The Stage vs. the Page

By | Tagged: culture, Israel

In his last posts, Joel Chasnoff, author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir, wrote about the battle over his book cover and meeting Dave Eggers. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.jewish_authors_blog2.jpg

One of the biggest challenges I encountered in writing The 188th Crybaby Brigade was the switch from comedy written for the stage to comedy for the page.

I’m a stand-up comic by trade. Onstage, I have tools at my disposal: facial expressions, body language, the ability to speed up and slow down as I create a psychological dialogue with the audience. Best of all, if a particular string of jokes bomb, I can switch topics, or, better yet, pick on a funny looking guy in the guy in the front row.

In writing humorous prose, these tools are, obviously, out the window. Compounding the problem is that I lose my ever-important barometer: instant feedback. I love the instantaneous nature of stand-up comedy. I never have to wonder how the act is going. Instead, it’s simple: if they laugh, I’m great. If the audience is silent, I suck.

To acquaint myself with humor writing, I read books by the three Daves: Sedaris, Eggers, and Barry.

As I read, I looked for patterns. Although their styles of humor differ, I noticed a common trait: they never signaled the joke. Instead, they simply state the absurd truth in as straightforward a manner as possible. This bluntness makes for a double punch: 50% of the humor comes from what the author is saying, and the other half comes from the fact that he’s saying it so bluntly.

For example: one of my favorite passages in Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the one in which Eggers describes his night out with friends in a Berkeley, California bar:

Brent and I, and everyone else, are standing on the bar’s second level, looking down upon the heads of the hundred or so below us, while drinking beer that has been brewed on the premises. We know that the beer has been brewed on the premises because, right there, behind the bar, are three huge copper vats, with tubes coming out of them. This is how beer is made.

Posted on February 12, 2010

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