If you’re a 3rd grader the funny thing about Ohio is that it’s the state that’s round on both ends and high in the middle.
If you’re near Columbus the funny thing about Ohio is the field of concrete corn that stands majestically by the roadside.
If you’re in Cincinnati the funny thing about Ohio is the Flying Pig statues, marathon, and assorted paraphernalia.
If you’re near Hamilton, Ohio, the funny thing about Ohio is the statue formerly known as Big Butter Jesus. (1)
There are undoubtedly other oddities and roadside attractions in Ohio that can be found in various books and websites about the peculiar and amusing sites to be found in various states.
The really funny thing about Ohio, however, is that the state has produced some of the best humor writers ever.
The one that all Ohioans study in school is James Thurber. I was surprised to learn that outside of Ohio he is not as well known. At the very least, Ohio students read “The Night the Bed Fell” and “The Catbird Seat.” (2) His loopy, scrawling cartoons of men, women, and dogs are classics not so much for their artistic merit but for the captions. My favorite is a man and woman in a lobby and the man says, “You wait here and I’ll bring the etchings down.” For some reason that always slays me.
Thurber managed to be funny despite his failing eyesight and rampant misanthropy.(3) He also wrote a series of essays on grammar – a parody of H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage – that is enormously amusing to those of us who are amused by that kind of thing. In particular his piece on the subjunctive and sex is worth the price of admission. (4)
The high points of Thurber’s work have been collected in an anthology called The Thurber Carnival. I highly recommend it.
The other native Ohioan who has made her mark in humorous writing is Erma Bombeck.(5) Beginning as a writer for the Dayton Daily News, Bombeck turned her suburban trials and tribulations into comic fodder for such national bestsellers as If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
She is much more widely known than Thurber because of the near-universal appeal of her books and the fact that nobody makes schoolchildren read her.
Every two years there is an Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop held in her memory at the University of Dayton. Attendees work on humor writing, memoirs, and other forms of expression. There are events called “Pitchapalooza” and “Speed Dating for Writers,”(6) a writing contest, and even a showcase for stand-up comedians.
This year the faculty includes Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess; Kathy Kinney, “Mimi” from The Drew Carey Show; multi-talented writer Sharon Short; as well as other authors, speakers, agents, and literary mavens.
I will be there too, as an attendee.(7) I hope that after this experience, which occurs at the beginning of April, I can use the knowledge, practice, and advice I receive to improve this blog.
Erma Bombeck and James Thurber set a high standard, but those of us who aspire to write need people of outstanding talent to inspire and instruct us. As well as flying pigs and rows of concrete corn to entertain us.
(1) Also known as “Touchdown Jesus.” I always called it “Kris Kristofferson Jesus.” Unfortunately that statue was hit by lightning and replaced by another statue of Jesus made from exactly the same materials. And that’s pretty funny too. I call it “Jesus-Needs-a-Hug Jesus.”
(2)”The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is another well-known work. But the Danny Kaye movie of it has too much Kaye and not enough Thurber.
(3) Often mistaken for misogyny. But by the end of his life, he couldn’t stand anyone.
(4) You can find it online at http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/whichthurber.htm, but hardly anywhere else.
(5) After whom my armadillo purse, Erma (duh), is named.
(6) Not actually a venue for making dates, this consists of time-limited one-on-ones for aspiring authors to ask questions of pros.
(7) I was lucky to register in time – the workshop sold out in under six hours from the time registration opened. There is a FB page and the website is humorwriters.org.