Sometimes I laugh at inappropriate things.
Not so much “the date went really well and she asked you up for coffee and she takes her shirt off and suddenly you start giggling” inappropriate, although boobs are pretty entertaining. But everyone in my family gets into trouble at the theater sometimes, when we all crack up at what we thought was a laugh line and everyone except the actors (sometimes them, too, if it’s a small space and an amateur group) turns to look at us in horror.
“I know how to blow things up!” from Ragtime is particularly etched in my memory. The Oriental Theater in Chicago seats a whole lot of people, and they all look at you funny if you make noise when they’re not. It’s a funny line, damn it!
So okay. Most of that can be chalked up to a dark sense of humor not necessarily shared by everyone in this day and age of yoga, dog parks, and stress reduction techniques so intense they’re stressful. Empathic is in; morbid is out.
But every once in a while a writer really goes out of his or her way to make something totally inappropriate not just entertaining but intensely, absurdly, laugh-out-loud funny.
My earliest memory of this is the Hank the Cowdog books.
They’re for fairly young children, so the subject matter is not very complicated, but anyone who’s read a lot of children’s books should know that you don’t often get controversial subject matter that might, say, teach you the opposite of what your parents are trying earnestly to teach you every damn day. A main character (admittedly a dog) starting a conversation with “What would you do if we peed on your tires?” was unusual enough for even my tiny, developing brain to notice.
Actually it was less “notice” and more “laugh so hard I peed myself.” Maybe I’m just very suggestible.
Anyway, this all came to mind because I’m re-reading Infinite Jest (and occasionally building things out of it). I am not, unlike my first time through, taking it with me to read at work (which we’re not really supposed to do, but when it’s slow what the heck), because I have vivid memories of hunching over the upstairs desk, cramming my fist in my mouth and hyperventilating, trying desperately not to laugh so loud that I’ll have to explain why the scene about the head-in-microwave-suicide is so hysterical.
I work with these people, you know?
So my question for the writers (and the readers too, I guess): do you like it when people make you laugh at the wrong thing? Do you try to make people do it? How’s that working for you?