Finding comic balance in your writing: how much humor is too much?
Humor is an effective tool for communicating the shared truth of the human experience in an accessible way. But too much humor, especially in literary works, can quickly feel heavy-handed, asinine, or even offensive. The best writers of humorous fiction and nonfiction balance levity with poignancy, the absurd with the humane.
In this class, we’ll look at a range of literary texts that do funny in just the right amount. Real-time online group discussion will be supplemented with written lecture materials, and we’ll look closely at contemporary fiction (Paul Beatty, Lorrie Moore, Jim Shepard, Joy Williams, Geoff Dyer…), online essays, stand-up comedy and even popular tweets, to help us hone our own abilities to identify what’s funny, and what’s extraneous, in our work.
Special attention will be devoted to overwriting, narrative tangents, and the desire to be “clever”— visible efforts that can jeopardize a piece’s momentum. Class homework will include live Video Skype readings so that we can understand how a piece is failing or succeeding by reading it in front of a crowd. Reading series and open-mikes in each student’s community will also be suggested.
Writers will submit for workshop and will meet once with the instructor over the phone for an individual conference. This class is open-genre: fiction, non-fiction, screenwriters, storytellers, poets, and stand-up comics are welcome.
Courtney Maum is the author of the novels Costalegre (a GOOP book club pick and one of Glamour Magazine’s top books of the decade), I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, and Touch (a New York Times Editor’s Choice and NPR Best Book of the Year selection), the popular guidebook Before and After the Book Deal, and the forthcoming memoir, The Year of the Horses. Courtney is the founder of the collaborative retreat program, The Cabins and she has a creativity advice newsletter “Get Published, Stay Published” that you can sign up for at CourtneyMaum.com.
"Courtney is not only a wonderfully strong reader—her reading of my work and her comments have helped me to become a more open, incisive writer—but she’s also a source of wit, perspective, and genuine support. One should be so lucky to share a classroom with her."
“In a room of fifteen or fifteen hundred, Courtney brings the audience into her confidence and keeps them there. Her engaging, hilarious stories bring every person in the room into her corner, and we never want to leave.”
“Courtney Maum has been such an inspiration to me and my work. Her debut novel moved me with both its humor and its poignancy. And her nonfiction, especially her 'Celebrity Book Reviews,' make me simultaneously swoon with delight and green with envy—they are that good! This year at the AWP conference in L.A., she participated on my panel 'The Art of the Book Review.' All of my panelists were wonderful, but Courtney was a crowd favorite. Smart, funny, warm, and genuine, Courtney delivered her talk with her usual energy and élan. I was so proud as the event organizer to have her on our team, and I was so grateful as a listener to learn from her, and laugh all the while. She's terrific!”
"Courtney is a thoughtful and inspiring teacher. When she tutored several students at the high school where I taught, I saw their attitudes toward challenging texts change and their excitement for literature grow, and she was kind, enthusiastic, and supportive all the way."
“Maum is funny: the kind of funny that is mean and dirty, with some good bad words thrown in.”
“Courtney Maum kills it.”