Nora Ephron

The Real List of Adrian Messenger (if he had a sense of humor)

Here are a few–well, fifty–of my favorite writers who traffic in the craft of humor, in alphabetical order by first name: Alan Bennett, Andrew Bergman, Andy Borowitz, Art Buchwald, Billy Wilder, Bruce Jay Friedman, Calvin Trillin, Carl Hiaasen, Charles Portis, Craig Wright, Dave Barry, David Ives, David Sedaris, Dorothy Parker, Douglas Adams, Dr. Seuss, Elaine May, Elmore Leonard, Flannery O’Connor, George Carlin, H.L. Mencken, Ian Frazier, James Thurber, Jean Shepherd, Ken Ludwig, Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Caroll, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, Mark Twain, Mel Brooks, Michael Frayn, Moliere, Molly Ivins, Neil Simon, Nora Ephron, O. Henry, Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, Roy Blount Jr., S.J. Perelman, Stanley Elkin, Stephen Leacock, Steve Martin, T.C. Boyle, Theresa Rebeck, Walt Kelly, William Shakespeare, and Woody Allen.

What’s your list of humor writers look like?

 

 

The Little Guy was Kinda Funny-lookin’ Strikes Back

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?”

 

More humorous descriptions I enjoy reading:

The farm-house was a long, low building, two-storied in parts. Other parts of it were three-storied. Edward the Sixth had originally owned it in the form of a shed in which he housed his swineherds, QT_ColdComfort2but he had grown tired of it, and had it rebuilt in Sussex clay. Then he pulled it down. Elizabeth had rebuilt it, with a good many chimneys in one way and another. The Charleses had let it alone; but William and Mary had pulled it down again, and George the First had rebuilt it. George the Second, however, burned it down. George the Third added another wing. George the Fourth pulled it down again. (from the novel Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons)

The above passage is the author’s description of the farm, where Flora (“Robert Poste’s child”) goes to live after her parents die. Gibbons goes on to describe the farm as “crouched, like a beast about to spring” with architectural variations “like ghosts embedded in brick and stone.”

And I especially like this gem from Nora Ephron:

Oh, the necks. There are chicken necks. There are turkey gobbler necks. There are elephant necks. There are necks with wattles and necks with creases that are on the verge of becoming wattles. There are scrawny necks and fat necks, loose necks, crepey necks, banded necks, wrinkled necks, stringy necks, saggy necks, flabby necks, mottled necks. There are necks that are an amazing QT_MyNeck2combination of all of the above. According to my dermatologist, the neck starts to go at forty-three, and that’s that. You can put makeup on your face and concealer under your eyes and dye on your hair, you can shoot collagen and Botox and Restylane into your wrinkles and creases, but short of surgery, there’s not a damn thing you can do about a neck. The neck is a dead giveaway. Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck. (from I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman by Nora Ephron).

I find the Ephron piece to be a great example of piling on details for humorous effect. The passage uses specific references, such as Botox and Restylane. It includes an epigram about lies and the truth. And it draws an analogy to a redwood tree. This piece works for many reasons, especially because it is self-effacing. If you want to win a reader’s appreciation, make fun of yourself and put that reader on your side right away.