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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Glen’s Homophobia Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 2 by David Sedaris

Story Title: Glen’s Homophobia Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 2

Originally published:   1994

Collected In:  Barrel Fever

Brief Story Description: Glen publishes a quarterly newsletter about rampant homophobia in society, although more accurately, in his own life. His ex who  left him for a younger man, is in fact, a rampant homophobe, as are the people at his office. Glen in his newsletter however decides to focus on one particularly bad day of homophobia he has suffered through, all revolving around Drew Pierson from Dave’s Kwik shop. Glen, while he is making purchases in the shop, gets talking to the attractive cashier Drew Pierson. Drew is studying psychology at a second rate college, and has to do a study about dreams, only he isn’t having any. Glen volunteers to describe his dreams to Drew, who is extremely grateful. That night, Glen has a dream about how he was forced to move into a ‘dark, subterranean chamber’ and to share it with ‘small trolls with full beards and pointy, curled shoes.’ However, when he describes his dream to Drew he lies and says he dreamt about being in a forest of cruel trees, like the ones in the wizard of Oz that throw apples, and how there was a a clearing where he came across a “single tree, younger than the rest, but husky [and] goodlooking.” Glen continues to have another dream the next night, even more disturbing than his first dream, but he describes it to Drew as the forest of mean trees, and the clearing with the young tree, however the young tree calls out to him with Drew’s voice, and Glen strips the bark of the tree to let the young man come tumbling out of it, naked. Drew realises the deception and snaps, and Glen goes on to urge the readers of his newsletter to boycott Dave’s Kwik Stop.

Why it works humour wise: Irony. Glen present s himself as the constant victim of persecution, but we can tell through his interactions that he is a devious, unsympathetic individual.  A girl at his office has a huge crush on him and keeps making him dinners to take home, which he criticises frequently, though he keeps taking them from her. His deliberate plans for Drew Pierson are amusing, including buying snuff from the store, just because it is low down behind the counter and Drew has to turn and bend over to get it. I like Glen’s actual dreams, rich in symbolism, and the ones that he makes up to tell Drew. The actual dreams say quite a lot about Glen, but he is quick to dismiss them as meaningless. The story ends with Glen’s encounter with another homophobe, this time when Glen parks in a handicap spot and a man in a wheelchair is ramming his car with the wheelchair’s side. Glen lets loose his fury on the man.

Further Comments:  It’s interesting to see the cross-over from other genres when it comes to the humorous short story. It seems the genre is not owned merely by the literary community. Much of Sedaris’s early work first came through radio. In fact, the collection, Barrel Fever is a mix of his short darkly funny stories and his radio essays including Santaland.

The radio/ short story link seems to be strong in the United States and Canada.  There are writers like Garrison Keillor who start in literature and crossed the bridge the other way into radio. There is plenty of videos on youtube about Sedaris, including stories collected in his most recent book.

Here is a link to a story.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Humour

 

The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen

Story Title: The Kugelmass Episode

Originally published: 1977

Collected In: Side Effects

Brief Story Description: A balding humanity professor, Kugelmass, quits going to see his psychoanalyst thinking that he is better off employing the services of a magician. Finding ‘The Great Persky’, he is offered to be put into a box that will transport him into the pages of any book that he chooses. Kugelmass decides to enter Madame Bovary and have an affair with Emma before page 120 when Rodolphe comes into the story. Deciding to show Madame Bovary a weekend in New York, Kugelmass removes her from the book, only to have Persky have difficulty returning her. Kugelmass finds his affair disrupting his real life marriage.

Why it works humour wise: If you like Woody Allen, you’ll like his short stories, Woody Allen throughout his career seems to repeat variations of a theme. If you hate Woody Allen, his stories will offer little else. His humour, while it departs into the fantastical, has a strong realistic setting. Even when entering the book, Kugelmass is concentrating not on the magic of it, but its effect on his day to day life. Allen has a quick wit, and a way of upsetting expectations. Kugelmass is corrected by the magician and told ‘The Great Persky’ every time he tries to call him ‘Persky the Great’. The ending (Spoiler alert) where Kugelmass gets trapped in the wrong book accidentally thrown into the machine (a book of Spanish verbs), shows Allen never misses the opportunity to twist something into a joke.

