from Author & Journalist
More Laughs in Literature, Please!
by Ellis Parker Butler
Ellis Parker Butler, author of many humorous stories, chief among which is the well-known "Pigs Is Pigs," believes that not enough present-day writers are writing humor. He sent the following letter to the Writers' Club (New York) recently, which will give an indication of his feelings in the matter:
Flushing, New York.
To the Writers:
As the year closes and the new one begins, may I call your attention and that of your society to one of the saddest cases of deprivation that has come to my attention, and beg you and my fellow members to do what they can to relieve the pitiable condition of one of their fellow human beings? The case is registered as No. 54,872 by the S.P.C.
This man, Oleander P. Collik, is now a resident of Flushing, N.Y., but he was born at Calamus, Kansas. While he was yet an infant, his mother inserted in his mouth a rubber nipple with nothing on the other end but a bone nubbin, saying to him, "Suck, you little son-of-a-gun!" As a result of this Oleander presently developed wind on the stomach, complicated by distention of the large intestine, or colon, and distressing pain in the small intestine, or semi-colon, leading to permanent acidity of the hyphen and other parts of speech.
Because of the poverty of the family, Oleander P. Collik was not given proper medical attention at the time. Their poverty was dire and became direr and direr. For some years the only food Oleander was able to obtain was boiled cornhusks, secondhand rubber boots, wood ashes and cast-off harness buckles. This, naturally, increased the irritation of the peritoneum, produced a raw spot on the epiglottis, and undermined one corner of the duodenum, letting it fall into the hypophosphate. The caloric gas then ascended into the intermediate interstices and fermented there, turning his belly sour and giving his face the sad and wistful expression of a cow that has swallowed a porcupine.
At the time Mr. Collik came to Flushing this condition had become chronic, if not indeed permanent, and he was never seen without his left hand pressed against a portion of his body I cannot name before ladies, but which the great Russian realist so cleverly calls the "tummy," in those immortal lines --
There was an old fellow named Hummy
Whose face with deep frowns was all gummy;
When asked why he scowled
He stood up and howled:
Gosh! I got such a pain in my tummy.
As a result of this gloominess on the part of Oleander P. Collik, and his continual circulating in and around Flushing, southern New York, New Jersey and the northern portion of Delaware, a nucleus of depression appeared which has spread over the United States, creating a sadness and depression in many thousands of inhabitants. This, working inwards through the liver, spleen, vermiform appendix and other attachments, has petrified the tutti-frutti, or mouth muscles, so that there are now millions of Americans who are practically unable to laugh on their own hook, and do not laugh at all unless they are primed like a pump.
My plea is that more of our members devote their obvious talents to creating matter that will give these millions of Americans with stringhalted faces a chance to laugh. We need more humor. I estimate that the market, in 1925, can absorb 798 cars of humor easily and without being foundered. And it don't make any difference what kind of humor. We need all kinds -- refined, unrefined, slapstick, humor on the hoof, F.O.B., C.O.D., A.B.C., or F.P.A. Or even B.V.D. Anything with a laugh in it. Of if you can't put a laugh in it, anything with a smile in it. Or a grin, or a chortle. We need humor more than we need France to pay her debt. We need humor more than we need booze. The magazines will pay top prices for medium-grade humor right now, every day in the week, and for any real humor they will slit their bank accounts open with a razor and just let the dollars splash.
The time has come for some of our writers who have been sweating over sweet little tales of cockeyed loons who take carving knives and slit their grandpas' gizzards because Olga bit a piece out of Ulga's ear, to kick Olga in the knickerbockers and write something we can laugh at. It is time some of us who have been mussing around in gloom, at $50 per story, spent half the work on something humorous and got $500 for it. The only reason we don't is because we are lazy -- mentally lazy. Humor means work.
There are no longer any great humorists in America -- not one! Any third-rate humorist sticks up like a sore thumb now, and can have garlands and flags and medals and ham and caviar sandwiches hung all over him by a grateful public. Even those who started right, like J. George Frederick, who hit high with Breezy, have gone back on us. It's a sad world.
I don't know what you can do about this. I might suggest that you set aside the place of honor at each meeting for the man or woman who has had the best piece of humorous writing published that month. Have a gold chain for him or her, with a red-velvet canopy and two little boys to spray him or her with Djer Kiss, and a brass sign, "The Hottest Baby in Our Bunch." Crown him or her with a wreath and doll him or her up in a crimson brocade robe edged with ermine. Or, if that don't bring out the humorous talent, give her or him, his or her feed free. That ought to fetch something. There's nothing that makes me feel so gay and joyous and humorous as a free feed, but I'm hors concours or non compos mentis or E Pluribus Unum in this affair, or something like that. I'm already sold on this thing. I'm doing my best at it already. I don't have to be shown. I've got a little pain in my own tummy and I know what a laugh is worth to a poor human American citizen these days.
Ellis Parker Butler.
Mr. Butler also talked to the Writers' Club on this subject recently.
"Write humor -- more humor," urged -- or almost begged -- Mr. Butler, adding that most of our deadly serious stuff is really funny, whereas a salient part of our humorous writing has real seriousness.
There were some hilariously funny illustrations of humor by Mr. Butler, and he gave as follows the difference between wit and humor.
"Humor," he said, "makes a picture and appeals to the eye -- wit appeals to the ear."
Mr. Butler was kind enough to give the Writers' Club the benefit of his knowledge and analysis of humor. He said humor arises from four distinct and separate methods of approach:
- Burlesque or parody
- Incongruity; surprise.
Most amateurs at humor, he says, mix things by using more than one kind. One must stay at the pitch selected and not change from one to the other.