The Pitfalls of Being Funny

Reading & Writing, The Arts

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?

8 comments on “The Pitfalls of Being Funny”

  1. Lostintown says:

    No, please keep the funny.

    I just hope that this particular reviewer isn’t tempted to read any Dickens. He’d probably end up with some severe paper cut injuries flicking through his dictionaries trying to find Luke Honeythunder;Polly Toodle or Peg Sliderskew !

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I read that review and waggled my ears at the writer. Some people are just too serious for their own good. I loved Mrs. Blimey. I don’t get all the jokes but I enjoy the ones I do recognize. I wonder where the dividing line is, though, because there are times when I refuse to accept non-essential humourous items. There’s a ‘cozy’ mystery series in which the Mashed Potato Mountains figure and those mountains are one of the reasons I don’t read the series. I suppose the line is different for everyone.

  3. Gretta says:

    Admin…don’t you dare.

    First you suggest you may dumb down due to someone’s difficulty with the English language, now you speak of un-funnying due to someone’s difficulty with humour. If you do either of these things I shall be forced to come over there and give you a damned good whack in the shins.

    Which wossname is it where people tend to be overly literal? Aspergers, is it? I think that may be what’s going on with the reviewer here. Either that or they are just naturally pedantic to an extreme degree. I will, however, confess to slight jealousy in knowing that they own a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames. Who knew that even existed?

  4. Magpie says:

    I’ve not read the book yet, but please tell me Mrs Blimeys’ first name is Cora ?

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    “Perhaps I’m expecting too much of my readership…” You just flicked that one out, didn’t you? Wanted to see who’d rise to the surface on a still New Years weekend. (Is there a fly rod in the back of one of your closets?) With attentive readers such as yours, you certainly realize each of your B & W novels is panned (no pun intended)for the bits of gold embedded in the hallowed texts. The reader who posted that comment on Amazon probably feels comfortable only when reading the books’ May segments. While your regular readers, relish Bryant, who is as versed in misdirection as one of the famous stage magicians of old. With that old hat and his coat with the bottom-less pockets, I figured him right off as a legerdemain artist. (“Care for a bit of Thames Water Taffy, May? It appears to be wrapped in cat hair, but a bit of fiber will be good for you.”) By the way I’ve started the Hell Train and it’s chugging along nicely.

  6. I.A.M. says:

    Which wossname is it where people tend to be overly literal? Aspergers, is it?

    Gretta, just up there

    I believe the correct medical term you’re seeking is “bloody stupid and no fun at all”.

  7. Alison says:

    There’s such a thing as a bit too much delving. That’s what’s happened here – they’ve *delved*. You always feel that people like that just don’t read to enjoy – they read to be seen to read and to be just that bit too clever for their own good. I always find a good handbagging works wonders for people like that.

  8. Gretta says:

    I.A.M. – well yes, that too, but I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Not ‘much’ benefit though, to be fair. I’ll try not to be so much of a book-reader anorak as the reviewer when Memory of Blood eventually arrives in my letterbox(not until April, Saints preserve us).

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