When I was growing up in Bedford, New Hampshire, humor was something that was somehow cultivated in our school system and in my family. To put it into context, Bedford is where Sarah and Laura Silverman, Josh and Seth Myers all grew up. Adam Sandler spent a few formative years in Manchester, the big city next door. New Hampshire, the state where the motto is “Live free or die” was somehow a funny place.
Maybe it has to be funny with a motto like that? Where hard granite peeks out beneath the soil almost anywhere you go?
I grew up thinking women laughing and women making jokes was absolutely normal. In my family, we laughed at anything and everything even when we were desperately poor, even when one of us is dying in the ICU. We laugh.
Glamorous Moments Gone Wrong
One of my favorite stories that I tell about myself is when I got a prestigious award for my first young adult novel. I received the award, preening, went back to my seat thinking “I have finally made it! I’m not a goofball anymore. I got an award! Look at me! I’m a serious writer now.”
Two seconds into my glorious preening, the emcee for the event (the governor’s wife) yelled into the microphone, “Carrie! Carrie! I forgot to ask you. What high school do you go to?”
There were titters in the crowd. Someone gasped. Someone other than me actually. My heart stopped. Did this woman who just gave me an award think that I was actually in high school?
I blurted, “What? Me? I don’t go to high school. I’m old!”
Apparently, she thought the genre of young adult could only be written by young adults? Or maybe she was drunk. I don’t know. I do know that I turned bright red and people laughed really hard.
Things People Say
Recently someone said to me, “You laugh a lot during your podcast.”
And I said (brilliantly), “Yeah?”
“You laugh really loud.”
“I always laugh loud,” I said. “I commit.”
“Oh,” she said. “It’s just really loud for a woman.”
For a woman?
According to an article by Jennifer Crusie, “Happily Ever Laughter: Writing Romantic Comedy for Women,” there’s a political element to comments like that one.
“The biggest barrier to writing women’s humor is the intrinsic belief that Good Girls don’t laugh. Ever hear a woman laugh out loud – really loud – in public? Chances are your first reaction was, ‘She’s no lady.’”
She’s No Lady
Oops. Apparently every single time I find things funny or joyous or ridiculous I’m losing my lady status. Judging by the amount of times that I laugh, I probably lost that when I was five. I’m cool with that.
Crusie continues, writing, “A woman’s laugher not only tells the world she knows, it also communicates strength and confidence. A woman must be very sure of herself to make the joke, to tell the story and to laugh out loud knowing people will stare. She must be proud, strong and confident.”
To laugh is to defy the norm, the social constructs that tell us in this culture how ladies are meant to behave.
Crusie extols writers to write funny women, women who make the readers laugh with them, women who laugh with rather than laughing down.
So how do you do that?
Crusie suggests the following:
- Base your humor on common experiences, things other women can relate to.
- Laugh with not at
- Let your protagonist use humor when she feels scared. Let her use it like a shield
- Give your protagonist friends to be funny with.
People who write humor are like poets. I know! I know? What am I talking about. Funny writers and poets only succeed because they are truth seekers and truth-sayers. They take the mundane, the detailed, the ridiculous and turn it into something universal. They notice things and then they stop to reflect on it.
So be funny. Be brave enough to laugh out loud in your books and in your life. Let the people stare.
LEARN WITH ME AT THE WRITING BARN!
The Write. Submit. Support. format is designed to embrace all aspects of the literary life. This six-month course will offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors. We will discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more. Learn more here!
“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”
“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”Continue reading “Women Are Allowed To Laugh, Aren’t We?”