Ian Frazier on Humor Writing

Publish date:

[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.

Hi Writers,
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.

Any thoughts about what Frazier has to say about humor writing? Post them here.

Keep Writing,