Outdoor #Humor w/ Patrick McManus – A Bio

outdoor humorist Patrick McManus a photo posted on thinkingfunny.com

Outdoor Humorist Patrick McManus

Well, shoot, I was going to dive in tonight and get into summarizing some of the suggestions McManus had regarding humor techniques. Looks like that will have to wait. I was rereading “The Deer on a Bicycle,” and the introduction opens with his biography. I think that it bears a comment or two.

McManus’s mom was a teacher, and one of the tricks she used to pull on him and her students is one that I recommend to my students in my classes in oral interpretation. That is, she would read about 15 minutes of a book out loud, and then put it down. If he wanted to know what happened next, then he’d have to read it for himself. Crafty…  So, like so many writers, McManus began to read early and in great volume. He says that part of the reason he was such an avid reader is that there was little else to do in Northern Idaho, at least before TV. I wonder how many good writer’s we’ve lost to TV?

There are other parts of his life story that interest me. He started college as an art student, but when he found his love of Normal Rockwell was not shared by the art department, he drifted away from them an into English, where he earned a string of F’s until he finally opened his composition book and began to work at his papers. He ended the term with an “A+” paper on… Norman Rockwell. You’ve got to love that.

Another part of this story is that his first humorous work brought great enthusiasm from his classmates and teacher alike–but only a “B”. McManus challenged the teacher, but found that he was firm. The class was devoted to “serious literature,” and the humorous paper wasn’t serious. This sent a clear message to McManus that kept him away from humor for a good (or not so good) 15 years. I have seen this theme mentioned by many other humor writers, including PJ O’Rourke. Humor just doesn’t seem to impress, Dave Barry’s Pulitzer aside.

McManus ended up as a journalist, and the pressure of deadlines and writing for publication–and public criticism–taught him to endure criticism. He says this:

“To write for publication is to expose yourself on the printed page. You alone are out there, psychically naked for all to see and comment on, often unkindly. I believe it is the inability of beginning writers to achieve at least a certain degree of detachment from their writing that defeats so many of them before they even get started.”

McManus says that learned not to read reviews, even though so many of his were favorable, the occasional negative one just haunted him. He also says that he went from journalism to teaching, and found that he was so busy that it threatened his writing. He had to discipline himself to write two hours a night–not researching, not reading, but two solid hours of writing his own material, seven days a week, no matter what.

This is impressive to me, and I try to get back into my own writing schedule. Unlike McManus, I let it all slip for many years as my four kids were growing up. Coaching soccer, hauling them to dance, music and sports just seemed to leave no time. Now that they’re older, I am finding more time, but there are always activities that threaten to derail my writing. What I’d REALLY like to see are tips on how to fend off demands that seem too urgent to ignore, the emergencies of late-night homework or heartbreak. Tips on that, well, there’s a great article idea.

McManus ends the introduction with a story of how and why he wrote his first humor article, and it’s a neat story. I’m going to pull the same trick on you all that his mom pulled on him. If you want to find out the beginnings of McManus the humor writer, you’ll need to get “The Deer on a Bicycle.” Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

#Humor Writing – What I’ve Learned From McManus

funny photo of humor writing author and teacher Patrick McManus

McManus Is The One On The Right, I Think

I’ll admit to a guilty pleasure. I love to read Patrick McManus. His stuff makes me laugh out loud. No, it’s not Trilling, or even Twain, but McManus’s country-fried humor is just the thing to pick me up when I’m feeling flatter than roadkill.

Yes, indeed.

The other thing I like about McManus is that his techniques are out there for all to see. His latest book, “The Deer on the Bicycle,” offers specific suggestions for how to write humor, and they’re helpful, but all of his work offers ideas that can be used elsewhere.

That’s what I want to explore here, suggestions for humor writing. I’ve got a shelf stocked with how-to books, some of them helpful, some not. Alongside those are stacks and stacks of books that have one thing in common–they seek to amuse. My plan here is to review them, but not in the sense of recommending them. No, what I intend to do is to pick at their innards and look at the techniques.

This is a risky business, and not for the usual reasons that are typically given. I know that “humor analysis is like dissecting a frog,” etc. Still, there are some valuable things to learn from looking at the works of others who’ve been there before. I think the real risk of analyzing humor, in a blog such as this, is the obvious criticism that to suggest a technique to fall prey to formula writing. You can’t write a formula for funny, but you can take ideas and raw material and improve it with attention to detail. Part of this refinement comes from applying and trying various techniques.

So, that’s the goal here. Looking at techniques. My initial interest will be in humor writing, but I may wander into the world of stand up, or screenwriting. I’ll just see where the mood moves me. I’ll try to give spoiler alerts, if you worry about such things.

Hope you enjoy the ride.

Robb