Overstatement Going for Baroque

Humor writers get more recognition in print than in any other medium. Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to three syndicated columnists who are outstanding humorists: Russell Baker (1979), Ellen Goodman (1980), and Art Buchwald (1982). Even though there is no humor category, Pulitzer judges properly classify humor under "Criticism or Commentary," and all three writers do both.

Russell Baker is a master of literate humor. He is a natural cynic who sees the world as it is, instead of as it should be. In "An Idea That Must be Unfolded Now," note how Baker used exaggeration to describe an early success of his "National Bumbershoot Academy":

The pattern is familiar to us all. If you rise on a rainy morning and go to the closet for your umbrella, you find the umbrella gone. Usually it has gone to the office. If you go to the office on a clear morning, and it rains in the afternoon and you go to the closet for your umbrella, what do you find? Your umbrella is gone. Most cases it has gone home.

From this pattern it was child's play to deduce what was happening. When an umbrella at home realized there would be rain by morning it went to the office. When it was loafing around the office and suddenly sensed an afternoon rain impending, it pulled itself together and went home.

The reason for this behavior baffled men for 20 years, until Spitzstein (head of the agency) explained it in his famous First Law of the Umbrella: "Umbrellas don't like to be wet."

Baker, a tough Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, used humor to report hard news. He called the White House during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's term, "the tomb of the well-known soldier." In 1962 his first humor column was a widely acclaimed lampoon of President John F. Kennedy. Later, he turned his descriptive skill against President Lyndon Johnson, whom he described as "a big, outsized, outlandish char-

their lines, while you've got only a few days to perfect yours. You're bound to come off looking second-rate. Make use of the great lines they've created. Don't compete.

2. If the subject is serious but can be made funny in the phrasing. For example, you can use out-of-character humor, someone who plays a role completely different from what you'd expect: an old lady who rides a motorcycle or a dog who sings along to rock music. And incongruous situations open up hundreds of possibilities.

Of the two possibilities, it's obviously easier to produce humor when the subject is humorous. The humor for the second subject must be gentle, reassuring, predictable. It celebrates ordinary events in a new way. It brings a smile of recognition rather than a hearty laugh. Its success is based upon genuineness of feeling and clarity of writing. These more serious subjects are researched like a regular piece, but then the humor is added to make it more memorable. Don't take extraneous jokes and try to bend them to fit the subject. Humor must come out of reality.

The key to a sale is the perfect marriage of quality humor with the magazine's special interest and audience. One team of comedy writers, Stef and Mary Kaiser Donev, sells regularly to regional medical journals with small pieces like: "Hemorrhoids: they won't kill you—you just wish they would," and "The one sure cure of acne—old age."

They claim a fifteen hundred word article on a subject (like hospital-room etiquette) can contain up to eight humorous anecdotes or jokes and still be considered serious and informative. It isn't designed to keep the patient in stitches—he's probably already there.

The bible for selling magazine articles is the Writer's Market. Updated annually, it has a complete list of magazines, with names and addresses, that are looking for freelance material, including humor.

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