Funny Business

Funny Business
by Leonard S. Marcus

In this terrific volume, Leonard S. Marcus conducts, as his subtitle suggests, "Conversatons with Writers of Comedy." Here the master interviewer and renowned children’s literature scholar, selects 13 representative authors to delve deeply into a genre well-loved by young people. Three of the writers have won the Newbery Medal: Christopher Paul Curtis (for Bud, Not Buddy), Sharon Creech (for Walk Two Moons), and Louis Sachar (for Holes). Each interview offers—among other things—a window into what the writers were like as children, their first encounters with humor, and their writing advice for young people.

 

Judy Blume used humor to broach challenging, and even previously taboo topics, such as sex, ridicule, and divorce. One of Sharon Creech’s first practical uses of humor was to divert her parents from an argument. Anne Fine (whose book Alias Madame Doubtfire inspired the film “Mrs. Doubtfire” with Robin Williams) grew up in Britain in the aftermath of WWII, and says, “The pain of being aware of what is going on around you is often what galvanizes a person to wit and humor.” As Christopher Paul Curtis puts it, referring to the days when he worked in the auto factory, “Humor is a survival tactic.” That was certainly true for Carl Hiaasen, who skipped a grade and was physically smaller and socially “behind”; he used humor “to disarm the situation” with bullies on the school bus. And then there’s Daniel Pinkwater: “I am not funny. I am just misunderstood.”

 

Certain subthemes emerge among the various authors’ profiles, such as a fondness for puns as well as Mad magazine, and the way logical progressions play out in the writing of humor. Jon Scieszka, for instance, describes precisely how “humor is mathematical”; Louis Sachar says that one of his cards-playing friends thought that “the story of Holes unfolds with the logic of a bridge hand.” And there is a wealth of guidance here for young writers, mostly about the fruits of revision. Christopher Paul Curtis, who says he may revise a chapter 78 times, advises that “revising is like working with smaller and smaller screwdrivers.” Beverly Cleary, too, says, “I’ve decided I don’t like to write but I love to revise.” And then there’s the inspiring story of Dick King-Smith, who was first published at age 56 (and went on to write Babe, the Gallant Pig, which was made into a feature film). Whether your youngsters are looking for writing tips or simply more information about their favorite authors, they are certain to savor this collection.

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