by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
January 20, 2005
Make My Day
SYRACUSE, Ind. -- I've achieved a major milestone: This is my 500th column for The American Reporter. For nine years, eight months, and one week, I have published a humor column every Thursday night. If I were a baseball player, I would be 21st on the all-time home run leader list, behind Ken Griffey, Jr., who has 501 - home runs, not columns. Ken Griffey, Jr. can't tell a joke to save his life.
Of course, if I were a professional baseball player, I would be paid to scratch myself on national television, instead of doing it at home for free.
I first became a humor columnist back in 1994 when I met Al Nich, the publisher of the Wakarusa Tribune, at a meeting for my county's Democratic Party. All three of us were there, and Al was a special guest. I asked him if he would be interested in publishing a weekly humor column for his paper. He read over my samples, and examined them for the subtle nuances and underlying theme of each piece. Then he looked me square in the eye and asked, "Are you a Democrat?"
Yes, I am, I assured him.
"Great. Welcome aboard."
That was it? No discussion over finer points of column writing, no questions about whether I had the wherewithal to be a humor columnist, or if I could even use wherewithal correctly in a sentence?
Nope. I only had to be a Democrat. The humor - it was hoped - would follow. And all this proved to me that only Democrats are funny. Republicans are source material.
I cling to this belief to this day.
It was not always so easy, or so funny when I first started. Those early days were ... well, bad. The problem was, I didn't realize how bad. My first columns weren't so much awful, as they were - okay, they were awful.
I had occasion to read my early columns a year ago. My fervent hope is that all copies of the Wakarusa Tribune from that year have been shredded, burned, and the ashes buried at the bottom of a compost pile that has been fired into the sun. I'll even pay for the fuel.
But, I slowly got better. I began studying the process of humor, other humor writers, and taped several television programs, and watched them over and over to learn any secret I could. At least that's what I told my wife when she asked why I was watching that Victoria's Secret commercial for the 57th time.
It may also explain the angry letter I received two years into my writing career. "Boobs have no place in satire," the letter writer told me. This struck me as both odd and unfair. Dave Barry made an entire career out of sticking his finger in his nose and writing about whatever he found, or saying things like "'I'm not making this up' sounds like a good name for a rock band," while I get a literary dope slap for talking about boobs? Admittedly, they were Pamela Anderson's boobs, but I believed boobs should be an integral part of any humorist's repertoire.
Actually, I received two letters. My second one was an emailed finger-wagging by a reader, Constance Daley, because I used the H-word a few times. She said I shouldn't rely on "potty words" for my humor - words like "boobs," I suppose - so I challenged her to do better.
She showed me though, because she published her very first book four years later.
Nowadays, I try discourage people from writing. It's not out of professional jealousy or pettiness so much as I just don't want anyone to be better than me.
During my self-education, I sought out other humorists, both famous and non-famous, to get their advice on humor writing. And some of them would even share their secrets. I'll never forget what Garrison Keillor said when I asked him about whether I should write about current events.
"How did you get in here?!" he said.
After I persuaded him not to call the police or shoot me - we were at a public book signing, after all - he said I should try writing more current events, and not worry so much about doing personal stories. This was a great relief because there were all kinds of great things happening in the news, and I was missing them. That, and I had a pretty boring childhood, and had already used up the few stories I had.
It's been an interesting 500 weeks. I've written about my childhood and my own children. Stupid lawsuits and the funniest joke in the world. U.S. Presidential elections and the president of Turkmenistan. I have written about hundreds of different topics and experimented with several different writing styles. And I've learned one very important lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Boobs really are an integral part of humor and satire.