel in the first person with the narrator as a wise cracking jokester and keep all of the other characters dead pan serious.

Comment by Nessa

To me your style is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s work. Write about a subject you know a lot about and your ADD will work to your advantage. Bill Bryson is my favorite humor writer and he is freakin’ hilarious and so are you!

Comment by claire

I think your straight humor writing is better suited to a column format, or sairical newspaper article type thingie…

On the other hand, I think the way your brain seems to work in general is well suited to the ‘humorous’ genre novel, be it sci-fi, detective, etc.

Please write one. Now, preferably. I’m running out of authors.

Comment by Robin

Just write the SF book. Knowing you, it will come out funny (probably in both senses of the word) and you will kill two birds with one stone … or banana.

Comment by Jami

You’re right about the state of humor books these days. It’s ALMOST as bad as newspaper comic strips. Almost. I’d say at least half of the humor-blogs.com writers are funnier than most of what’s on the shelves these days.

Congrats on the book opportunity. Remember your adjutant inspectors when you make it big.

Comment by CrummyJoel

I’ve noticed that about comic strips as well. Most are not funny. Except Monty, one of the best out there. In Sunday’s one he’s taking a bath and then there’s a knock at the door. In pops a thief holding a dvd player and asks: “Do you know where the remote is for this?”

Now that’s funny.

Comment by Chris C

If you package it as a “humor” book, then you’re looking at something that gets set next to the toilet in the bathroom, to be paged through in three-minute increments (or six-minute excrements).

But if you look at it as a book of humorous essays, a la David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, or Ayun Halliday, it’s a whole new game.

Comment by Jocelyn

I was planning that vacation on Mercury too; could you share a few tips…

Comment by VE

Joycelyn: that’s what exactly i’m thinkin’ Diesel should do, too! maybe along with a novel on, say, Werewolves Who Forget Their Anniversaries and/or Banana Dodging Penguins. let’s face it, that’s what put the likes of Dave Barry on the map. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sedaris and Vowell are two of my all-time favorites, by the way. i never fail to laugh when reading their material.

Comment by snuppy

Right there with ya on the attention span thing. I keep thinking that if I just attack it one chapter at a time. . .

You couldn’t have chosen a better example than H2G2. ^_^

I suppose it would help if I stopped blogging and wrote more faithfully. ๐Ÿ˜›

Comment by Candace

I personally like a first person style and believe there’s a proper time and place for it – such as in your book for example. Sometimes three’s a crowd anyway.

Comment by Jeff

So funny i was at the book store 2 days ago doing the same thing — looking at the humorous books and I came to the same conclusion! I started reading some of them and I thought — this is funny to someone? Of course at the same time I know how hard it is to actually be funny. When you think your funny you aren’t and when you don’t seem to try people laugh. Makes no sense! I think you can do it! Go for it Diesel! Now I think I should be winning a caption contest soon…

Comment by rjlight

Read Terry Pratchett, I think he’s just up your alley. Weird characters, even weirder situations, his writing is absolutely hilarious, and he makes a fortune doing it.

Comment by Theresa

The Alphabet Of Manliness by Maddox is funny. I bought it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Comment by diamatik

Whatever you do, let me know. You are one of the funniest writers I have ever come across. I like to think I am funny but you have me beat hands down!

Comment by Jaesoreal




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