SLAUGHTER MY WORDS—BUT DON’T CUT MY JOKES
I can’t tell a joke worth damn—which is almost academic because I’m even worse at remembering them. I regret that, because it is a real social skill; but you have to play the hand you are dealt.
Fortunately, I do have a sense of humor which was much encouraged and honed by my stepfather, Alfred Lyons. He had a quick and sometimes vicious wit which could be crushing if you failed to respond to it. and thus I learned—from the age of eight to 16, which is when I went to university and left home (after a major row). Thereafter, I would return for a few days at a time, but never permanently. I had tasted freedom and the taste was sweet (regardless of considerable discomfort at times).
Alfred’s wit was complemented by boarding school where dark humor was our counter to a decidedly rigorous life. Sometimes it was quite savage, but it kept us going—and that was what counted. Still does.
Humor—or at least my kind of humor—is heavily rooted in a sense of the absurd often mixed with understatement. Irony is a major feature. Literal humor is not. More often than not, a play on words is the goal. Here the supreme master is Oscar Wilde although Voltaire could give him a run for his money.
When asked to renounce Satan as he was dying, Voltaire reportedly commented: “Now, now, my good man. This is not the time to make new enemies.”
Now that is wit.
All of this is a lead-up to a terrible admission. I’m so limited in space in my screenplay, that I have reached the point where I’m cutting some of my carefully contrived humor. And I hate writing without humor even if it is so dry that no one notices it.