Genres 101: Today’s Lesson – Humour

Filed in Genres 101 , The Quirky Lover Posted on June 8, 2011 @ 6:29 pm 7 comments

There is nothing better to get you out of a funk than something that will make you laugh, so this week, as I battle a head cold in scary humid weather, I thought we’d take a look comedic writings. I need a good laugh right now. Normally, I stick with fiction but I figured it would be nice to add in a few non-fiction examples in this category also.

The big thing is: what makes us laugh? I have a strange sense of humour at times, so for me, sarcasm and irony blended with intelligent writing are the best mix to tickle my funny bone. Defined by Wiki (I’m going to briefly paraphrase here), Comic Fiction is writing that is meant to amuse the reader while making them think about controversial issues, using subtlety, puns, and a carefully crafted narrative style. I’m not sure if I completely agree with that; really, does every bit of funny fiction have “controversial issues” at its core? Let’s take a look at some examples and see

Black Comedy, also known as Gallows Humour, is a brand of satirical writing that centres around dark subjects, like death or disease. For most (all?) of us, death doesn’t fill us with the need to giggle, but written about in a certain manner, an author can make this dire topic more palatable. In Jose Saramago’s Death With Interruptions, the author asks the reader to ponder what happens if death just didn’t happen anymore. From there, the book travels down a slippery slope of social, economical, and moral implications.  When writing about such a topic, I would imagine the writer has to make the choice of making it a dull diatribe, ripping apart our modern society or, make the necessary points through silly, situations. Ok, score one for Wiki here. Their definition fits. Other writers of Black Comedy include Jonathan Swift, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon and Roald Dahl.

There is a similar subgenre to Black Comedy, named Blue Comedy. This one deals with nudity, sex, and bodily fluids. I’m just raising my eyebrows at this, and can’t think of any examples here. Has anyone read a book that would fit this description?

The Romantic Comedy is noted with early examples as written by Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. More modern examples could include Bridget Jones’ Diary (the book!) or anything written by Jill Mansell. The typical novel would include a light plotline, with true love as the ultimate goal. (See? Where’s the controversy here?) The Romantic Comedy in novel form lends itself easily to big screen productions too. Even Shakespeare has had his work made for the non-reading, movie going masses.

Satire, its name being derived from a latin phrase that means “a full dish of various kinds of fruits”, sounds like fun right from the start. It appears to be broken down into two categories “Horatian” and “Juvenalian”. The difference between the two had me surprised; while the Horatian “playfully criticizes some social vice through gentle, mild, and light-hearted humour” , the Juvenalian “addresses social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule”. I thought, just looking at the word “Juvenalian”, that it would have been the source of juvenile humour, which would be more like the blue comedy mentioned above, but nope. (Score Wiki 2, Jackie 1, for social commentary of satire). Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, is a Horatian satire, while Lord of the Flies is listed as Juvenalian. It’s been a while, but I don’t recall anything particularly funny about Lord of the Fliescan anyone correct me? Modern examples of satirical writing can be found by Terry Pratchett and William S. Burrows. And, so much for the idea of a big bunch of fruits. Satire sounds like serious fun.

Comedic non-fiction seems to be hitting bookstores more and more these days. Recent books from Chelsea Handler (Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea) and Tina Fey (Bossypants) are among the offerings here. There didn’t seem to be a specific category for these books, but I think that these tomes would contain a generous amount of real life mixed in with hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek humour galore. These are more up front about life, without the “subtlety” seemingly required in their fictitious counterparts, and would give readers a chance to laugh at the ridiculousness of certain aspects of their own lives. (This reminds me: add Chelsea Handler to my book wish list! And maybe a bottle of vodka…)

Having added these sub-genres, I still feel like there’s something missing. Perched on my own bookshelves are books by Christopher Moore, Victor Gischler, Tom Robbins, among others, that don’t really fit much of the definitions so far. Perhaps it’s better just to have them labelled by that main title of “Comic Fiction”. After all, this is a genre full of big names like P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, and Douglas Adams. In the end, it’s what makes us laugh the most that leaves the biggest impact.

For me, Christopher Moore’s Lamb is my go-to book for all out hilarity. Are there any others that would help me out of my present funk?

About Jackie

Jackie is a quirky mom, living in Ontario, Canada. She's a bookkeeper by day and a book lover by night. She also blogs at The Novel Nation and writes occasionally for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

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  • pattepoilue June 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Oh my, well I don't remember reading Non fiction humor.
    But as for fiction, I've read a few satire you named but meh.

    I love humorous fiction. My favorite kind is when the character is very Harry Dresden/Atticus-like. lol You know, I love dark humor. I also love absurd! My rec' is The Hitchhicker's guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adam. It's just so absurd and hilarious

    I can tell you I have NO idea what Blue comedy is LMAO and I'm not sure I wanna know lol

  • Jackie June 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    @Caro – I have the Hitchhiker omnibus on my shelf but haven't gotten around to it yet. You should read LAMB, I laughed from beginning to end. Blue comedy sounds more like frat boy movie stuff, meh. You know I'm with you all the way with Dresden & Atticus…and Oberon, of course 😉

  • Sullivan McPig June 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.
    Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines, although that one is probably funnier for those people who are familiar with rpg's than people who're not.

  • Wings June 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Sophie kinsella is always my go to for laugh out loud literature…though I'm not really willing to go great her confessions series….I like stand alone stuff more.

    Great post jackie!

    I definitely need to pick a couple if these up for backup laughs hehe.

  • Jackie June 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    @Sullivan – I'll have to look into the Prachett/Gaiman book. I haven't read either. As for rpg's, I'm personally only as knowledgeable as my membership at wizard101 allows :-p

    @Amanda – I have a few Kinsella's but haven't read them yet (I saw the Shopaholic movie). Kevin Hearne and Darynda Jones are my new faves for laughs, at the moment.

  • Alisha (MyNeedToRead) June 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Oh, how I luuuurves me some humorous non-fiction. Kathy Griffin's memoir, Official Bookclub Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin, is freakin' hilarity.

    Oh, and gotta love the satire. A classic example of literary satire is Candide by Voltaire. First read it for a French course at university, and I was in tears, I was laughing so hard. It's great when humor can last through the ages (in this case, from the 1700s)! ^_^

  • Jackie June 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    @Alisha – I can imagine Kathy Griffin's book being off the wall funny; I had forgotten about that. I've never heard Voltaire was a funny guy before, then again I haven't read him :-p I found the same thing with Oscar Wilde; though he wasn't roll on the floor laughing, he was full of witty sarcasm. I'm going to dig out a copy of Candide and check it out for myself, thanks!

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