Can Comedy Be Comfortable? One Question, Seven Humorists

Here’s something fun I had the privilege to be involved with: ending a sentence with a preposition. Just kidding. Thanks to Editor and Chief Semicolon Advocate Michelle W. for inviting me to pitch in.

Discover

Comedy is often deeply unsettling, making us squirm even while we laugh. Whether we’re watching someone tumble down a flight of stairs after slipping on a banana peel (it’s a classic for a reason!) or listening to a comic’s pointed commentary on racism, humor pushes boundaries.

Is discomfort an essential part of comedy, or just one way to be funny? We asked seven of our favorite humorists for their take on the question: can comedy ever be comfortable?


“A Little Discomfort Makes You More Comfortable”

ML PhilpottML Philpott is founding editor of literary journal Musing and the author of Penguins With People ProblemsShe pokes fun at life and media on I Miss You When I Blink, and tweets @WhenIBlink.

Think about what it feels like to be tickled — physically tickled by another person. That poke to your ribs sets you giggling, and after that laugh you might feel relaxed…

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Daily Motivational

Our greatest glory is not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall. — Confucius
Well then, suppose 
you're a tourist on the Amazon River,
falling into the mouth of a black caiman, 
or falling off a curb in Jersey City 
in front of an angry cab driver? 

Suppose you're skydiving—is there an affirmation that
quickly sorts you out when your parachute lines are tangled? 
Catches your neighbor's buckshot when he catches you 

banging his wife? What's the Secret that inspires you to rise 
when you're convulsing on the floor of a restaurant in Seoul 
after taking your chances with the fugu sashimi—

as your mind races back to the scene only minutes ago 
when you were signing the restaurant's release of liability 
and smashing your family's hopes of collecting the insurance 
and delivering a bribe to the managing editor of your local paper 
so he doesn't print the embarrassing tale of your freakish 
death in the obituary column—

is it a rush delivery of positive thinking 
at substantial savings off the retail price, 
but only if you call now?
A version of this poem was originally posted in July 2014 and also appears in Issue #5 of In-flight Literary Magazine 
published in October 2015 by the Paper Plane Pilots. Tell 'em I sent you.

Dear Subscriptions:

The way I packaged and sold it to myself 
was that I came down with a case of writer's 
block, making it sound like a common cold—
accidental, blameless, and convenient—
which was a convenient line of shit. The truth 

is that I was hiding in my vagina (no offense 
to vaginas) with narcotic notions of Being a 
Writer, and not writing, and I had to kick it— 
so there was an order form and I thought it 
might help, but after reading my first issue 

of your magazine for poets and writers, I have 
learned to my surprise that I don't understand 
what poets and writers are. You'd think by now 
that I knew a thing or two about sitting at a 
keyboard, bleeding and all that—I mean, 

despite my confessed evasion—bleeding, 
editing, sending it out, getting back postcards
produced in bulk… “After careful reading and
consideration, we regret...” then lather, rinse,
repeat. But here you've got me wondering 

if poets and writers are just an elevated class
of mannequins on display in literary salons 
with badges stamped “Poets and Writers,”
and fearing (as I quickly shutter the blinds) 
that my ignorance of such a critical distinction 

might expose me as an Unbranded Amateur, 
a title easily substantiated by some other titles 
previously held by someone of my subservient 
caste: Dishwasher, Busboy, Waiter, Bartender, 
Enlistment Contract, Unemployment Insurance,

Notice of Default, Homeless, etc. My doubts 
became apparent as I tore out perforated ads like
weeds for scores of academic writing programs
(combined to make one thing abundantly clear:
There's no business like the MFA business): 

What would I do in a graduate workshop, 
sit with my face in the corner wearing a dunce’s 
cap? I might be invited to a publisher’s party 
as long as I’m serving a tray of cosmopolitans? 
And poetry fellowships, writing vacations—

was that a fucking misprint? Writing is a vacation?
Or is it more like smashing rocks in a quarry  
so the tenured literary masters of the universe
can deliver their lectures on granite podiums?
But misprints aside, I'm afraid the scope of your 

publication exceeds my somewhat limited grasp. 
I’ve enclosed my check as agreed, but not as a 
payment for subsequent issues: it's a payment
for you to stop sending them. I’m aware
of the fact that you don’t publish poems.

This one isn’t a submission or a gag.
Kindly cancel my subscription at once.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I 
ordered it. By rights, I’m barely functioning... 
but I found another magazine for writers with a 

column on how to re-purpose my rejection slips
as litter box liners, use them to wallpaper my  
bathroom à la Ford Madox Ford, plus other useful 
guides like planning an effective oven suicide.
I suppose I'll keep that subscription instead.
A version of this poem originally appeared in Issue #5 of In-flight Literary Magazine 
published in October 2015 by the Paper Plane Pilots. Tell 'em I sent you.

