If you always wanted to know just how much sublime fun it was to be a writer of wit and humor, read the comments below from greats like Oscar Wilde, Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Dorothy Parker, Erma Bombeck and Mark Twain – then think again. It was damn hard work then, and it’s damn hard work now.
If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. – Oscar Wilde
People think it’s very hard to be funny but it’s an interesting thing. If you can do it, it’s not hard at all. It would be like if I said to somebody who can draw very well, My God, I could take a pencil and paper all day long and never be able to draw that horse. I can’t do it, and you’ve done it so perfectly. And the other person feels, This is nothing. I’ve been doing this since I was four years old. That’s how you feel about comedy—if you can do it, you know, it’s really nothing. It’s not that the end product is nothing, but the process is simple. Of course, there are just some people that are authentically funny, and some people that are not. It’s a freak of nature. – Woody Allen
When I was very little, say five or six, I became aware of the fact that people wrote books. Before that, I thought that God wrote books. I thought a book was a manifestation of nature, like a tree. When my mother explained it, I kept after her: What are you saying? What do you mean? I couldn’t believe it. It was astonishing. It was like—here’s the man who makes all the trees. Then I wanted to be a writer, because, I suppose, it seemed the closest thing to being God.
I never wanted to be anything else. Well, if there had been a job of being a reader, I would have taken that, because I love to read and I don’t love to write. That would be blissful. Sometimes you meet people who really enjoy their work. Those are the people I am most envious of, no matter what their work is.
You never enjoyed writing?
I used to love to write. As a child I used to write all the time. I loved to write up until the second I got my first professional writing job. It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.
What, then, would you say is the source of most of your work?
Need of money, dear.
And besides that?
It’s easier to write about those you hate—just as it’s easier to criticize a bad play or a bad book.
You have an extensive reputation as a wit. Has this interfered, do you think, with your acceptance as a serious writer?
I don’t want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel guilty. I’ve never read a good tough quotable female humorist, and I never was one myself. I couldn’t do it. A “smartcracker” they called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.UDQ: Tell me about your writing process. How do you write? Do you set aside a certain time of the day, and if so, why aren’t you writing now?
Erma Bombeck: I am. You just interrupted me at a page and a half. Discipline is what I do best. I can’t imagine any writer saying to you, ‘I just write when I feel like it.’ That’s a luxury, and that’s stupid. The same for writer’s block. If you’re a professional writer, you write. You don’t sit there and wait for sweet inspiration to tap you on the shoulder and say now’s the time. We meet deadlines. I write for newspapers, and newspapers don’t wait for anybody. You write whether you feel like it, you write whether you’ve got an idea, you write whether it’s Pulitzer Prize material. You just do it, that’s it. Discipline is what we’re all about. If you don’t have discipline, you’re not a writer. This is a job for me. I come in every morning at 8 a.m. and I don’t leave until 11:30 for lunch. I take a nap, and then I’m back at the typewriter by 1:30 and I write until 5. This happens five, six, seven days a week. I don’t see how I can do any less.
“I tell you, life is a serious thing, and, try as a man may, he can’t make a joke of it. People forget that no man is all humor, just as they fail to remember that every man is a humorist. We hear that marvelous voice of Sembrich – a wonderful thing – a thing never to be forgotten – but nobody makes the mistake of thinking of Sembrich as merely a great, unmixed body of song. We know that she can think and feel and suffer like the rest of us. Why should we forget that the humorist has his solemn moments? Why should we expect nothing but humor of the humorist?
“My advice to the humorist who has been a slave to his reputation is never to be discouraged. I know it is painful to make an earnest statement of a heartfelt conviction and then observe the puzzled expression of the fatuous soul who is conscientiously searching his brain to see how he can possibly have failed to get the point of the joke. But say it again and maybe he’ll understand you. No man need be a humorist all his life. As the patent medicine man says, there is hope for all.”