Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lisabet Made a Funny

by Lisabet Sarai

I’ve been dreading Helen’s topic, “Laughter and Sex”, because, unlike most subjects, I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve never been the sort of person who could make others laugh – in the flesh or in my writing. When I was a kid, my brother and sister would tease me about my lame attempts at making jokes. “Lisabet made a funny!” they’d crow. Their ridicule should have made me reluctant to keep trying, but I really wanted to elicit chuckles rather than groans. Somehow, though, with all my degrees and my half-century of world experience, I have never quite mastered that skill.

Helen, on the other side, can be hilarious when she wants to. (She can also write heart-breaking, breath-stopping stories that are deadly serious.) Take for example, her recent tale “Over the Rainbow” in the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Gallery, in which a bored and weary immigration official encounters a highly irregular prospective immigrant. If you’re not familiar with her Cynical Woman cartoons, you’re missing some of the funniest commentary on a writer’s life that you’ll find on the web.

Okay, I’m cheating. It would be too easy to write about Helen, or all the other authors I know who do understand how to make sex humorous. I really don’t. In my entire ten years writing erotica and erotic romance, I’ve produced exactly two pieces with some claim to be funny. The first is “The Shadow over Des Moines”, an erotic H.P. Lovecraft parody which has never been published. The other is “Stiff”, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek story that originally appeared in Mitzi Szereto’s “sex and death” anthology, Dying for It. Neither of these stories is roll-on-the-floor-clutching-your-belly funny. In fact, they both depend on a certain level of specialized knowledge for their effects. They’re sort of “in-jokes”. If you’re not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s overblown style, you won’t understand what’s going on in “Des Moines” at all. “Stiff” will probably only make sense to authors – those of us who have struggled to smother our purple prose.

I believe that it takes a certain kind of comic genius to consistently elicit laughter. I just don’t have it. When I try to be funny, I end up working too hard, and the results show that. It seems to me that humor must spring naturally from the artist’s imagination – whether a writer, an illustrator or a stand-up comedian. Of course, since I’m not funny, I might be completely wrong. I do hope readers’ comments will enlighten me.

It suddenly occurs to me that in proposing her topic, Helen may not have been talking about sex and laughter in art, but in the real world. Aha! This I understand, at least a little. Viewed dispassionately, sexual intercourse is more than a bit bizarre. There are also ample opportunities for awkwardness and embarrassment that ultimately generate laughter. But I’d rather focus on the delighted laughter that flows from deep satisfaction and comfort with one’s partner. When you’re in love, or when you’ve just had the best sex you can remember (or even better still, both!), you float. Joy bubbles in your veins; everything is bright, beautiful, shimmering with possibility. Laughter comes easily, wells up naturally in response to the least provocation.

I’ve written about sex and laughter, in this sort of context, lovers who know each other well enough to tease and mock each other, all in play. Actually, that’s a key word, play. I mean this in the sense of children playing, not mind games or masquerades, but the light-hearted abandon that allows us to be ourselves without fear of being judged, even if that means being silly.

People in the BDSM scene often speak of “playing a scene” or going to “play parties”. My meaning is a bit different. However, I have often experienced this sort of playful interaction, laughter just below the surface or even breaking out loud, in the context of a BDSM relationship. I think that some people have the mistaken notion that BDSM is terribly serious, that it has to feel dark and dangerous to be thrilling. Sometimes. Maybe. But I’ve laughed with my master in the middle of a scene at least as often as I’ve cried.

Sneaky, aren’t I? Here I started with sex and laughter, a topic that left me completely uninspired, and brought my post back once again to one of my favorite subjects. But that was last week...

I’d love to be able to generate humor, but I really don’t want my readers rolling eyes and groaning the way my siblings did. I can at least enjoy it when other people are funny. I’m looking forward to laughing a lot this week.

Photo by Fred Askew,


  1. The trick to writing funny, my dear, is to DELIBERATELY make your readers groan. The worse the joke, the better the effect. I learned that lesson from my father, who tells the absolute worst jokes with the greatest enthusiasm. Trust me, this works };)

    And you are funny, you just don't know it yet...

  2. So, are people laughing behind my back?

    Maybe you're right. Maybe what I need is to allow myself to be completely ridiculous... Oh, but maybe I already am...!

    Thanks for your comments.


  3. Lisabet!

    Okay I have to ask - the clown picture, is that you??

    When I read you had a story "Stiff" in "Dying For It" I ran to my bookshelf to fish out my copy, but it turns out to be a later volume edited by Gardner Dozois. So I missed the chance to read it.

    It is a tough topic. I've seen some of the topics coming down the road and felt a wave of despair. But that's the creative challenge.

    I've always been amazed at people who can write humour. Its much harder than it looks. I think the master of erotic humour would be Nicholson Baker not counting the entire novel "Portnoy's Complaint" by Phillip Roth which got me busted in my high school history class. I was reading it behind my history book and came to the infamous baseball glove scene. I completely disintegrated, which got the teachers attention since the subject at that moment was the holocaust. Timing is everything.

    C. Sanchez-Garcia

  4. Sex, on the whole, is too ridiculous not to be funny. Yes, I've been married a while (forty + years) and there have been more than our share of mishaps and light-hearted moments. That quickie in the bathroom with the house full of company. That afternoon with the constant series of interruptions from the kids (Dad, my mattress is on fire...)

    If the lovers can't laugh, can't find the amusement in their lovemaking, they're missing one of the important components of life.

    The secret isn't to write "funny", but to write about life--even the funny parts. Too often writers leave those parts out because they're striving for the serious. And that is sad.

  5. Lisabet,

    I am so with you concerning humor, in pretty much all of life. When you said you'd written two stories that had some humor in them, I thought, well crap, she's done one more than me. I've written one. It's never been published and probably never will be. I've had a variety of people read it and gotten mixed reviews. Some find it hilarious, more find it ridiculous. I'm playing it safe and keeping it in a folder on my puter. LOL

    It should be a very interesting week.


  6. You're always entertaining, Lisabet. And I do love the clown pic!


  7. Great into to this weeks topic, Lisabet.

    That's the thing about humour. It either works or it doesn't, and it usually works best when you don't try to hard.

    Kim Dare.


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