The Pitfalls of Being Funny
They say comedy doesn’t win awards (unless it’s a comedy award in the first place) and it’s true. Books, films and plays that are essentially dramas with lighter moments always lose out to dramas which are played straight.
Cases in point; the overrated ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is so determinedly dour and severe that we happily overlook the hoary old Golden Age murder plot at its core, while the entertaining ‘Inception’ would be ludicrous if it wasn’t played out in such a darkly portentous manner.
And ‘Drive’, with James Sallis’s ‘stealing from the mob’ cliche turning the plot, becomes an Oscar contender because Ryan Gosling remains frozen and speechless in a Pinteresque fashion throughout the gruesome proceedings, and the visuals cleverly reference 70s movies. Lee Child’s fine books tread the border of being hilarious, but get away with their macho heroics by playing it straight.
Recently a reader of ‘Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood’ posted on Amazon that he didn’t ‘get’ the book’s humour, partly because of the use of proper names throughout the text.
I quote: ‘(There were) characteristics which distracted me from the plot, one example being the prevalence of strange surnames. After finishing the book, I thumbed through again and listed around thirty surnames which appear in the text – I may have missed one or two – and checked my list against the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames, which claims to list around 70,000 examples found in the UK, regardless of origin. I discovered that 40% of the names in the book were not in the Oxford list. As a couple of examples, I’d mention the theatre cleaner, Mrs Blimey, and the Punch and Judy historian Dudley Salterton – the latter piquing my interest because the name was almost certainly inspired by the small Devon resort village of Budleigh Salterton, though of real Saltertons there are apparently none – unless of course you have proof to the contrary. And then there’s Bryant and May themselves – good old British surnames, both of them, but in juxtaposition forever associated with the former manufacturers of Swan Vestas!’
I would have thought that the joke names (‘Mrs Blimey’ appears in a hallucination’ and ‘Dudley Salterton’ is a parodic stage name) would have been painfully obvious to all readers, but apparently not. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of my readership and should lay off the funny?