Through the years, I have written about 1,200 columns. I find that people are curious about the humor writing process. So, this week and next will not be humor columns; they will be columns about humor. Here are some of the most common questions I get.
Do you write about things that really happened, or do you make all this stuff up?
You know how sometimes a movie begins with this phrase, inspired by a true story? That’s pretty much like my column. The idea is always based on something real. A week or so ago, I fell out of a small bed at a downtown inn where we were staying for our anniversary. That was 100 percent true. As soon as my head hit the floor, I knew I had a column. And a headache. Did I exaggerate the story just a bit? Of course.
Have people ever been angry at you for a column you wrote?
Yes. Here’s an example:
Several years ago, I wrote about why my wife never mows the lawn. In the piece, I suggested that I didn’t want her to mow because it would jeopardize her femininity as evidenced by other women in the neighborhood who were outside grunting and sweating as they pushed their mowers. I got a lot of nasty notes from the ladies on our street. My wife said I had to go apologize to each of them. I had a better idea. We moved.
You make fun of your wife, Mary Ellen. Is she OK with that?
The truth is that in most of my columns, I make fun of myself, not her. Self-deprecating humor is the best form of comedy. About 75 percent of President Barack Obama’s jokes at the 2012 annual White House Broadcasters Dinner were mocking himself. Trump only managed self-deprecation 30 percent of the time when he had his turn. Even Biden has now started to parody his advancing age. I recently wrote a column about all the dumb questions Mary Ellen asked me about baseball. Truth is, I couldn’t answer any of them myself. I was poking fun at myself for pretending I was an expert.
The last line of your story is my favorite part. What’s the key to a good ending?
I once had a newspaper (no name) whose copy editor chopped off my last several sentences when he needed the space. That’s when I started believing in capital punishment. People were telling me they liked my columns but didn’t understand the endings. The last line or two of a humor column are crucial. It ties it all up and goes back to something I may have mentioned maybe 400 words ago. I work really hard on that. I hope you like the ending to this one.
Do you ever run out of funny ideas?
I did this week. That’s why you are reading this column.