Monday, 26 February 2018

In Defense of Comedy (in which our Bad Girl talks the serious side of comedy)

Everyone likes comedy, right?


I’ve written comedy professionally since 1992.  I got my start writing stand-up. In the 1990s, I had a regular humour column in the Toronto region, and I now write for The Sage (a Canadian satire magazine.) 

Any seasoned humour writer will tell you that consistently writing comedy is difficult.  What looks easy doesn’t write easy.  The old actor saying, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” stands for writers too.  In books, not only do you have to pay attention to plot, characterization, dialogue, viewpoint, motivation, etc. like every other author, but you also have to add an additional element, comedy.  It’s like there is an additional test for you that others don’t have to pass.  And you don’t get paid any more for doing it.

And it gets worse: Comedy writers take risks that other writers don’t.

For here’s the thing:  comedy is by nature dangerous.  It often makes fun of things that other people take seriously.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to write comedy and not offend someone, somewhere.

The Rowena Through the Wall series is a spoof of bodice rippers. (Oddly enough, some people haven't caught on yet.  That's okay.  As long as they enjoy it, I'm good.)  Thing is, I'm doing a spoof of bodice rippers.  If you care deeply about bodice rippers (oh, the puns I could make right now) then you might be annoyed that I am appearing to make fun of them.

Even the most seemingly inoffensive broad comedy (the sort of thing I write) will attract criticism.  The Goddaughter is the first in a series of six comic capers from Orca books.  These are meant to be humorous entertainment. Nothing blatantly didactic.  No preaching.  I am hoping for smirks and laughter to lift your mood.

It’s satire.  A loony mob family is chronically inept.  A reluctant mob goddaughter wants to escape the business, but is always pulled back in to bail them out.  What results is a series of wacky capers and heists-gone-bad.

What could be offensive about that?

But ah.  The heroine of the story is a mob goddaughter, even if she doesn’t want to be one.  “You don’t get to choose your relatives,” she says.  I’m writing stories about the mob, in which we are actually compelled to want certain members to succeed in their crazy plans. 

I’ve found that even writing about the mob can invite outrage.  Operating outside the law is bad, even evil, a reader wrote recently. How dare I make light of serious crime? 

Which brings me to the point of this post (get to the point, Mel).  Comedy, done well, has a secondary purpose to making us laugh.  Some would say primary purpose.  It has the ability to threaten power.  Throughout history, writers have used comedy to satire and ridicule the people who have power over us.

If we were to limit the ability of authors to write about certain subjects or groups of people in light and humorous ways, we would lose the ability to ‘bring them down to size.’  To show their 

My satire is gentle.  But it is there, all the same.  In my humour columns and books, I poke fun at people and organizations that want to have power over us.  To maintain that power, they must be taken seriously.

And boy, do they hate comedy writers like me.


  1. In this age of the internet, Melodie, I don't think comedy can be considered successful unless it's offended somebody. So... even for a Queen such as yourself I think it's never amiss to say congratulations!!

  2. Tara, I've always wanted to be queen, never princess, even as a kid :) I think you are cut from the same cloth. Thank you for the kind words!