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What Vexes You? Write it.

Put it in a story. Make us laugh at ourselves until we pee down our leg. Comedy is the highest art even when it’s base and crass.

barbed wire uphill
Image Composer: Dorian Cole. Barbed wire: Mayya666 from Pixabay. Boulder: Elias Sch. from Pixabay. PHOTO OF A LAUGHING BLACK STUDENT: https://pixy.org/5785947/. Creative Commons unrestricted licenses.

I can laugh about my vexing stories now. Moving every five years is the very definition of casualty. Each time we spent three very long days packing, two days and then one overnight straining our guts out to jam every last item onto the bulging truck. This resulted in the inevitable three years of being unable to find the bed hardware. There were always five years of swearing that we absolutely would never move again. Oh look, yay, new job!

I know my kids chucked one box of pots and pans into the throw-away pile so we would have to eat fast food for weeks. Dark comedy. We raised some real characters who we hid in their rooms while we loaded the truck to avoid casualties and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Spielberg’s Animaniacs, every one. Now when someone suggests moving, I hide in the closet, quivering like a guitar string. Moving is vexing. Go ahead, laugh, your turn is coming. It will make a good story.

A lot of things in life are vexing

Everything in life becomes a story, a narrative to lift us up … or tragically bring us down, and we look for satisfying outcomes. Getting ahead in life is vexing, so we want to laugh, cry, and triumph with characters as we live through the battles they face. Keeping our lives safe from harm is vexing. The best defense is comedy — laughing at ourselves.

Comedy, a light treatment of a serious topic, makes us see ourselves in perspective so we don’t take ourselves too seriously and dissolve into hideous slime. We want to laugh about the things that vex us, like moving.

Comedy uses unexpected but humorous twists that make situations palatable, and reminds us we have hope of a satisfying outcome. Comedy can be soul stirring without offending our delicate sensitivities. It’s the highest art.

Romance is especially vexing, so romantic comedy always sells well.

There are many examples of being vexed in movies, that deliver great comedy.

When Harry Meets Sally, by very popular romantic comedy writer, the late Nora Ephron, poses the premise that men and women can’t be friends because of sexual attraction. Generally, when men say they want to be friends with a woman, the Inquisition begins with private investigators, dunking and all that. (I worked in groups of all women — not a problem.)

This story is very unique in that it’s very much a premise driven story. Both the unexpected and expected happen. The unexpected is the famous adlib scene in which Sally fakes an orgasm in public and another woman orders what she’s having. The expected is that in the end Harry and Sally marry. Romance wins the day, so life is safe again.

Big Bang Theory delivers very flawed characters that most of us can relate to. They embody the ambition to succeed, the need for acceptance and to mate, the need to stand up to others, and many other very human foibles and follies. The characters are put in awkward situations in which they squirm and make us laugh. But we’re laughing at ourselves because we can relate to those foibles and follies.

The vulnerabilities of the characters on Big Bang Theory are numerous and very evident. The entire series has a well-developed character transformation arc for the entire character set and 12 years of seasons. Somehow being flawed is okay and the characters win in the end. Life is safe again.

Lysistrata, by Aristophanes: This type of comedy is ageless and timeless. In the 411 BCE Sex comedy, women revolt against men and their endless, senseless wars, and withhold sex from them to get control of both the men and wars. This story happens regularly today as women try to influence their men. Today they are too busy playing video games to notice.

The story structure of Lysistrata is similar to modern comedies with a rising story arc followed by resolution. Life becomes safe again. Coulda, woulda, shoulda do something like this for wars today.

In Teenage Bounty Hunters, a Netflix series, (I really enjoy this series) two teen sisters become involved in tracking down and catching criminals because they are fleet of foot and cunning. Catching the criminals is humorous, but the bulk of the story is about their relationships and coming of age, resulting in character transformation. Somehow, we manage to grow up and begin to do things competently, so life is safe again. Well, maybe not me, according to my wife. But she tolerates me in permanently being a two-year old.

Laugh or cry, we all make mistakes — that’s part of the human condition — and it’s better to have a farcical laugh than to cry, better to keep hope than feel hopeless and participate in disaster, better to see a character succeed. These things become the stuff of stories of which we want to be the audience.

Entertain us: Write humorous stories in marketing, movies, plays, screenplays, novels, documentaries, and in the grocery checkout line. These all tell a story that start with a vexing problem, some sustenance in the middle, and a satisfying resolution at the end that gives hope of life becoming remarkable.

Exceptions: Don’t put comedy in technical and legal writing. There’s no sense of humor permitted. Nor did the Navy appreciate it when I made a note in the log one boring night about a cockroach crawling across the floor. Writers have to write — just use good judgment.

- Dorian

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