Last week, we talked about getting started as a columnist and how to make contact with newspaper editors in ways that won’t lead to a restraining order. As I mentioned, writing for newspapers, magazines or blogs and websites are great ways to begin building some recognition and a readership for your book(s). This week, I’d like to digress just a bit and answer a question many people besides my mother have asked, which is: Why a humor columnist? Aren’t there more important things to write about? How can I face my friends at the next bridge club meeting after they read…
Where was I?
Oh, yes: Why I became a humor columnist.
Being a journalist, I naturally have journalist friends who, whenever we get together, want to talk about (yawn) heady issues facing the nation and the world. This is done in a discussion format similar to “Meet the Press,” except that our debates are often interrupted by someone’s beer foaming over. Aside from that, it’s just like the show on TV. As you can imagine, our exchanges get pretty heated as each of us presents an important topic of debate.
What is our stance on Iran?
Should we overhaul social security?
How do we deal with North Korea?
Or, as I challenged:
Why does the new Bugs Bunny look like he’s been shooting steroids with Jose Canseco?
That’s usually when our debate comes to a screeching halt and I’m forced, once again, to defend my journalistic integrity by explaining the value of what I do, then underscoring it by offering to pay for everyone’s beer.
Admittedly, I have it easy compared to other journalists who must worry about gathering “facts” and finding “sources” while I, on the other hand, can “make things up” without “leaving my desk.” Which isn’t to say I’m not held to the same journalistic standards as everyone else. I can’t claim, for example, that dipping your head in Frito-Lay bean dip can promote hair growth similar to that of a Tibetan Mountain yak. At least, not without some kind of corroborating evidence, such as testimony from an actual mountain yak. But even then, ONLY if it happens to be from Tibet.
If I were a less responsible journalist who tried to substantiate his claim with testimony from a yak living in, say… the San Gabriel Mountains, I could open myself up to litigation from Frito-Lay, the state of California, and, quite possibly, every bald person smelling of bean dip.
The fact is, what I do comes at great personal risk. Not just in terms of potential lawsuits, but also in terms of actual physical danger — particularly when you consider how often I mention my wife in my column. This is an occupational hazard my “real” journalist friends never have to contend with. Chances are, they’ll never write a story, be lying in bed the next morning, and have a city official roll over and smack them in the head with the newspaper.
Yet, week after week, at the risk of returning home to an angry wife and total financial ruin, humor columnists like myself sit at their keyboards, surfing the net until an hour before deadline.
Because each of us REALLY AND TRULY believes we’re making the world a better place by doing everything we can, as humor columnists, to stay out of the skilled-labor work force.
Let’s face it, for every culinary position a humor columnist takes up, there are at least a dozen people hurling into a commode. Countless people (i.e., there’s no time to count them before my deadline) owe their lives to the fact that I — and others like me — are sitting in a newsroom making stuff up. Imagine being stuck on a mountainside knowing that the person repelling down a rope to save you is the same person who, if they had a choice, would rather be writing about glow-in-the-dark mice.
Would you be willing to put your life in that person’s hands? Or would you go ahead and take a chance that a giant Slip-N-Slide will suddenly sprout from the mountain?
If it were me, I’d take my chances with the Slip-N-Slide. Even if it wasn’t wet, and it meant sliding down half a mile of dry plastic.
The point is, we humor columnists know our place in the world. We understand the risks involved in what we do. Which is why, as a humor columnist who actually worked in the food service industry, I can say, with some authority:
You really should wash your hands after reading this.
Next week: Finding your “voice” as a writer, and how not to sound like William Hung.
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