Friday, January 6, 2012

Written vs. spoken humor

Book: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Author: Minday Kaling

Published: 2011 (Crown Archetype)

Pages: 222

This is a very gently funny book compared to what I thought it would be. I mean, it’s not like I watch The Office, but I hear things and most of it is snarky. Which I love, and which Kaling is not, at least not on the page.

She tries to be, in a way that instead underscores her earnestness and makes her look like she’s grasping for quirk in a fairly well-adjusted life. Some of her stuff is interesting and some of her stuff is funny, but it’s rarely both. The section on her first struggling years in New York City glossed over the exact things I wanted to know the most: how did she survive while not making money from comedy? I don’t know. She doesn’t say. Day job, yeah sure, but what? Office drone? Lap dancer? Kosher butcher? From what it sounds like, she and her girlfriend roommates just generated enough awesome to power through their rent until their one-act about being Ben Affleck and Matt Damon got into circulation.

I did enjoy reading about her childhood and her first job interviews in the TV industry. There was enough natural weirdness in those anecdotes that she didn’t have to dress them up, merely present them. Her observational humor was the exact opposite, a lot of form without substance.

I get the feeling that Kaling, the, you know, TV and stage writer and actor, is so used to the rhythms and extra padding (inflection, facial expressions, body gestures) of spoken humor that she forgot or didn’t realize that written humor needs a whole new set of scaffolding to make it work. 

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