A Fistful of Sleeping Pills

The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it 
one gets successfully through many a bad night. — Nietzsche
Dear Muse:

America the Beautiful has just begun feeding itself another year 
of reality shows, and I’m sitting alone at my quiet desk with idle 

hands and a paralyzing conflict. I’m dressed in a button-down oxford 
shirt, pressed jeans and polished brogues: I could surreptitiously debauch  

every neglected housewife in my neighborhood. I should be thankful. 
But I was telling you about my trouble: I’ve had it easy, too easy—

but no, that’s not it—and who am I, slagging off the popular merits 
of chasing the lowest literary lucre (while joking that that flight is 

already over-booked and when the fad crashes, everyone on board
is going to be killed because their parachute colors are so last season)? 

Who am I, preferring to stay on the ground while shop-worn hookers are
parading up and down the downtown streets, hollering "Happy New Year!"

on infinite repeat, and yuppies fucked up on bad champagne 
are forgetting the words to “Auld Lang Syne?”—and why am I too 

drunk and dead inside to join in their spectacles of revelry and sex? 
But this is what happened: one of my type characters snapped 

about an hour ago. I didn't see it coming, never heard a thing. 
I was just typing, stuffing a page with something, I don’t know, 

religious, and I’m a skeptic, but it was insurance, you know,
just in case, and then it was gone, as I was typing the word “©hrist.” 

(Note the amusingly fitting facsimile.) So that's it, that’s my cross: 
It’s 2am on New Year's Night, my capital “c” has beheaded itself, 

and the earliest I can get it replaced is next Friday, for fuck's sake. 
And it’s not a simple matter of buying a new character; it’s buying a new 

type-wheel, with all the characters, because it’s only sold as one piece. 
But please, not the computer. I'll edit myself to death on a computer. 

So, what's your solution? Back to scribbling lines in a notebook? 
Back further to a bottle and quill? Perhaps a parchment left for you 

at the foot of Mt. Parnassus? I'm guessing you'd prefer something more
tragic but psychoanalysis is out, and the Dictionary of ©lassical Mythology 

suggested that I come to you for help—because it’s just not the same without 
typing, the sound of all that machinery at work. It's like a miniature factory

that tricks you into thinking you’re producing something. It’s an audible 
illusion. And pretty soon you get to where you finally need it, like pain killers 

or something even worse—like a ©areer—and you’re not punching keys 
anymore, you’re punching a clock, putting on a badge, a clip-on tie, 

a standard-issue greeting for semi-literate customers— 
“Welcome to Typewriting, Inc.!”—and later you're counting 

a fistful of sleeping pills, wondering if it’ll be enough to do the job, 
because a man draws nothing but a losing hand if he waits too long 

to ask—so I’m asking you now if this is the last poem I will 
ever have to write, assuming I forget about killing myself. 

I sure as hell hope so. What if my part's been discontinued, 
and all the clerk can do for me is smile and say, 
                                                                                                    “Happy New Year...
Happy New Year... Happy New Year...”
                                                                                   on infinite repeat?

What a Bunch of Followers! All 2,000 of You!

Which is surprising to me considering that I began publishing Dry-Humping Parnassus only six months ago… after securing it four years ago. (!?) But it finally started as a dumping ground for selected poems I’d written over the years, and—I hoped—a self-administered kick in the ass to man up and get back to writing. And it worked. Well, something worked.

About two weeks into it, a poem I wrote about calling in sick was Freshly Pressed by Poetry Editor and Chief Semicolon Advocate Michelle W. (Michelle also writes at King of States! which you should definitely follow if you don’t already.) Her selection made possible a wave of “likes” and “follows” and flattering comments which encouraged me to continue dumping out poems, often under the cover of night from an unmarked waste disposal truck.

The toxic word chemicals accumulated steadily, as did the “likes” and “follows,” and last September this nascent bubbling sludge pit was selected as a Staff Picks Recommended Blog—again by Michelle.

More “likes” and “follows.” More furtive midnight runs to my literary landfill publishing dashboard. Pretty soon I was running out of poems—the good ones at any rate—and it was time to start slouching toward my first love: humor. And that’s where you’ll currently find me: wading into miasmic pools of off-center fiction, sociopolitical satire, and a few more poems zipped up in body bags, waiting to be illegally dumped.

But shoveling aside my false modesty scatological self-deprecation: To all of you including Michelle who have read, liked, followed, recommended, and encouraged my noxious and obnoxious words… what the hell is wrong with you people!?

Also, thank you. Thank you very much.

With a scant six months in the game, I’m still pretty green at this blogging stuff. I’m not Jenny Lawson who is painfully funny and has over a million well-earned followers. (And I’m not seeking a sex change so I can be like Jenny Lawson.) What I do have is a few dozen well-earned rejection slips, and when I started this blog I was happy to get ten followers.

But regardless of how many readers I’m fortuned with, my commitment as a writer remains the same: You’re going to need a bigger pair of boots. And hazmat gear.

Cheers and Happy New Year!