The Little Guy was Kinda Funny-lookin’

From the Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo:

“The little guy was kinda funny-lookin’.”

“In what way?”

“I don’t know. Just funny-lookin’.”

“Can you be any more specific?”

In my next series of posts, I’d like to share what I consider to be successful examples of humorous descriptions. Here’s a descriptive passage by Charles Portis, one of America’s literary legends (imho):


In Laredo I got a six-dollar motel room that had a lot of posted rules on the door and one rubber pillow on the bed and an oil-burning heater in the wall that had left many a salesman groggy. It was the kind of place I knew well. I always try to get a room in a cheap motel with no restaurant that is near a better motel where I can eat and drink. Norma never liked this practice. She was afraid we would be caught out in the better place and humiliated before some socialites we might have just met. The socialites would spot our room key, with a chunk of wood dangling from it like a carrot, or catch us in some gaffe, and stop talking to us. This Laredo room also had a tin shower stall and one paper bath mat. (The Dog of the South by Charles Portis)

Although I love True Grit and consider it an American classic, my favorite Portis book is still The Dog of the South. (Bonus points: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I live, is a setting in the book). I picked up this particular Portis novel after reading a blurb about it by Roy Blount, Jr., who said something along the lines of: “Nobody should ever die without first reading this book.” I agree. Portis’s descriptions are a wonder to behold. And the idea of bumping into socialites in the border town of Laredo staying at a nearby motel is priceless. The Dog of the South is full of such delightful descriptions. Here’s another one:

He nodded and dozed whenever I was doing the talking. His heavy crested head would droop over and topple him forward and the angle-head flashlight on his belt would poke him in the belly and wake him. Then he would sit up and do it over again. I could see a tangle of gray hair in his long left ear. I wondered at what age that business started, the hair-in-the-ear business. I was getting on myself. The doctor had taken me for thirty. I felt in my ears and found nothing, but I knew the stuff would be sprouting there soon, perhaps in a matter of hours. I was gaining weight too. In the last few months I had begun to see my own cheeks, little pink horizons.

When writing humor, remember to have fun with your descriptions. Or, in the words of Max Bialystock in the Mel Brooks film The Producers: “That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”



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