Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Incongruity Theory and Felt Butter

At the beginning of her book, I Like You, Amy Sedaris addresses her audience in the form of a letter; she explains: “This colorfully illustrated book (see pictures) is my attempt to share with you something I take very seriously: entertaining at home, my style . . . it may not be the proper way . . . but it works for me.”  Interestingly, when asked why her book was compiled in such a “colorful” way (in an interview that I watched of her on Youtube), Sedaris responded by saying that her book is “very visual” because a lot of people either can’t read or don’t want to read. By displaying her book in a fun and vibrant way, Sedaris hopes that it will reach a greater audience—even those who wouldn’t normally pick up a book. Sedaris’ attempt to reach her audience was especially funny in the section entitled “Entertaining the Elderly”. Consistent with her authorial goal of accommodating a diverse audience, in this section, Sedaris uses a larger font size. Not only is Sedaris successful in making her advice accessible to an elderly audience, she is also contributing to the overall playfulness of her text. I found this technique to be both practical and rather hilarious.

            Referring back to the quotation I included above, it is also important to note that Sedaris explains the content of her book as something that she takes “very seriously”. This notion of “seriousness” is repeated at several other instances throughout her work. Most notably, several paragraphs down from the first mention of “seriousness” (within the same letter), Sedaris explains: “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.” While Sedaris makes numerous attempts to convince us of her books’ “seriousness”, we can also see that she uses this appeal as a literary technique. Similar to some of the other humor we have studied this semester, many authors construct the punch line of his/her joke around the process by which they build up our expectations—by telling us that what they are about to say/do is very serious—and then by doing just the opposite. When our expectations as an audience fail to be met, we tend to laugh—mainly because of the incongruity we experience in confronting our realities. Sedaris follows this exact model; she elevates our expectations by telling us that the content of her book is very serious, only to offer us instruction on how to make “felt butter” or “gypsy skirt steak”—a recipe that only differs from regular skirt steak in the first line of the directions: “Steal some skirt steaks”(252).

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