“I really liked
your last column,” she told me Saturday. “It
was very funny, and not as acerbic as your other pieces.”
Acerbic, I thought? Do I, or do I not, write for
a partisan website? My writing may be researched,
but it is also fundamentally biased. So isn’t
my acid-tongued response to right wing politics part
of the job description?
Either way, this got me thinking. My editor had sent
me an earlier e-mail, telling me that my column had
made him laugh out loud. When the piece finally hit
the website late last week, it received four times
as many comments as my columns usually receive. Okay,
some of the comments weren’t great—“When’s
this story gonna come down? It’s weak,”
writes Reader Joe—but there was, at the very
least, a fervent response. What made this article
different from my other rants?
The answer was humor, but I never thought I was being
funny. Writing about myself is an easy way out of
the 800-words-per-week grind, and if my life, comedy
of errors that it is, comes across as funny, well,
so be it. But humor was an inadvertent result of a
process that is grueling at its worst and gratifying
at its best. Not only do I have no concept of what
other people find funny, but I also don’t think
that my best articles are necessarily the ones that
employ humor. My Columbia Daily Spectator editor once
told me that rhetoric was no substitute for research,
and my MFA program column-writing instructor used
to plug the importance of grounded argument over cute
opining. What would these two smart writers say about
my most recent piece?
But here’s a better question: How do writers
like me, who must produce material week after week,
maintain a steady readership without writing the same
thing over and over again? As a reader of columns,
I can’t say I know the answer to that question.
For years, I was a Maureen Dowd devotee, but even
I became bored at some point with the same type of
clever wordplay and president-bashing. I get bored
with Krugman, too, and Herbert and—sometimes,
but not often—Frank Rich. I even get bored with
Hendrik Hertzberg, whom I heard this afternoon on
the Al Franken show. I get bored because I always
know what’s coming next.
Dowd will always bash the Bushies. Krugman will always
pick apart the deplorable economic policies of the
administration. Herbert will always argue that the
country is race biased. Rich will always tap into
contemporary culture, while tearing the President
a new one.
Well, here’s the thing. Maybe keeping people
on their toes is as easy as being funny. I guarantee
more people listen to Al Franken than Alan Colmes.
Why? Because Al Franken is one of the funniest people
in media, and Alan Colmes is one of the unfunniest.
Is it rhetorical whoredom to cheapen my arguments
by making them laughable? And I don’t mean laughable
in the non-credible sense of the word, either. Would
my readers be more inclined to read—and trust—my
articles if they knew, for instance, that I am typing
with a splinted middle finger, broken due to a missed
pass in a pick-up football game in which I made not
one important play? Would my political views be more
salient if I were to impart last night’s story:
Here, your faithful raconteur stands beside her car,
embroiled in angry argument with a man named Nelson,
who dislikes the bumper-sticker that reads, “George
W. Bush Couldn’t Run A Laundromat”?
“Do you really believe that?” Nelson
asked. “The man went to Yale.” (All jokes
aside, this actually happened. This former Ivy-Leaguer
was forced to explain that not all Ivy grads are smart.
Or even close.)
If laughter is a means to an end, I’ll be funny.
I’ll engage in whatever kind of literary pyrotechnics
my readers desire, so long as they promise not to
miss the point. So, please, remember this: Protect
the Environment; Save Roe v. Wade; End the
Death Penalty; Support Gay Marriage; Impeach George
W. Bush; Bring Our Troops Home.
Oh, and before I forget—A man walks into a
Hannah Selinger is a weekly contributor to Raw