Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choosing to laugh with Twain and Sedaris

There are two main points to this analysis: one, that Sedaris is a traditional American humorist because of his subtle humor and two, perhaps another avenue of humor to explore is when we are making fun of our own experiences, maybe that sort of self-deprecating humor does not require as much of an audience to give that gratification of laughter—his stories are independently funny with or without my participation.  Therefore, both Twain and Sedaris are connected in perhaps making laughter a choice.  They put the joke out there in how they told the story and if we want to laugh, we can, but it is not crucial to the success of the joke.     
First, Mark Twain writes in his essay “How to Tell a Story” that “the humorous story is the American story…the humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling” (17 Twain).  Twain’s argument is that American writers are challenged to incorporate absurdities without blatantly pointing out that they are absurdities.  Americans are challenged to string together seemingly purposeless stories while maintaining an air of nonchalance and casualness-- almost creating laughter as a choice, as if this story may or may not be funny, you decide. 
              Sedaris is clearly an American writer because he tells his stories in this exact manner—he rarely emphasizes anything too much, rather we as readers are supposed to enjoy his subtleties and chuckle coolly.  He writes about drowning a mouse casually as though that was normal, meanwhile I was actually laughing out loud at the thought of this pathetic mouse trying to swim.  In the last line of the book, Sedaris writes “so pleasing to the eye” which I think is what ties the entire book together and makes the book not purposeless, but purposeful.  That last line almost seemed like Sedaris was winking at us as readers because this book about an average guy’s life which seems pleasing enough, but it is actually absurd and are full of intricacies that are not visible until Sedaris makes them visible which Sedaris does on purpose. 
Secondly, this is the first time an author’s entire work is strictly turning the work on himself and his own insecurities, awkward childhood memories, and other times that were painful and now are funny.  In a way, this sort of humor seems to require vulnerability, without as much trust from the audience.  If you are making fun of yourself, you already are admitting the oddities you have, so other people can’t make fun of you—you already know and are admitting the joke!  In this way, perhaps this type of self-deprecating humor requires less audience participation because he is laughing at himself; whether we choose to participate and join him in his laughter is up to us. 

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