I’ve written humour for years; the first piece I was ever paid for was called “A Loom with a Zoo”, and made the back page humour section of “Threads” magazine. (For anyone who really wants to find it, it was the September 1990 issue.) When I started writing for radio, my first gig was slice-of-life humour about rural life and its trials, from skunks in the mudroom to frozen pipes.
It was that gig that made me realize an important element of humour; it often comes from things that aren’t funny at all. The radio piece I wrote about frozen pipes came out of a winter day spent seesawing from frustration to depression. David was working in Sault Ste Marie, and I was at home alone. We’d just moved to the country the previous June; it was my first winter heating with wood, and I was still learning how to keep the house warm and how to keep the fire from going out at night. Mostly I was failing at that last. I had rabbits in the barn and David’s birds in the house, and I woke up that morning to a cold house, frozen pipes, a screaming cockatoo demanding food and the knowledge that every bit of water used that day would have to be melted from snow on the wood stove. I could neither run water nor flush the toilet. And I had the flu.
I survived, the rabbits survived, even the cockatoo survived, and by the time I wrote about the experience, I was able to put a wry spin on it. One woman who heard it told me she couldn’t stop laughing. I suspect she’d had a similar episode in her own past.
I believe the equation goes like this: h = ba + t, where “h” stands for “humour”, “ba” stands for “bloody awful”, and “t” stands for time. If the equation doesn’t work, just add more time until it does. There’s a reason people say, “Someday we’ll look back at this and laugh.” After a millennium or two you can probably laugh at nearly anything.
There’s a little more to writing humour than a horrible experience plus time. I believe depression helps, too. When I was officially diagnosed with depression, many years ago now, a friend of mine told me that she thought my mood swings were something that came with being an artist. Apparently it also goes with humour; many comics suffer from depression. We may use humour as a coping mechanism a little more than the average person because without humour the average person would cry, but without humour we’d step in front of a bus.
Someday I’d like to teach a workshop on writing humour. I believe anyone can do it, except possibly people who can’t tell a joke to save their lives. It’s fun, and also therapeutic; laughing at your own problems, or even just trying to find a way to make other people laugh at them, helps your endorphin levels.
I guess that’s why I go on doing it. And sometimes it helps, when I’m really upset, to think that someday I’ll figure out how to laugh even at this.