Real Time Short Stories

What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

Posted on: April 6, 2012

Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) makes a valid point. Humour can be highly personal, unpredictable and idiosyncratic. It might, as Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) assures Tommy, come down to “just…you know, how you tell the story.”

On Tuesday 10th April, I’ll be conducting a pair of workshops as part of the 2012 Words Festival, Leigh and Wigan’s annual literary celebration. The theme is Humorous Short Fiction and this is to let you know, if you’re in the area, that there are places available to writers of all levels interested in the fraught business of writing short stories that make readers laugh.

There are any number of examples, from O Henry to a forthcoming Reel Time Short Stories feature, Woody Allen, of writers with comic timing and turn-of-phrase but with those – and many others who may not even have intended to string together gags – what provokes the laughter is the truth in the story. However absurd, the story takes itself seriously. However comedic the characters, they feel real. In Sea Oak by George Saunders, the narrator works as a waiter-cum-stripper in a kinky fighter pilot themed bar, ‘Joysticks’, where employees are not allowed to serve up full nudity so wear outsized ‘penile stimulators’ to wave at appreciative diners, who in turn score them according to cuteness. Here’s how Saunders nails the slappable management speak and the suppresses horror of the man deemed not cute enough to continue to earn a living this way. You shudder as you laugh:

After closing we sit on the floor for Debriefing. “There are times,” Mr. Frendt says, “when one must move gracefully to the next station in life, like for example certain women in Africa or Brazil, I forget which, who either color their faces or don some kind of distinctive headdress upon achieving menopause. Are you with me? One of our ranks must now leave us. No one is an island in terms of being thought cute forever, and so today we must say good-bye to our friend Lloyd. Lloyd, stand up so we can say good-bye to you. I’m sorry We are all so very sorry”
“Oh God,” says Lloyd. “Let this not be true.”
But it’s true. Lloyd’s finished. We give him a round of applause, and Frendt gives him a Farewell Pen and the contents of his locker in a trash bag and out he goes. Poor Lloyd. He’s got a wife and two kids and a sad little duplex on Self-Storage Parkway
“It’s been a pleasure!” he shouts desperately from the doorway, trying not to burn any bridges.

Let this not be true. But it’s true. Come for the laughs and stay for the truths at either of the workshops, whose details are below and can also be found on page 6 of the Words Festival brochure:

1] Humorous Short Fiction
Wigan Cricket Club, Bull Hey, off Parsons Walk
10am until 3.30pm
Cost £5
Booking essential. 01942 723 350

2] Ashton Writers with Dinesh Allirajah
Sam’s Bar, Warrington Rd, Ashton
7.30pm – 10pm
Cost: Free

Ashton Writers are hosting an open evening for those interested in humorous writing. Refreshments provided. Free but booking is essential – 01942 723 350.

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