BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
I love to laugh. OK, who doesn’t, right?
Sure, I have other important things in my life, a wife and kids and a job I hate, but I spend most of my time, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, trying to make people laugh—trying to make myself laugh—working through skits in my mind, making notes of essay ideas or themes for more humor books, and finding new ways to fall down hilariously.
Laughing feels good. It’s why we pay folks like Adam Sandler and Louis CK and Tina Fey and Joe Biden the big bucks.
#ComedyBookWeek is an annual, online celebration of humor in writing. It is a free event, and all writers, readers, and book bloggers interested in funny books are welcome.
Humor, for me, isn’t just something I do to kill 80 minutes while watching the latest yuck-fest Hollywood has to offer.
Comedy is an escape, it’s a way of looking at life, and it’s good therapy.
Growing up poor in the pre-internet world, and with a whole bunch of siblings, there wasn’t much to do that didn’t require equipment or money or transportation.
If you wanted to go for a bike ride, you needed a bike—which I often did not have.
If you wanted to play a sport, you needed the money for physicals and travel and uniform—which I did not have.
If you wanted porn, you had to steal it from the utility shack at the grainery near the railroad tracks like everybody else.
If we were lucky, we got our old black and white TV to bring in three or four channels, usually fuzzy, which played whatever ABC, NBC, CBS and, occasionally, PBS (if Saturn was aligned just right, and if the coat hanger was facing west) were willing to give. And that was usually golf or Meet the Press or some sweaty televangelist panhandling to pay for his new water park.
Sure, we explored, we threw rocks at things, we drew pictures of naked ladies, and we fashioned guns out of sticks so we could play “army.” (This was the ’80s. “Cowboys and Indians” hadn’t been a thing for a good twenty years. Rock-throwing, however, has never gone out of fashion. In fact, I think I might go throw me some rocks after lunch today.)
What we did spend a lot of time doing was making each other laugh—full-bodied, tear-jerking, snot-bubble-blowing, hyphenated-word-inducing guffaws.
The seven of us, six boys and a girl, entertained ourselves by making up songs and comedy skits and putting together radio shows which we recorded onto an old cassette deck; sound effects courtesy of a miniature keyboard which supplied just the right amount of barking dog, applause, seagull squawks, and digital fart sounds recorded by yours truly.
To this day, our family get-togethers sound like a white trash open mic night. We spend most of our time trying to make the others laugh by any means necessary.
What can I say? I was obsessed with comedy as a kid—still am.
I watched and re-watched and watched again all the classic comedians and their movies, from the Stooges to Oliver & Hardy, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Fletch, Garrison Keillor, anything by John Candy. The list could go on and on.
When I got a little older, I discovered the humor essay.
I was dazzled by writers like Nora Ephron, Gene Shallit, Fran Lebowitz, Mark Twain, Woody Allen (even if he’s a pervert) and, later, by Jack Handey and David Sedaris. And, I guess, if I hafta, Dave Berry.
While making small crowds laugh in my high school drama classes, I dreamed of moving to Hollywood and becoming the next John Belushi—or at least the next Jim Belushi.
I never left Michigan but I did start putting my desire to make folks laugh onto paper.
The first humor pieces I ever penned became an unpublished memoir (maybe I’ll share it when the parents die) which I shared with some of my siblings. They liked the humorous spin I put on our rough upbringing so I kept on writing.
When I began working as a journalist in the early 2000s, it wasn’t long before I tried out my material on the local masses; kind of by accident.
First week on the job, the editor said I had to write a column introducing myself to the town. Terrified, I retreated to my safe space and did what I always do when I’m nervous: play the jackass. (I remember breaking tension in the newsroom during stressful times under one editor by spontaneously falling out of my chair and taking a filing cabinet with me. She nearly peed her pants on account of me on more than one occasion.)
I didn’t think for a moment they would publish what I submitted.
I even apologized when I handed it in, saying that I would have the real, more subdued version, to the editor by the Friday deadline.
Little did I know the chuckling coming from the editor’s desk, later on, was due to that ridiculous piece I wrote about having come to journalism after failing as a plus-sized underwear model. (Not my best stuff but not terrible, either.)
The piece was well-received by the readers, too.
I was hooked.
It never occurred to me earlier in life that I could make people laugh with nothing more than pencil and paper but I loved it.
Many years later, I would compile some of those columns into a humor book which got pretty good reviews.
A couple years later, I wrote a few dozen essays from scratch for another humor book, this time focusing on my ridiculous struggles with middle age.
Now, I have the opportunity to participate in #ComedyBookWeek.
And, so can you. Whether you’re a reader, writer or book reviewer, you can participate.
There are all sorts of books on all sorts of topics.
Many of the authors, like me, are giving away free review copies for the event in exchange for a blog post or a review on Amazon or Goodreads or all of the above.
Plus there’s all kinds of other special offers in connection with the event.
If you do want to read and review one of my books, either I’m So Great & Other Delusions or Frickin 40: Funny Stories About Middle Age shoot me an e-mail with your mailing address or indicate you’d prefer a digital copy at email@example.com.
I promise not to send you any hand-drawn pictures of naked ladies … unless you’re into that sort of thing.