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Andy Rooney  On Humor


Well, the unexpected. I think surprise is a big element in humor, and I've always thought that it was a mistake to set out to be funny. Humor should be incidental to something else. I very seldom set out to be funny, and when I do it usually falls flat on its face. I do not approve of deliberate humor. In other words, when a newspaper runs a column under the heading "Humor," the writer is in big trouble, because the reader sits back and says, "OK, funny guy, make me laugh." So I don't think anything should be labeled humor, nor do I think anyone should set out deliberately to make something funny.

If it comes out of what you're doing, it's funny.


I'm not a big laugher when I read. I nod [chuckles], I'm amused. One of the things, which is not an answer to your question, that has always surprised me, or, as I get thinking about it, it interests me, I speak maybe five or six times a year. And it occurs to me when I'm on my feet that the only response you get from an audience when you're talking is laughter. If you say something true or serious or important, what do they do? They don't nod, so you have no way to know whether you're reaching someone. Except with humor. And humor evokes laughter, so you know you have touched an audience, and you have succeeded in what you're doing. Humor is, uh, I did write a lot of humor earlier in my career for some pretty good comedians. Like Sam Levinson, and Victor Borge, and Bob and Ray and a lot of other people. And while I do not think of myself primarily as a humorist, I'm an essayist, it was an interesting exercise in writing, because the payoff is so precise, and important. If they laugh, you've done it. And if they don't laugh, you failed. There is no other style of writing that is so conclusive in its result as humor. And writing humor to make people laugh is a very precise exercise. You build up that series of sentences until you pull the trigger. And bang, you either hit them or you miss them. And it's an important thing for a writer to know how to do, just as so many other elements of writing are, it's only one. But it is one of the ones, and it's a very precise...humor is a very precise form of writing. It's economical in the words you use, you don't use as many words in humor as you do in excursive work, and um, I recommend learning how to write humor to anybody who...And the matter of the spoken word for humor. I mean, no one speaks as he writes and no one writes as he speaks. And when I am writing work for someone else to read, which I don't do as much as I used to do, the trick was to find some common ground, some middle ground in between the way you speak and the way you write. If you put it down on paper for someone else to read, the way you would say it, if you were talking to someone, it's too discursive. You waste too many words. When we are talking to each other, we repeat ourselves, we go all around the bush to get to the point. And that's the advantage of writing. When you're writing you can take all the junk out of a sentence and say it directly.

Writing. It saves everyone time except the writer. In other words, if the writer has to spend a lot of time getting it right, but in so doing he saves everyone else time because he presumably gets it right, the way he wants to say it, without a lot of unnecessary words.

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