I read this great piece in The New Yorker May 26, “Tales from a Chelsea Soup Kitchen” by Ian Frazier. It’s a feature about how he started a writing workshop that operates in tandem with a NYC church-based soup kitchen.
I thought it had a lot of interesting things to say about how to operate a writing workshop and gave some good idea-generating topics. Unfortunately, the article isn’t available online, but I did find this podcast with Frazier, in which he talks about writing humor. Whenever a New Yorker writer has something to say about writing, I listen.
Here’s a bit of the transcript from the podcast interview, which runs about 15 minutes (and I promise, well worth your time):
Sometimes people write funny things and I say, you know if you just made it a little longer and added a little plot, you’d have a humor piece here. It isn’t just people in this workshop. It’s people in general. They’ll get something funny, but it’ll just be a line or two lines. Even now I think because of TV I think that’s become a problem—that people write really, really short. So all of the suggestions of where this could go, you know there’s all this potential here.
[Humor] is something that you really can’t hit by aiming at it. It’s not like you can go out and get the facts and report them and now here’s a humor piece with the facts. With reporting, if you work hard you can usually pull something out. But writing humor doesn’t respond to working hard, necessarily. I mean, you could just sit there and look at the page all day and maybe something will come. But writing humor for me is more like a watchful-ness. You have to watch. When you say something funny, or someone else does, it’s more like you wait for the piece. I think maybe it’s more like writing a poem. I’ve never really been into that at all, but I assume a poet would get to a certain point and say, gee, I know I need a fifth stanza here, but I don’t know what it should be. And then maybe the poet doesn’t think of anything for five years. I don’t know I can imagine that; I’ve had it happen with humor pieces. I’ll get to a certain point and say, you know, up to here it works but I don’t know what to do next. It’s a sense—you have a sense of humor.
Any thoughts about what Frazier has to say about humor writing? Post them here.