The comic writer

026-cartoon-of-a-man-with-a-fiddle-and-bow-public-domain

In the technical sense, the comic writer is a cat on a hot tin roof. His invitation to perform is liable to wear out at any moment; he must quickly and constantly amuse in a short span, and the first smothered yawn is a signal to get lost. The fiction writer, in contrast, has much more latitude. He’s allowed to sideslip into exposition, to wander off into interminable byways and browse around endlessly in his characters’ heads.

S. J. Perelman

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4536/the-art-of-fiction-no-31-s-j-perelman

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19 thoughts on “The comic writer

  1. The Night Life of the Gods and Topper are two very funny books that I remember. I was forbidden to read them because I would roar with laughter. I gave the book to my cousin when her father was dying of cancer. I was hoping it would distract her from the terrible situation she was going through.
    Leslie

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          1. The party was wonderful. Dress was informal – shorts and t-shirts. We had a stuffed Atlantic Salmon and salads and then there was the cake. There was a toast with some very nice Champagne. It was pretty much over by 11:00pm.
            Leslie

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  2. I don’t really think much of Perlman’s definition. Are readers that fickle when it comes to comic writing? Are their attention spans that short? Of course jokes are important, but a good comic novel, in my opinion, can be characterised more subtly – by a pervading mood, by a funny aspect of a character or situation that readers thinks about later, and that makes them smile. I think it’s less to do with jokes, as jokes, than a way of looking at the world.

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    1. You may be right about novels. Perelman himself was a writer of short, brilliant pieces (he wrote for Groucho Marx among others) and of course as “browse around endlessly in his characters’ heads” suggest, he ‘s never 100% serious. Even so, there’s something about this that rings true with me – there’s a lightness and dexterity that I think a comic novel really has to have, and if it gets heavy-footed it’s harder to forgive – well it is for me, anyway.

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  3. Great subject, my friends! And your post raised interesting comments. Thank you!
    PS: We did not have a chance to go to the pools in San Sebastian… 😦

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  4. Thanks Gert. I just posted this quote from the interview on my daughter’s FB page, for use in case she wants a change from Shakespeare one of these days: ” I like them [Yiddish expressions”] for their invective content. There are nineteen words in Yiddish that convey gradations of disparagement, from a mild, fluttery helplessness to a state of downright, irreconcilable brutishness. All of them can be usefully employed to pinpoint the kind of individuals I write about.”

    And now that I have a breather from school for a couple of days, I’m going to order your book.

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    1. Shakes is pretty good himself on the invective. But Perelman is such a treat. One of his pieces, about buying a house, is titled “Nobody knows the rubble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Croesus.”

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