Humor in Literature: A Creative Writing Workshop
Literature is a performance. For an audience of one, generally—the reader—but a performance. A successful performance must be, whatever else it is—scary, sad, exhilarating, profound—entertaining. Entertaining in different ways and at different levels of sophistication and complexity, but entertaining. And entertainment nearly always involves humor. In this master class, we’ll approach humor in literature in different ways. We’ll watch brief stand-up routines and talk about the techniques they use—especially those transferable to writing. We’ll examine the comic aspects of passages from serious literary works (the first paragraph of Moby-Dick, for example). And we’ll try some writing exercises that illuminate techniques of humor usually taken for granted.
Note: Some of what we’ll be reading and, especially, seeing on-screen may be pretty transgressive—not awful and racist and dirty but playing with vulgar language, ethnic stereotypes, and sexual references.
Daniel Menaker was an editor at The New Yorker for more than twenty years. Later, he served as editor-in-chief of Random House. He has written humor, essays, fiction, and journalism for The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and many other publications. He has twice won the O. Henry Award for short stories. He is also the author of seven books, two of which have been chosen for the Times’ 100 Best Books of the Year, one an Editor’s Choice. Currently he serves on the faculty of Stony Brook University’s MFA program.