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 – The Deer On The Bicycle

humor writing teacher patrick mcmanus photo on www.thinkingfunny.com

Humor #writing teacher and author Patrick McManus

If you haven’t come across McManus, you need to log off, go down to your local used bookstore, and find him in the humor section. I’ve found that McManus’s works turn up regularly at my local used book store, less often at the used section of my local library, and not at all in the “Tin Can Mailman” over on the Arcata coast. This bookstore is more literary and oriented to the sort of discards that come out of the university’s lit classes.  This says something about who gravitates to McManus. But I think everyone who loves good writing should pick up one of his many collections of short humor. The Deer On The Bicycle is his latest work, and thankfully it is still in print. it is his gift to all of us who aspire to write humor, and it contains both useful suggestions and some of his best work.

Short fiction is a delight to read but tough to sell. McManus managed to break into this market with his work in Outdoor life. It isn’t surprising then that many of his themes and subjects depict him as a  hunter and hapless outdoorsman. I can’t say that I own a gun, but I do appreciate Pat’s take on the wild. I especially enjoy his stories about his younger years. They’ve inspired me to focus on my own childhood.

The introduction of Deer on a Bicycle describes the origin of the work, and I”ll be going through it in greater depth as I continue to blog on this. But he says that he found it difficult to continue teaching, so he collected his lecture notes and offered them up. He says:

“I have no idea whether this book will help anyone to become a humor writer, or any other kind of writer for that matter. But perhaps it will at least offer encouragement in the sense of readers saying to themselves, “He can do it, surely I can.”

McManus is write about this, but it is wrong of him to minimize his contributions. He’s a gracious man. Being funny here and there is something that many of us can pull off, but doing it, as he has done, consistently for more than 30 years takes discipline. It helps, too, to approach humor as an object worthy of study. McManus does  that, without being pretentious. Technique matters as it gives the working writer something to draw upon. His book contains a number of techniques or ideas worth considering.

I especially appreciate McManus’ commentary. He describes the circumstances behind each story. This book does for humor writing what Jerry Seinfeld did for stand-up with his 2002 documentary, “Comedian. ”  This is all the more impressive in that I have yet to see any other book on comedy or humor writing that comes close. There are other books, collections of interviews, which offer a few tidbits, but McManus offers up his full bag of tricks, the fruits of 30 years of his craft. This, I think, is an extremely generous gift. You really need to buy this book if you are serious about humor writing.

I’m going to highlight his suggestions, but he notes that “people become humor writers because they can’t help themselves,” not because they bought a book. Still, if you want to take a shot at it, no other single book will give you as much help. Stay tuned, and you’ll see.

#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