Reader, you’re hilarious. This has been verified by your mother, a co-worker who says you’re one of the 20 funniest people he knows, and the stand-up comedy teacher who will tell you anything to get you to catch his set at the smaller of two mini-golf snack bars.
You could write for the screen—you could be the genius behind the next Superbad or “30 Rock.” It’d be thrilling to get your humor in front of millions of people, and the money’s pretty unbeatable—but all that leaves you cold, doesn’t it? Your ambition lies elsewhere; specifically, it lies in a little stack of books next to the bookstore’s cash register. They’re colorful and possibly irregularly shaped. Their generously illustrated pages explore the lighter side of marriage or cats. If someone hasn’t left his Frappuccino on top of one, you might pick it up: a humor book. It’s called something like The Caveman’s Guide to Turning 50, and the author, wearing an over-one-shoulder leopard-skin toga, has a nine-iron pulled back like a spear. And all you can think is: That could be me. Why not me? Is it ever going to be me? Then you put the book down like everyone else.
Don’t despair. You can write that book. Humor books (or “gift books,” as they’re sometimes known, because of their usefulness as presents for people you care little about) are great vehicles for joining the ranks of the published without a lot of legwork. It took Jeffrey Eugenides nine years to write Middlesex. Why bother when you can spend a single afternoon thinking up ways ice cream is better than men? Well, it’s not quite that easy.
Actually, yes it is. Most humor books are just fattened versions of the greeting card gags that target chronological (turning 40) or social (new baby) milestones. Just visit the Hallmark aisle of any drug store, and you’re sure to find inspiration. For example, you’ll probably encounter a card aimed at recent college graduates. It will go something like this:
FRONT: (Cartoon of college graduate in cap and gown) Congratulations, graduate! You’re ready for your next challenge …
INSIDE: (Cartoon of same graduate in fast-food uniform) … asking if I want fries with that!
Your humor book will be 150 pages of that joke, embellished and reheated over and over. But that really doesn’t matter. The great thing about a gift book is that the content is mostly irrelevant—it’s the generalized sentiment that counts, and the recipient is as likely to read the book cover-to-cover as he is the Yellow Pages in a foreign language.
All right, enough of my pep talk. Now, more than ever, this nation needs a book about menopause from the point of view of a pirate. Will you write it?