Humor is one of the toughest acts to pull off in writing, which is why there are relatively few humorists compared to other types of writers, though I’ve no statistics to back me up on this. P.G. Wodehouse was a perennial favorite of mine at one time, and I loved Saki’s wicked brand of humor. I liked Thurber and George Mikes. At one time The Statesman ran a syndicated column by Art Buchwald; somehow, I couldn’t stand him. Maybe I should try him again, because I was a schoolboy when I read that column. Among Indian humorists, I have fond memories of Jug Suraiya’s columns in the youth magazine, Junior Statesman; I still remember one satirical piece on the pothole diggers of Calcutta. And the list stops there; I can’t remember any other humorists I’ve read, leave alone ones I liked.
I’m not the only person who thinks humor writing is difficult. In his punchy introduction to a collection of Stephen King short stories titled Night Shift: Excursions into Horror, John MacDonald has this to say: ‘Note this. Two of the most difficult areas to write in are humor and the occult. In clumsy hands the humor turns to dirge and the occult turns funny. But once you know how, you can write in any area.” Well said! (I now remember that I have the anthology The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, in which I can look for humorists to try out.)
So, it is with pleasure that I report the discovery of two humorists I thoroughly enjoy: Dave Barry and Tom Sharpe. The former is famous in America, but does not appear to be very well known elsewhere. I had not heard heard of him before, but picked up Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits recently from the second-hand book exhibition on Press Club Road. I saw from the blurb that he is a humorist and so decided to give the book a try, though I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. How wrong I was! If there ever is a Nobel Prize for humor, Dave Barry should get it first. I can’t remember when a book has had me helplessly laughing; yes, Dave Barry cracks me up, again and again. OK, OK, guys (women readers are unlikely to have got past the blog post title), I know you’re wondering when I’ll get to the juicy female thighs part. Here is the one sentence from Dave Barry that will live on in memory when all else has faded away:
In the darkened room, Crater could see the shadowy figure who threatened to destroy the world, who had led Crater on this desperate chase across nine continents, a chase filled with terror and death and women whose thighs could have been the basis for a major world religion, and all leading to this moment, Crater and the shadowy figure, alone in the gloom.
There you are!
Tom Sharpe was a humorist who died in June this year. He was a novelist who specialized in farce and satire. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his books (Vintage Stuff and The Great Pursuit), and am currently reading Porterhouse Blue, which is sedate compared to the lunacy in the two books I’d read earlier. Coincidentally enough, there’s a thigh sentence in Porterhouse Blue:
My God, Skullion, I’ll tell you this, a man can learn more between the thighs of a good woman than he ever needs to know. Scholarship’s a waste of time and public money.
Whom do I prefer, Dave Barry or Tom Sharpe? Without a doubt, Dave Barry. The man seems to draw from a bottomless well of comic invention, and what endears him to me is that there’s usually keen psychological insight underlying the humor. Take this passage, for instance:
I have never met a woman, no matter how attractive, who wasn’t convinced, deep down inside, that she was a real woofer. Men tend to be just the opposite. A man can have a belly you could house commercial aircraft in and a grand total of eight greasy strands of hair, which he grows real long and combs across the top of his head so that he looks, when viewed from above, like an egg in the grasp of a giant spider, plus this man can have B.O. to the point where he interferes with radio transmissions, and he will still be convinced that, in terms of attractiveness, he is borderline Don Johnson.
But not women. Women who look perfectly fine to other people are always seeing horrific physical flaws in themselves. I have this friend, Janice, who looks very nice and is a highly competent professional with a good job and a fine family, yet every now and then she will get very depressed, and do you want to know why? Because she thinks she has puffy ankles. This worries her much more often than, for example, the arms race. Her image of herself is that when she walks down the street, people whisper: “There she goes! The woman with the puffy ankles!”
What women think they should look like, of course, is the models in fashion advertisements. This is pretty comical, because when we talk about fashion models, we are talking about mutated women, the results of cruel genetic experiments performed by fashion designers so lacking in any sense of human decency that they think nothing of putting their initials on your eyeglass lenses. These experiments have resulted in a breed of fashion models who are 8 and sometimes 10 feet tall, yet who weigh no more than an abridged dictionary due to the fact that they have virtually none of the bodily features we normally associate with females such as hips and (let’s come right out and say it) bosoms. The leading cause of death among fashion models is falling through street grates. If a normal human woman puts on clothing designed for these unfortunate people, she is quite naturally going to look like Revenge of the Pork Person.
Janice, take heart. Your ankles may be beyond the pale, but you can work on your thighs.
They may yet be the basis for a major world religion.
Or at least a well-rounded education.