That’s Not Funny! Or Is It?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Contrast.
Does a sense of humor change as we age? Or does it change as we allow ourselves to become freer or more comfortable with who we are?
I’ve written both suspense and romantic comedy. Actors say that comedy is harder than dying, and as a writer, I definitely believe it’s harder than “killing.” The problem with writing romantic comedy is that humor is subjective. One person’s “funny” is another’s “appalling.”
For example, when romantic comedy and chick-lit was just becoming the new trend in New York’s publishing circles in the late 90’s, several twenty-something editors described books they liked and what they liked about the humor in them. One 25-year-old editor told a group of women authors how hilarious it was that the hero in the story impressed the heroine by pulling on a condom over his face. The authors didn’t find it funny. At all. They were appalled that the hero would act so unheroically, even in a comedy. Personally, I didn’t find it that amusing either, but maybe I would have if I’d read the actual passage. Maybe, just maybe, something was lost in the editor’s telling of the story. Even so, I was in my mid-30’s and didn’t really find it that entertaining, but just to appease my editor’s sense of humor in my second comedy, I did make some reference to fellatio not being an opera. She didn’t get it.
In the early 90’s, a writer friend tried to explain why women in their 20’s would definitely find condom humor funny. Women in their 40’s, she said—she was older than that, then—wouldn’t find it as amusing and what women in their 40’s would find funny would be appalling to women in their 20’s. She said that once you reach your 40’s, you take yourself less seriously and can start to have fun. I was a few weeks older than 30 then, and the example she gave me was one I found…appalling.
She told the story of a woman who’d been shy in her 20’s but really knew who she was by the time she reached her mid-40’s. (I suspect this woman may have been the narrator of the story.) The woman went to see her gynecologist for her annual checkup, and as usual, he was running several hours behind. She eventually was called into an exam room where she was told to don a dinner napkin of a “robe” and wait patiently with nothing else on until the GYN and his nurse could come back for the exam.
She waited. And waited. And waited. She read a magazine or two. She got up and stretched, which was hard to do while wearing nothing but a dinner napkin. She looked in the trash can. She moved the latex glove dispenser. She examined her teeth in the mirror. She read some more. She got bored. Really bored. You know what they say about idle hands and the devil’s workshop….
When the doctor and nurse came in some time later, she was reclining patiently on the exam table with just the dinner napkin barely covering her perimeters. As the GYN grabbed a speculum and sat down, he gasped. “What’s this?”
Carefully, he removed something while she feigned surprise. A latex glove.
“What’s that doing in there?!” he exclaimed, his face scrunched up in shock.
“I have no idea,” the woman said. “You must have left it in there last time.”
A woman in her 20’s, my friend explained, would never consider doing that to her persistently tardy gynecologist. But a woman in her 40’s would.
At the time she told the story, I was appalled. Now? I think it’s hilarious.