Humorists Don't Walk The Line | KERA News

Humorists Don't Walk The Line

Apr 7, 2014

Writer, commentator and former educator Tom Dodge also has been called a humorist in some circles. It's not a word he takes lightly. Then again, maybe he should.

After my first book, I was described as a Texas humorist and after that people began asking me how they, too, could became a humorist. I said I think the person quoted on that book jacket had read it and said, instead, "Mr. Dodge can't be serious." So I became a humorist due to irony.

I added that I learned the art of wit from my friend, Jim Wheat, of Garland (whose obit states his death as Feb. 26, 2012. Yet I received an e-mail from him on April 12, 2012. To quote the title of another of his books: “Uh-Oh.”)

In any case, he told me that a humorist is not born but discovered.

In fact, he discovered himself in junior college. His first theme titled “With a Friend Like Me Who Needs You?” prompted his teacher to say: “This is inexplicable!”

He knew then he must be witty. So he set up his press and wrote more titles, like “We Ain't Me,” “I Ain't Through Laughin',” and “Stand Back, My Pants Are on Fire!” All classics.

So the witty title prepares the reader, like Pavlov's dog, to be entertained. A quick survey showed these great Pavlovian titles -- Groucho Marx's Memoirs of a Mangy Lover, which I immediately read. Then, Oscar Levant's classic, Memoirs of an Amnesiac, which you may think a short book and something of a jumble, but it's actually lucid, and a rib-tickler. This led to S.J. Perelman's The Swiss Family Perelman, and Perelman's Home Companion. And his last one, Vinegar Puss. That one's a riot.

Just to make sure I wasn't staking my fortune on a strike of fool's gold, I decided to read more Wheat books, like It Takes an Honest Man to Steal His Own Watch, Shouting in a Vacuum, Free for a Dollar, and Smoked Eyes and Sardine Yogurt. To this day I can't stop laughing.

So I started teaching a course called Stratagems and Witticisms 101 in junior college. I assigned humoresque subjects based on classic texts by Jack Douglas called My Brother Was an Only Child and Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver. This technique brought poor results, as students were inspired not to be witty, but to write sleep-inducing essays on the problems of living with such a brother, not to mention those detailing the dangers of boarding a bus operated by a driver so thoughtless as to blatantly disregard the bus driver's dress code. Plus, they ignored my title theory and just copied my topic as a title.

So I returned to the life of the ironic humorist, irony being the fine line between laughing and crying. When I tried to be funny, it was a tragedy. You may recall the scene in The Mary Tyler Moore Show when Mary was at the funeral of a clown named Chuckles, and every time the preacher would say “Chuckles,” Mary would be uncontrollably overcome by explosive giggling.

So, I never try to be funny, which, for me, is fatal. Remember the fine line? Well, if it's laughter you want, cross the line. 

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.