Smart Humor: Talk gives the giggles

James Bickford

On Friday, March 28, Colton Chapel was buzzing with discussion on “Smart Humor” sponsored by the Marquis Scholars. The talk was led by two prominent humor writers; John Warner, editor of the website “McSweeny’s Internet Tendencies” and author of the book Funnyman, and Teddy Wayne, an award winning author of The Love Song of Johnny Valentine and a New York Times columnist.

The discussion began with both authors reading pieces that they selected. Wayne started by reading a surprisingly cute passage from The Love Song of Johnny Valentine, which focused on imagining the life of a “Bieber-esqe” pop idol. Warner followed him by reading several short pieces of his own, the most memorable of which was “I am the Man Who Paints His Head and Face to Resemble the Helmet of His Favorite Football Team.”

The pieces were well received, though the improvised jokes made a larger impression than the pre-written pieces. Comments on how they loved to tell dirty jokes in a church went over particularly well.

Once the speakers finished reading their pieces and cracked a few jokes, they participated in a question-and-answer portion on their expertise in humor writing. Most of the discussion was focused around what jokes they thought were funny, and what their comic influences were; Teddy Wayne painted an amusing picture of a scrawny white 15-year-old trying to imitate Eddie Murphy as his start in the humor industry.

Nevertheless, they did discuss a more serious side of humor writing. Most notably, they then discussed personal “lines” that they would not cross.

“Usually, I abide by the rule to avoid punching down,” Warner said, “in that the people more powerful or more influential than me…they’re fair game. Anybody less fortunate than me is not an okay joke to make.”

“I usually try to make fun of myself as much as others,” Wayne said.

The rest of the discussion focused on old movies that influenced their comic style, but before closing they did give one pearl of advice for any aspiring comic writers: you will not laugh at your own jokes, so have a buddy close at hand.