From Deadbeat Funny to Dead Serious

David Sedaris. Sarah Vowell. James Thurber.

These authors are commonly classified as “humorists.” Now, this category has me a bit contemplative. Where is the line between funny Creative Non-Fictionists and Humorists and why is it necessary to classify these individuals in a separate category from other Creative Non-Fiction writers?

I’ve personally seen David Sedaris essays in Creative Non-Fiction anthologies, along with Thurber; though, I’m still waiting for someone to stick Sarah Vowell in one. She deserves it.

Wikipedia defines a humorist as “a person who writes or performs humorous material. The material written and/or performed by humorists tends to be more subtle and cerebral than the material created by stand-up comedians and comedy writers. The intention is often to provoke wry smiles and amusement rather than outright belly laughs.” Wikipedia also defines Creative Non-Fiction as “a genre of writing which uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.”

I suppose I agree generally with those definitions. Humorists do tend to be wry and witty. Creative Non-Fiction aims to tell true stories in an aesthetically entertaining way. Sure. This would make humorists such as Sedaris, Vowell, and Thurber Creative Non-Fictionists as well; however, it seems as though they aren’t treated as such. It’s as if because they’re popular authors, they automatically need a special title to separate them from other less well known authors or authors that just don’t sell as well.

Honestly, I find the label of “humorist” demeaning. There’s this prejudice against things that are funny–as if they don’t require as much skill to construct or perform. (The closest thing to a comedy given Best Picture from the Academy Awards in the past ten years would be Shakespeare in Love, which won in 1998. That’s a Romantic Comedy, though. If we want to be strict with our categorization, then we’d have to go all the way back 1977, when Annie Hall received that coveted Oscar. But I digress.)

I disagree whole-heartedly. In fact, I may even be offended at such a thought. Indeed, drama and comedy require different skills and execution of those skills, but a badly executed joke is just as painful as an overly-maudlin drama (ie the Lifetime channel). My point being that these authors are worthy of the title “Creative Non-Fictionist” and the respect that comes with that label rather than merely being presented as a lowly “humorist,” which really seems to be saying “not funny enough to be a comedian, not literary enough to be a real writer.”

Maybe I’m just taking this personally.

I do wonder, though, if there is a category of itself that exists that is based on truth, but isn’t devoted to it. For instance, there’s this online magazine called The Deadbeat. Really, there are all kinds of articles from funny to seriousish and all around, but one article, The Dynamic of Socializing Online: 101, caught my attention for its amazing snarky, snarling, sardonic sarcasm.

Now, there is truth to what the author says, but it contains a large amount of sarcasm and hyperbole, which makes that truth less literal and more symbolic or figurative. Would this be humorism? There is a truth, but the truth is found by critiquing the misdirections that the author presents. You see his or her false representation of what is going on and through that observation, the truth is revealed, but it’s interesting because the author intended for you to critique him or her in that manner, so that you could arrive at their real meaning. Hmm.

Complex, ain’t it?