Writers Cynthia Rogan, Diane Nichols, and Mark Saunders are producing the Oregon Jest Fest, a 10-minute play festival, to be presented at Ashland’s Belleview Grange opening in late January 2020. The deadline for entries is Aug. 31, 2019. One afternoon, we laughed a lot and chatted about writing and comedy.
EH: What has writing brought to your life?
DN: I can’t afford therapy, so I sit down by myself, analyzing my strange situations. Creatures come in and talk, and characters come and have things to say. I find myself enjoying the process of bringing that story to life, then I feel better.
CR: I’ve always tried to figure out why people do what they do. If you understand why somebody does something to you, it makes it somehow easier to take or to fix. I write in self-defense maybe? (to DN) You don’t even type with all your fingers.
DN: I type with one finger. This finger has typed a Master’s thesis.
MS: It’s a magic finger.
DN: It thinks so.
MS: It’s the educated finger.
DN: You have to say, it’s the pointer finger. I don’t want to write with the middle finger, it comes out all wrong.
MS: We’re just storytellers. That’s how we give ourselves therapy, and also to understand the world around us. For me, it’s always about the humor. It’s definitely hard work sometimes. Peter De Vries said, “I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” It’s just to be able to sit down and create these characters out of nothing, and then they come alive. I think writing is fun.
DN: It’s the most fun.
CR: It’s rewarding, because there is a blank sheet of paper, and …
MS: You create a world.
EH: What are the elements of comedy?
MS: Comedy is a huge umbrella. It could be anything from witty to wacky, to relationship comedy, to insane or dark comedy. James Thurber said, “Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.” When you’re going through it, it’s not funny.
CR: Years later you can laugh at it, after it’s over and everything’s OK.
DN: Unexpected things are funny. You’re being led in one direction, and suddenly you take a left turn.
MS: With the Borscht Belt guys it was, “Take my wife, please.”
CR: You have to see yourself in something for it to be funny, “Oh, that’s what I do. I can’t believe I do that.”
MS: What works for some people might not work for others, but it works generally, and people love comedies. When you go to theater, it’s nice to come out buoyant and upbeat.
MS: In the depression, comedians and cartoonist and people who were writing humorous stories did very well, because people needed to laugh.
DS: They didn’t get paid well. Just a lot of people went to see it.
CR: There have been a lot of scientific studies about what effect laughter has on the curing of cancer and all kinds of illnesses. The thing they agree on is that laughter increases the functionality of the immune system; and when you laugh together, it increases a sense of belonging and safety. When you are in a group, and you’re all laughing at the same thing, it makes you feel like everybody understands where you’re coming from.
MS: It’s communal.
CR: It could be a bad thing too.
MS: That’s the negative side of humor, when people in power make fun of the people out of power or the downtrodden.
CR: We certainly need comedy right now.
MS: As a pall descends the room.