Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A "Recipe" for Success

Mark Twain tells us that when we want to tell a story, we need to focus on the manner in which we tell it, at least in American humor. We need to be sincere in our telling of even the most comedic anecdote. Amy Sedaris brilliantly chooses her content so that when following Twain’s rules for storytelling, her “sincere” manner will seem all the more humorous to her audiences.

At the beginning of the book, she writes a little letter to her readers. She does use a sort of trope in this opening letter, when she tells us how serious she is and how truthful she is. In the second paragraph, Sedaris says that the book is her attempt “to share with you something I take very seriously: entertaining in my home, my style” (Sedaris) She begins the final paragraph of the letter, “This is not a joke cookbook. I don’t like joke cookbooks because I can’t take them seriously. This book is full of real information” (Sedaris). She says this, but then at one point in the book, she tells us how to make felt peas! We should also note here, the recurrence of the “it’s all true” tactic. This joke, for me, was one of the weaker techniques used in the book, partially, I’m sure, because I have heard it in an abundance of other writing and storytelling (including her brother David’s work).

Throughout the book, she makes fun of herself, and people who attend and host parties, but due to the nature of the content, we are not in a position to be truly offended, and she can freely tease and prod. Note that the section on entertaining the elderly is in large print. This is a hilarious marriage of form and content, as she reminds us of all of the restrictions the elderly have, restrictions which we may one day have. However, I found the large print particularly funny, because now the elderly can read all of the mocking, insulting things that she says about them!

Another successful tactic Sedaris uses is that of truth. Oftentimes, the truth—or at least, a story rooted in truth—is far more humorous than any fictionalized account. Sedaris is not afraid of pointing out the feeling that a lot of hosts felt was taboo, or were too embarrassed to talk about: dreading parties. We’re supposed to be social beings, right? But Amy Sedaris does not allow us to deny that anxiety many of us feel when hosting. “For most people the word ‘party’ conjures up an image that is so intimidating, so overwhelming, so terrifying that they just want to skip the whole thing—it’s too much pressure” (17). While Amy dramatizes this feeling, she is not wrong for most people.

In fact, I googled variations on the theme of “fear of hosting party,” and “frequency of anxiety over hosting party.” Google showed me an abundance of articles with such titles as: “Overcoming Your Fear of Houseguests: A Beginner’s Guide to Stress-Free Hosting,” “Dinner Party Barriers and Why We Don’t Do It,” and “Overcoming Party-Hosting Anxiety: Experience Life.” These titles too, sound so dramatic. We laugh most likely because of the incongruity theory combined with the relief theory. We are terribly nervous about this specific kind of social interaction, and Sedaris gives us a specific outlet for this release. The incongruity comes into play because it is so absurd that we fear this simple social thing. Sedaris also makes us laugh via the incongruity theory when she tells us that a good idea for entertaining the elderly is to “toss a balloon back and forth,” or shows us how to make felt peas, but does not explain why they are useful (Sedaris 149).

Her humor works because she picked a relatable, but still typically light topic. This way, her seriousness in writing tone (especially juxtaposed with the pictures) makes us laugh, and she is able to make jokes and jabs at herself and people in general without offending anyone. While she does not bring up a huge social issue, she may cause us to think about why we fear something so absurdly rooted in our nature as a social gathering, and how we may fear these less or help each other to feel more comfortable.

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