Apr 23, 2010

Author Richard Arneson on Writing Humor

I think when you write humor, you have to be careful not to self-edit too much. When I wrote Citizen Dick, oftentimes I couldn’t help but imagine my father-in-law, a strict Catholic and very straight-laced, reading it and wondering how his daughter could have married a person with such a dark, cynical—often sick--sense of humor. But then I’d write something and think, “I bet he’d think that’s funny.” But what I’m proud of is that I never left anything out of the book that I thought might be offensive to somebody. I stuck to my comedic guns—if I thought it was funny, I left it in. If it didn’t make me laugh and it was supposed to, I pulled it out.

Along those lines, you’ve got to write for yourself. Your writing has to be what you find funny, not what you think an audience would find funny. I love Albert Brooks movies, and his stuff isn’t for everybody, but I’ve always been impressed that he’s seemed to stick with what he finds funny (I’m guessing that’s what’s happening because each movie’s humor is very much the same). So often you read reviews about his movies, and they’re awful, but I’ll find the movie hysterical. Once you try to write for an audience that you don’t have a kinship with, I think you’re sunk.

If I tried to write a novel or screenplay that had a lot of action and/or suspense, it’d suck. I don’t find that genre interesting, so, in turn, if I wrote about it it wouldn’t be interesting. I wrote a screenplay a while back called The Turners Fraternal. A lot of production companies liked it, but most of them said that it wasn’t “big” enough. It could have easily been made for a few million dollars. What they meant was that it wasn’t Hollywood enough. But I can’t write that way—I don’t find it interesting. And if I was asked to write a romantic comedy, it’d be a disaster. I just don’t think—and find humor in—those types of situations that you see in that genre.


Richard Arneson’s thirteen years working in corporate America drove him up a tree—literally. Once he escaped the telecommunications industry after ten years of service, he built a tree house—ostensibly for his two young sons—installed electricity and cable TV, and set out to fix himself, deciding that dealing with the memories of working in the goofy-as-hell world of corporate America could only be accomplished by getting them down on paper. Citizen Dick is the result.

Arneson is currently working on his next novel, The Tree House, which, ironically, is not being written in his tree house but in the cab of his 1950 Chevy pickup truck. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and their two sons. He has plans to build a second story on his tree house in early 2010, one large enough to accommodate a baby grand piano and two dental chairs.

Visit his website at: CitizenDick.com

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