The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Nyuck, nyuck (not)

The difference between women’s humor and men’s humor is the difference between Erma Bombeck and The Three Stooges.

I’ve worshipped at the Bombeck altar since reading her three-times-per-week columns in the newspaper when I was a kid, so to be keynote speaker at the humor conference held in her honor this year is a privilege. Almost 400 people will attend. Isn’t that great?

It’s great, except that the new Three Stooges movie is playing in nearly 4,000 theaters. You’re smart; you do the math.

Even if each showing attracts only six guys, each of whom has spent whole months of his adolescence perfecting the “nyuck, nyuck” sound and therefore lacks what might be defined as a “personal life” or “women friends,” Larry, Moe and Curly still get more box office than Bombeck.

Why is it that a group that once included a character named “Shemp” still wields power over the comic imagination of America?

It’s because American men still believe women don’t really have a sense of humor. Despite the fact that if you put three women together for more than 13 seconds and we all start laughing, there are guys going around saying “Whatsamatter, honey, can’t you take a joke?” when his date doesn’t laugh at the work of Dennis Miller, The Stooges or Caligula.

Believe me when I say that women hate the Three Stooges. If you’re sitting next to a woman who’s cooing “No really, I simply adore the Three Stooges,” she’s faking it. In fact, I believe you can eliminate blood tests at the Olympics by merely showing The Stooges: You laugh, you play on the men’s team. Women do not do the eye-poking, head-banging, butt-slamming humor that the Three Stooges do so well.

Have you ever seen two women go up to each other at a conference, a wedding or networking event and, by way of greeting, say, “Pull my finger?”

Men do it all the time. In the Three Stooges paradigm, men insult each other by way of indicating affection.

“Hey Frankie, you’ve had that jacket since 1992. I’ll buy you a new suit just so I don’t have to look at those stripes!” That’s their way of saying, “Hi, how ya doing, how’s the family?” And it’s impossible to insult Frankie because he’s going, “Suit’s still good. Can’t button it, but it fits all right.” If you say to a woman, “Barbara, you’ve been wearing that suit since 1992,” Barbara will lock herself in the bathroom until she can order new clothes from a catalog. She won’t think it’s a funny joke.

Actually, men often think women don’t have a sense of humor because women rarely tell jokes.

Instead, like Erma Bombeck, women tell stories.

We have totally different ways of communicating. When a woman says, “Let me tell you something funny,” you better sit down and pour yourself a cup of coffee. You’re going to be there for quite some time.

Erma Bombeck wrote humor challenging the underlying assumptions of traditional domesticity. Although some of it can be placed in the self-effacing tradition (“After marriage, I added 30 pounds in nine months, which seemed to indicate that I was either pregnant or going a little heavy on the gravy”), her essays often contained less sympathy and more bite than the conventional “good mother” was meant to possess (“So you swallowed the plastic dinosaur out of the cereal box. What do you want me to do, call a vet?”).

When Bombeck quipped “I don’t think women outlive men … it only seems longer,” she challenged the system that would have us believe women live easy lives.

Bombeck taught women to forage for humor — to find it, to hunt for it, to gather it up in its raw state. Author of When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home, A Marriage Made in Heaven: Or Too Tired For an Affair and All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room, Bombeck’s column ran in more than 900 newspapers and she became the best friend of every harried, fraught, overworked and imperfect woman in the world.

I’ll take Bombeck’s fresh laugh over Moe’s whack to the forehead any day.

– Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, author, professor and commentator, is part of the 2012 EBWW faculty. This column appeared on the McClatchyTribune wire April 19 as 350 writers from around the country gathered for this year’s workshop.

Wrapped in a tree’s many branches

Erma Bombeck’s family will dedicate a tree in the late humorist’s memory at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. Teri Rizvi, the workshop’s founder, writes about the deep meaning of memorial trees.

In February, my husband’s early Valentine’s Day gift arrived in a wheelbarrow.

I watched a red Japanese maple tree being planted in his mother’s memory a few steps away from the sturdy tree that blooms for his father near the Anderson Center on the University of Dayton’s campus.

“This is the best gift ever,” he proclaimed.

Everyone — from her five devoted sons to the family’s servants in Pakistan — called her Apa, Urdu for “sister.” Her formal schooling ended after fifth grade, but she devoured the newspaper daily and dispensed wisdom and compassion gained from a life that spanned at least 85 years by family math. Her sudden death of a heart attack in 2005 just days before a family visit broke our hearts.

When I walk over to grab a quick lunch at Kennedy Union, I take a moment to brush aside the mulch covering the plaque under the graceful branches of a Pacific sunset maple tree. My father-in-law’s legacy comes into focus: “In memory of Shahid Hussain Rizvi Who Dedicated His Life for the Betterment of His Family and Education.”

