Sunday, January 6, 2008

Funny 101

It is October1997.
In the past eighteen months I have survived an unexpected divorce, the flooding of my home, and a fractured neck. But I’m far more nervous about the latest challenge: a first-ever blind date, taking place right after my hospital shift.
My co-workers, on the other hand, are completely titillated. As I rush to the nurses' locker room to change out of my scrubs, they make me promise to stop by the ER for their approval of my "date wear".
Because I’m a fool, I agree.
I do a complete wardrobe change, top to bottom. Fresh and hopeful as a new beginning.
Short skirt, high heels, great sweater--deep breath. I frantically stuff my work clothes into an open-top tote bag. I’m late, but I promised to . . .
The ER is Friday-night-packed.
I arrive to appreciative hoots and whistles from fellow nurses, doctors, paramedics--and even a few drunk patients who get caught up in the excitement.
My ego is boosted. My date jitters abate, my confidence soars.
I do a girly pirouette, like Mary Tyler Moore on steroids, right in the middle of the ER--
And something flies out of my tote bag.
It skids across the vinyl floor.
A male nurse moves to scoop it up; I rush forward to take it from him and . . .
The scene turns to slow-mo, as the horrifying truth hits me and--God help me--everyone else.
The mortified male nurse hands me my panties.

I am never the same.

So . . . I turn to writing comedy.

Author John Vorhaus (The Comic ToolBox) and Billy Mernit (Writing the Romantic Comedy), agree on this basic equation:

The TRUTH of the blind date mishap is that to try something new involves risk. The PAIN is that sometimes you make a fool of yourself.

And when it happens to someone else, we laugh--because we see our own worst fears coming true. It could have been us.

Athena Critique Services asked me to teach a 2-week writing workshop next month, “My Funny Valentine: Writing the Romantic Comedy.” I got excited about it, and then I started to wonder--what is the best way to share the “art of funny”? Vorhaus starts with the basic element of any good story: Character. He asks the writer to define the “STRONG COMIC PERSPECTIVE” of his character, or the unique ( skewed) way that this character views the world, which differs from the “normal” world view. Then EXAGGERATE this, add FLAWS, and HUMANITY (the element that makes us bond with the character, thinking “he’s just like me”).

It’s easy for me to picture these elements, when I think of TV’s phobic Adrian “Monk.” Monk’s STRONG COMIC PERSPECTIVE: he is the infallible authority on crime solving. This perspective is EXAGGERATED because he is compelled to solve crimes despite the fact he lost his badge as a result of the effects of stress and OCD. His (also exaggerated and incapacitating) FLAWS: Monk views the world as a contagious and dangerous “jungle”--he’s even afraid of milk, for godsake! And his HUMANITY: He deeply loves his deceased wife, and feels responsible for her death.

All of which made me think of the heroine of my funny & romantic Darcy Cavanaugh Cruise Mystery series. How do Vorhaus’ elements of a comic character relate to her?
It struck me, that my tendency toward likening the series to “I Love Lucy meets ER on The Love Boat . . . to solve a murder,” was very apt. Because, like Lucy Ricardo, Darcy Cavanaugh’s:

COMIC PERSPECTIVE: is that she can do anything.

Which is EXAGGERATED by:
A sense of responsibility to defend the underdog, and to right unjust wrongs.
Her FLAW: She’s impulsive, jumps to conclusions, leaps without looking first.
And Darcy’s HUMANITY: She cares enough to take risks. And we love her for that.

What about your characters? Regardless of whether you write humorous fiction, and even if it's "dark"--what's their comic perspective?
As a medical professional, I can testify to the fact that a sense of humor is a life (and sanity) saving attribute. Accordingly--

Vorhaus also throws out this interesting challenge: What is YOUR own personal comic perspective? In what unique way do YOU view the world--and, very likely, imbue your writing?

And, finally, do check out Athena Critique Service. I’ll be starting my class, “My Funny Valentine: Writing the Romantic Comedy,” on February 5th.

No whoopee cushions, fake doggy doo, or squirting cameras allowed.
Undies to remain discreetly out of sight. Thank you.


Keith Raffel said...

Candy, don't keep us in suspense. How did the blind date go? And how was the OR post-mortem?

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, but how did the date go?

Candy Calvert said...

Date was uneventful, but I was SO glad to be going out on vacation for two weeks--figured my co-workers would finish laughing themselves silly by then. However--
my first day back at work, I found (new) lacey panties everywhere around the ER: in my mailbox, in the copy machine, hanging from the telephone. And at one point, a technician popped into an exam to to talk with me, and he actually had one on his head, like a hat!

The upside, was that I met my new husband just a few weeks later--on my second blind date.

Felicia Donovan said...

Woo-hoo, Candy. Good for you on the second blind date.

Comedy is a very effective tool when used well. I find THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY getting funnier with each book. I love the funny dialogue that flies through the air amongst the gals. Zing here, retort there. Double entendres everywhere.

And I especially love that episode of "I Love Lucy" that you grabbed the pic from. Chocolate, chocolate, more chocolate.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Were all those new panties just your size? Sounds like a plan for refurbishing the old wardrobe.

Candy Calvert said...

Heh, heh. Unfortunately, they were a bit too petite--which was flattering, but impractical. ;-)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Fun post, Candy. Your comic perspective and exaggeration points are exactly what I use as guidelines for writing my Odelia Grey series and for when I write standup. It's the recipe for good comedy that people can relate to and not groan over.

I always tell people that comedy is just the exaggeration of the truth to bring out the absurdity.

As for the panties - you gave me a great and much needed morning laugh. It's gems like this that get saved for use later in our writing.