Aha! · Writers Write

Why Comedy?

In his book The Comic Toolbox, John Vorhaus writes, “Comedy is no innocent thing, but a powerful, often subversive, force for change.” My trusty dictionary defines subversive as “seeking to subvert an established system or institution.”

That’s it for me, the idea of creating a change so subtly, the reader laughs while it’s happening.

When I was in college, I worked on a production of Tobacco Road, a play by Jack Kirkland based on the novel by Erskine Caldwell. The characters were crude, filthy, and hungry enough to trade their youngest child for a 50 lb sack of turnips. Which were consumed raw onstage during the first act. Everything was covered in dirt, and to this day, I can’t stomach the smell of turnips. The play was serious stuff, or so I believed. 

On opening night, the audience laughed–not in titters or giggles, but in roaring eruptions. They cackled and guffawed so long and so often that actors blew lines and missed cues. Timing was non-existent. Then, after 45 minutes, the laughter stopped. The audience had a catharsis. They realized, “Oh my God. Why am I laughing? This isn’t funny. It’s pathetic, sick, and disgusting. It shouldn’t be funny.” In a wink, the play was subversive and powerful. It changed hearts.

That’s why I write comedy.

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