A Very Curt Note on Humor

This might as well be summed up as “a rant on why I think Terry Pratchett is serious.” I’m writing this, and I’m writing this publicly, because it’s sticking in my craw and seriously getting in the way of me writing a legitimate review for Nation.

I’m going to put it beneath a cut now.

To begin with: Terry Pratchett has a patter throughout his work, the kind you find in comedian routines. Some might think this means that characters, world, and plot aren’t taken seriously, so it’s just fluffy.

But the best comedians talk about the darkest things. They talk about racism, poverty, injustice, persecution. They just wrap it up in jokes so that it can be swallowed. Their patter, and Pratchett’s patter, is how they tell stories.

It’s easy, I think, to mistake the framework of the story as being what drives the story. They’re intertwined, but they’re different. Like that caducous thingy, you know, it’s got two snakes and wings and someone must really have been on serious ‘shrooms to have thought of that as the symbol of medicine. It’s ridiculous when you think about it, even if it has a deep mythical background rooted in Greco-Roman mythology; anyone who’s read about Zeus and his shower of golden rain knows that Serious Business is not the order of the day for mythology.

Mid-career and late-career Pratchett is dark. If you need some serious Pratchett, read Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment—or Nation.

Now, getting to the very personal bit: some of you may know that my life has been, to put it lightly, no bed of roses. My childhood can compete with that of the best comedians, and just a few years ago I lost everything I knew and everybody I liked or loved, and there’s also a touch of lingering fear that persisted in serious form for about three years. It’s never really gone away, either; it just sits somewhere in a compartment of my mind that’s walled off by medication and just too damned stubborn to die.

There’s a reason I tell those tales of my life, when I tell them at all, seriously: because when I tell them with dark humor, people think I’m just being silly and that these events didn’t impact me as hard as all that. Even some psychologists, really clueless ones in my opinion, have decided that because I do make jokes when I discuss some of the darker periods of my life in detail, that I was not deeply affected by these events.

I think there’s a perception that if you have humor, bad things cannot touch you, or they touch you less. Maybe for some it really works that way. Personally I have humor because dark things have touched me; the dark sparks off my humor. Yes, it’s probably really perverted, but that’s how I roll, so to speak.

I definitely have a patter most times; you can see it in my blog posts. It’s the same patter that I tell my life story most honestly in, and that I can tell you in the most detail, because otherwise the darkness would swallow both of us. But I can’t use it most of the time without being thought of as less by many people. And that is why I get angry when people tell me that patter means not serious.

In fact, I get very, very, very angry.

Still, I don’t go “Hulk smash!” or even “I’m the fucking Batman” about it. Or other subjects that make me angry. Frankly speaking, angry writing isn’t that fun for people. I think it’s stupid if you’re trying to be persuasive. Entertaining people is the best way to be persuasive—if you want to persuade. Normally I just want to entertain.

And of course, my temper is rather imperfect. It’s probably a hereditary thing. As you can imagine, I sometimes patter like hell.

Okay. Steam released.

Now I can return to writing a review that isn’t full of angry spittle. That’s definitely not the purpose of a review.