Oh, that dreaded satire tag. It’s made fools out of us all.
Ever since Blogcritics began allowing authors to label their pieces as “News,” “Opinion,” “Review,” “Interview” or “Satire,” it seems that more people have attemped humor writing.
Does that mean that Blogcritics as a collective sucks at humor writing? Well, yeah. But round up any cross-section of writers and essayists and only a few will stand out as good humorists.
That’s because it’s hard. Damn hard. Harder than being a good columnist.
Reporting the news is easy: witness an event, ask a few questions, write it down. Opinion writing seems easier because it requires less work. You can do it from the comfort of your bedroom while drinking Diet Vanilla Pepsi. But it requires putting that event into some context along with deep analysis and — maybe, if you have time left — what you think about it.
Bad writers skip to the final step because it’s the easy part. But nobody cares what some blogger thinks. As a former college newspaper’s opinion editor, I’ve seen plenty of bad columnists.
Humor and satire fall under the opinion umbrella. It’s a very specific perspective. Whereas traditional news op-eds are confined to the truth, humor columns must generate their own reality.
And it has to be funny.
Dave Barry once said that the biggest fault humor writers make is that they’re not funny. “Those people make their friends and family laugh all the time, so they think they can write humor. Often they can’t,” Barry said.
But perhaps a way to understand humor is through osmosis. Take this passage from Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits:
I have never gotten into wine. I’m a beer man … Your beer drinker tends to be a straightforward, decent, friendly, down-to-earth person who enjoys talking about the importance of relief pitching, whereas your serious wine fancier tends to be an insufferable snot.
I realize I am generalizing here, but, as is often the case when I generalize, I don’t care.
This passage has it all. Tension, subtlety, irony, and one key element: Barry makes fun of himself.
This is where so many writers stumble. Often a bad, offensive humor writer will canonize itself above his readers. A good reporter converses with real people and is read and understood by other people. Same with humorists.
It’s not about having the most intelligent reference that 3 people understand. It’s about relating a point to a range of readers — and on a site with 10 million unique hits, appealing to the masses makes all the difference.