Writing So Funny

1. Stephen Aubrey, the Lieutenant Colonel of the Hollow Earth Society, a publishing company, & Lauren Belski of Crew Analog. Both graduated from the MFA in Fiction Writing program at Brooklyn College in 2010. 2. Ellen Tremper, the Brooklyn College English Department Chair, along with her son, author Teddy Wayne.

Brooklyn on My Mind is a reading series that is in its sixth season and hosted by Leonard Lopate. It is located at Brooklyn College, and features authors living in and/or writing about Brooklyn. Last night’s installment was entitled “Writing Funny,” and featured Jonathan Ames of Bored to Death fame, Jonathan Tropper, author of This is Where I Leave You, and Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil. In case you couldn’t tell, all of these gentlemen write funny stuff. They’re also all Jewish. Obviously God chose His people to be funny.

But there’s something pretty unfunny about gathering three men, labeling them as funny, and then sitting them down in a formal setting to analyze their funniness. Especially when they’re being interviewed by Lopate, who — bless his intelligent, old-man heart — is extremely unfunny. And especially when the audience, which was heavy on the undergrad population, is acting like some sort of laugh track. Still, the authors covered some interesting territory.

The men first talked about their decision to be funny — and it turns out that it wasn’t much of a decision. Ames said that he’s unable to write without humor, because he can’t take himself very seriously for very long, and without it he gets bored. Tropper said that he never set out to be a “Comic Writer,” it just happened this way. His voice as a writer just happens to be funny.

We also heard their thoughts about being labeled comic writers. Wayne feels that the term is a derogatory one, since we wouldn’t call most highly-regarded books Unfunny Novels, although this is what they often are. Tropper said that he doesn’t identify as a comic novelist, and that he prefers to be thought of as a novelist who is occasionally funny.

1. My Two Jonathans: Ames & Tropper. 2. Christine Rath, senior editor of Forté Magazine, Joanna Cantor, & Liz Stevens. All of these lovely ladies write fiction and either went to or are currently attending Brooklyn College for their MFAs. Rath wants to know where the hell the funny Brooklyn womenz be at.

Next, we heard selections of the authors’ books. Wayne read a scene from Kapitoil, in which the protagonist, a Muslim named Kareem who has a limited and extremely technical understanding of the English language, goes to a party and takes two huge bongloads in hopes of impressing a love interest. It was funny (surprise!) but also touching, and made me really want to read his book.

Tropper was going to read a marijuana-tinged scene from This is Where I Leave You, but decided against it due to the fact that Wayne had already played the pot card. Instead, he read one of the opening scenes, in which the patriarch of the family dies so the family returns home to sit shiva — except that the father was an atheist. The family depicted was prone to repressing their emotions through wisecracks and irony, which is a method I can get behind.

Ames read last, and we heard a selection from Wake Up, Sir! I thoroughly enjoyed it because the protagonist pondered if perhaps Judaism was the 12-step group for Jews, which made sense because “most AA meetings are held in churches” and instead of “12 steps, there are ten commandments.”

The session ended with some questions from the audience, which were all totally lame and un-noteworthy.

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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