One thing I've learned doing this: don't attempt a humor column unless you are Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Russell Baker or Erma Bombeck
They are, or were, the masters. But, alas, they are no longer producing columns.
Baker, 85, has permanently retired; Barry, 63, has temporarily or permanently retired, and Bombeck and Buchwald have permanently retired from this life, she in 1996 at 69, he in 2007 at 81.
So unless Barry makes a comeback, it looks bleak for the humor column genre. OK, there is Andy Rooney, but he is 91 and not churning them out that often anymore.
One guy writing very funny stuff, if not regular columns, is Ian Frazier. Two of his pieces are classics, the kind other humorists, like Garrison Keillor, wish they had written and hate him for: "Coyote v. Acme" and "A Father's Lamentations."
Originally published in the February 1997 Atlantic and the February 26, 1990 New Yorker magazines, both pieces can be easily found online.
The first of these is written in the form of a legal brief and details the problems Wile E. Coyote has encountered with products from Acme. They have yet to help him to catch his prey (the Roadrunner), which as a predator he needs to catch in order to survive, and they have caused him considerable and usually humiliating bodily harm.
The second is subtitled "Household Principles for Children from the Old Testament," a sample of which is:
"Laws When at Table: Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass."
Like all humor worthy of the name, these pieces unite rather than divide us. They are not partisan or ideological. The first one actually portrays Mr. Coyote as a petitioner with legitimate concerns, who is only plying his trade as a predator. The second is something all parents can relate to.
Like all good humor, they point out our common foibles, our limited human condition that was best summarized by George Carlin who said, as I recall: We're all just blobs of protoplasm walking around saying, Hey, how ya doing?
He also said: If you can't laugh at yourself, laugh at other people.
That seems to be the problem these days: we don't even try laughing at ourselves; we just laugh at others. Most humor is sarcastic, partisan and divisive. It seldom reaches deeper to the underlying human condition we all share.
This applies to the comics, too. Some cartoons are stuck in a narrow, one-sided perspective. A good example is Mallard Fillmore. At the end of the third frame every day was a dig at the left. It got boring.
An example of a truly funny cartoon is Doonesbury. It generally leans left, I think, but you might read the strip for days or weeks and never know this. It digs deeper to the general human condition rather than just scratching the surface in a partisan or ideological manner. Its creator, Garry Trudeau, laughs at everyone, including himself and his own beliefs and perspective. Mallard Fillmore's Bruce Tinsley almost exclusively laughs at those on the other side, the left.
The prime example of one who uses his considerable verbal gifts in a one-sided and limited manner is Rush Limbaugh. I suspect he started out as a more balanced humorist but, with fame and fortune, started taking himself too seriously.
Now he is mainly narrow, partisan, sarcastic and even vitriolic, dividing rather than uniting, losing site of the human condition he shares with the rest of us, even Democrats.
Such a narrow focus limits humor, limits us as a people. It forgets what George Carlin, Art Linkletter and others have repeatedly told us: People are Funny. All of us. Not just other, different people.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily?News)