Erma Bombeck was funny. No debate.
But, would Erma be funny in today’s market? That’s the question I posed during my 2018 EBBW presentation. Debate opened.
The audience responded passionately to the hypothetical. Opinions varied, and sadly, there more angst than consensus.
As a psychologist, I felt bad for causing distress. Given that my profession worships closure, I will play Judge Mark, hear arguments, and make a final ruling.
But first, I will tweak the question. Marketability and funny are separate issues, so the better question is, “Would Erma be funny today?” Arguments begin.
The DNA of humor is a joke, and all humorists write jokes. The great ones, like Twain, Rogers and Bombeck, wrote jokes that aged funny.
A joke in isolation is just that – a joke. However, the great humorists, like Twain, Rogers and Bombeck, used jokes to enrich their storytelling. And because they wrote about universal truths, their stories aged funny.
With every generation, humor changes its structure, delivery, and tone. Could the greats adapt to new comedic trends? Does anyone doubt that Erma could craft humorous tweets or create a hilarious Instagram feed? Is there any question that Twain or Rogers could write and perform R-rated material?
The philosopher Forrest Gump observed, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Life is full of surprises but not when dealing with great humor writers. Once funny, always funny.
There’s no question that Erma was funny. And you won’t be surprised that Judge Mark rules that Erma is funny. To paraphrase Mr. Gump, “Funny is as funny does.” Debate closed.
— Dr. Mark Shatz
Dr. Mark Shatz is the co-author of a top-selling humor-writing book, Comedy Writing Secrets (third edition). As an award-winning professor of psychology at Ohio University-Zanesville, he teaches humor writing and conducts research on the benefits of humor. He is a popular public speaker with extensive experience working with writers, including presentations at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the Writer’s Digest annual conference.