Further Comments: It’s interesting how certain comedians can cross easily into literature. Woody Allen is about all things New York, so it stands to reason that he should at one time been oft-published in the New Yorker. Steve Martin is another comedian who crosses back and forwards into the literary world and back. It makes sense, comedians often tell stories in their stand up sets, but it seems to take a particularly determined individual to cross into the world traditionally occupied by authors. It must be somewhat of a two edged sword; the fame a successful comedian has, may let them get their stories looked at, but then they have to overcome the hurdle that they aren’t part of the literary establishment. Yet Woody Allen certainly deserves to be recognised for his literary works, and can join a distinguished line up of New Yorker magazine comedy writers such as Thurber.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Humour

 

The Breaking up of the Winships — James Thurber

Donald Duck, photograph by Ross Hawkes

Donald Duck, photograph by Ross Hawkes

Story Title: The Breaking up of the Winships

Originally published:   1945

Collected In:  Thurber Carnival

Brief Story Description: Who is better, Greta Garbo or Donald Duck? This is the question that unfortunately dashes apart the marriage of Gordon and Marcia. What started as a throw away comment has had the couple draw battle lines between them. Gordon, initially the model of detachment, who was (at one stage) opposed to all exaggeration, is ready to go blue in the face, espousing Donald Duck’s contribution to society. Meanwhile, Marcia hates anyone who would worship a cartoon character and anyone who would even give time to her husband’s argument. In this way (and with the help of some cocktails and whisky and sodas) a once healthy marriage is torn irreparably in twain.

Why it works humour wise: While the premise is slightly tweaked, everyone has been in, or knows of a situation like this: when being right is more important than anything else. Thurber is playing with human nature, and is exposing our defects. By pushing the outcome to an extreme, one of slammed cab doors, and in the end, Gordon moving out, Thurber can detail the illogic and insantity buried beneath the surface in all of us.

Further Comments: A clever story, one that has a ring of truth in it. People are happy to push a short term agenda over a long term one, even if it will wind up being harmful in the end. All we ever need to write about is contained within human relationships. Without people holding different views, and having different opinions, there would be no conflict, and thus no means to write narrative. Lucky for us, even the most balanced individuals can be nonsensical and illogical at times.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Humour

 

Jeeves and the unbidden Guest by P.G.Wodehouse

Day_11_09_Ubuntu_suit_by_Frerieke

Day 11-09 Ubuntu suit by Frerieke

Story Title: Jeeves and the unbidden Guest

Originally published:  1916

Collected In:  Leave it to Jeeves

Brief Story Description:  An old friend of Bertie Wooster’s dreaded Aunt Agatha, arrives on the doorstep to his New York Apartment asking him to look after her grown son, Motty  while his mother researches her book on America. Motty has never been outside their small English village before and his mother is afraid he will be afraid of the bustle of New York. Wooster is horrified as he thinks Motty will just sit around the house all day, but Wooster is in for a greater shock when he finds Motty, out of his mother’s watchful eye, is going out on benders each night. It is only when Motty is arrested for punching a police officer does Wooster get any peace and quiet, but then the socialite has to work out how to explain things to the young man’s mother when she returns. Only with the genius of Jeeves, his faithful valet, can Wooster get himself out of bother.

Why it works humour wise: Jeeves and Wooster. A classic straight man and fall guy combo. Wooster is the idle rich playboy, whose only bother is the delicate social situations he gets himself into. Jeeves is his valet (or butler, if it’s easier to think of him that way) who has the genius of Sherlock Holmes. Jeeves in his quiet, reserved way, is able to think three steps ahead. Only after something has resolved at the last minute though, is it revealed that Jeeves was behind the turn up in good fortune all along. Jeeves is a good character, but he would be nothing without Wooster. Wooster’s petty rebellions against Jeeves, such as growing a moustache, or wearing an unfashionable hat, are delightful (Jeeves is his valet and so advises him what clothes to wear, much like a caddy at a golf course would help select the right clubs). Wooster often rewards Jeeves for a job well done, by conforming to the man’s fashion advice.

The stories work in a way of posing a problem, (usually involving a friend of Wooster’s, whose rich aunt or uncle is going to cut them out of the will and stop their allowance) then finding a creative way of solving the problem, which inevitably goes wrong. When the plan goes wrong, it is only by finding an even more zany scheme, can things work out alright in the end.  The minor suffering and inconvenience to Wooster though as a result of such schemes, is where the humour comes from, as there are usually unexpected consequences along the way, which sees Wooster have to abandon his apartment for a few weeks (and the steadfast service of Jeeves) while things resolve themselves.

Further Comments: If one can surpass the aged trappings of these stories (and this very quickly shed) they are stories of interpersonal relationships and character. Being ninety years old, one would think these stories would be unreadable, but there is genius to them, and one can very quickly adapt to the older terms and language used.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Humour