Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is "Funny" the new "F" word?

ROSEMARY: Yesterday Tim Hallinan mentioned that both his agent and a few editors had told him "no one wants to read funny thrillers." And just this past weekend at Crimebake I was on a humor panel (I get put on them a lot) and the moderator asked whether I thought writing funny in any way held me back. It was an interesting question and one that no one else had ever asked me in three years of humor panels. (Way to go, Toni Kelner.)

I think it does. Not writing funny or being funny, saying you write funny mysteries seems to be the kiss of death. Maybe it's like saying "I'm sexy" or "I'm handsome." You may be but it's never cool to say it. It's daring them to say "You're no Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich." Who is? And if you're not already a bestseller saying you write funny can instantly ghetto-ize you into the lightweight category.

No less a literary giant than Howard Jacobson, winner of this year's Booker Prize for his comic novel The Finkler Question has said "There is a fear of comedy in the novel today – when did you last see the word "funny" on the jacket of a serious novel?" He's right. (And when was the last time a funny movie won an Oscar for Best Picture?)

I've found "quirky" a suitable substitute for "funny."
Plus, it doesn't scream "I'm the next Janet E!!" Someone at the show asked about "eccentric" but I thought that skewed older, like "dotty." "Offbeat" could also work in lieu of the dreaded "F" word. What do you think?


  1. Quirky. I like quirky. I happen to be quirky (perhaps only in my mind's eye) I like to read quirky. I like quirky people. Yes, definitely...I like the Q word. Do you think people will know what we're talking about when we use the Q word? It'll be like code. LOL

    Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

  2. The thing about humor in thrillers is this: it has to be in exactly the right spot -- After the tension.

    But I agree with you RO, funny is definitely under-rated. And for me personally, I find it hard to read any book that is humorless.

    How about humorous -- is that allowed?

  3. I really enjoyed your panel at Crimebake. I love humor in a mystery and can't imagine loving a book devoid of humor. But that's me. I'm quirky. ;P

  4. When Kate Flora and I talked to about 30 independent booksellers (a few years ago when there were that many!) and asked them what their patrons are looking for in a mystery novel, their answer: FUNNY.

    I love funny, when it works, in a crime novel (mystery, thriller, you label it). What I don't like is stupid slapschtick that feels as if it's just there for a laugh.

  5. Yeah, funny is ...just how the world is. People are funny, without even knowing it.And that's what makes funny in a novel--that it's--"amusing" "interesting" makes us look at things another way. A fun way.

    (I was at a speech this AM given by Calvin Trillin. SO Funny. And part of the funniness was that he didn't crack a smile through the whole thing.)

    It's not slip on a banana peel. That's not funny (usually) it's stupid. (Unless you're writing I Lov Lucy.) Or when a character tells a joke.

    And forgive me for being contrarian, but I think quirky is..well, to me, that says "studied."

    Avery, RO, you're funny. GOOD-funny. NATURAL-funny. How real people are. Which is why we love them.

  6. Jan, I don't think humorous about mysteries with a sense of humor?

  7. It's true that comic novels are never taken seriously!
    I write a funny mystery series and my readers write to tell me that they love the books--but how often does a comic novel show up among Edgar nominees, or on 10 best lists?
    The attitude is always: because it is funny it is slight. Not true. There are two ways of approaching a situation. One can wallow in tragedy or one can laugh at tragedy. One can criticize human failings or one can ridicule human failings. I choose the latter, poking gentle fun.

  8. Rhys--I'm with you! That's what I was getting at with my post last week about funny novels/movies not receiving awards. There's a perception that something can't be both funny and insightful/ meaningful and that is so not true.

  9. Funny(!) how it's not funny to slip on a banana peel in a book. But when your husband (just for example) really inadvertently does it in a parking lot it's hilARious!

  10. Oh,Hallie, I just burst out laughing. SO, the reality IS funny.That's kind of interesting.

    (I hope he's okay!) ( ;-0 )

    My captcha is "wiggetie." That's kind of funny..

  11. I'm all for "quirky" too. It's a very good point. Sometimes I swear I see eyes roll if I dare mention that I write humor ...

  12. Hallie, was he wearing the fangs? Because that would really have been funny...

  13. What about witty?

    I like funny - everything is funny, odd, or quirky to me - but I think funny is a label to be given, not assumed.

    And if funny mysteries aren't winning awards, let's invent a new award category!