Across the world in Lahore, Pakistan, my in-laws carefully tended the mango and date trees that stretched majestically above the walls that encircled the family home. During my first trip to Lahore to get married 30 years ago, they proudly showed off the famous Shalimar Gardens, centuries-old Mughal-style terraced gardens — a peaceful oasis in an often-turbulent country.

On campus, the chapel bells remind us of the power of faith. In Lahore, the lyrical Islamic call for prayer can be heard in the streets five times a day.

Two religions. Two vastly different cultures divided by nearly 8,000 miles. Yet this couple, who never even visited America, would feel at home on a campus that values both faith and family.

The trees on the University of Dayton’s sprawling campus often hold hidden and deeply personal meaning. Some of us can’t walk under their foliage without stealing a moment to reminisce, to pray silently.

We know more than 1,545 magnolia, white ash, pine and other trees border pathways and stand like sentinels on the campus lawns and in the neighborhoods. Our scientists can calculate the reduction of the University’s carbon footprint every time a tree is planted.

Yet neither is the true measure of a single tree.

Friends of James “Gerbs” Grabowski ’89 recently donated a swamp white oak that was planted near the gazebo in view of the iconic Hail Mary statue. Gerbs, who died last summer, proposed to his wife Tracey at the gazebo in 1991. For generations to come, this mighty oak will shade other young lovers. A young friend of the family promises to “high five” the tree every time he passes it on his way to the library.

The family of humorist Erma Bombeck ’49 chose a hardy hoopsi blue spruce to plant this spring near her Ohio historical marker outside St. Mary Hall. “They planted trees and crabgrass came up,” the plaque will read. What better tribute to a delightfully funny writer whose newspaper columns chronicling suburban family life hung on the refrigerator doors of our youth?

During Reunion Weekend in June, the family of Congressman Chuck Whalen ’42 will bless a dawn redwood tree in front of Roesch Library, which houses a collection of Whalen’s Congressional and personal papers.

I know exactly how these families feel about these trees.

This spring, when the crimson leaves on the Japanese maple make their first regal appearance, their beauty will remind me what a tree’s worth.

You can’t put a price on it.

–Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is associate vice president for University communications at the University of Dayton and founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Ha-Musings

Award-winning humorist Barb Best offers 100 quips and one-liners about love, sex, philosophy, pain, advice, questions and aging in her new eBook, 100 Fast & Funny: Ha-Musings by Barb BestShe is the 2010 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Winner and author of the “I Feel Your Pain” humor blog.

Seaside mysteries

Sharon Love Cook‘s new book, The Legend of Judgment Rock and other Mystery Storiesis available for the Kindle and Nook and will soon appear in print from Neptune Rising Press. Check out the book cover, which she illustrated.

True confessions

Dave Astor chronicles 25 years as a reporter for Editor & Publisher in his new book, Comic (and Column) Confessional: Finding Myself While Covering Syndicates, Celebrities, and a Changing Media World.

Don’t roll your eyes

Boston author, scholar and activist Ruth Nemzoff is publishing her second book, Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family (Palgrave Macmillan). She received her first book contract at the age of 66 for Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children.

The power of Erma

Clinical psychologist, author and comic Dr. Nancy Berk left the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (EBWW) with enthusiasm and strategies. Since then, she’s finished her second book, blogs for The Huffington Post, USA TODAY and national magazines and hosts three podcasts. Here, she shares her secrets about maximizing the 2012 EBWW experience.

The Power of Erma: 5 Steps To Kick Start Your Career

Two and a half days at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is like a semester of strategic planning for writers. Inspired by the talent and spirit of a woman who set the stage for female humorists, this event brings in the experts, including gifted attendees, to give every participant an opportunity to develop and promote their craft. Being in a room with 350 accomplished or aspiring humor writers can panic even the most confident —“Is there room for me?” The answer is “yes” — if you use what you learn. Follow these five steps to kick start your adventure from Erma and beyond.

1. Just Do It

Erma was living proof that great accomplishments can happen when you give it a shot. EBWW provides endless opportunities for writers to test the water and explore all avenues of humor. From publishing strategies to stand-up comedy, there’s something for everyone. Step out of that comfort zone, and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

2. Connect

Seasoned participants know that EBWW is THE place for business cards. Don’t leave home without them. You’ll make some lifelong friends and wonderful acquaintances, but it helps to give them a reminder. Social media experts will stress the importance of virtual connecting. (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) Listen to them and learn these tools. “Friend” and “follow” your new EBWW acquaintances. Most of us are helpful and harmless. Is social media worth it? I’ve gotten paychecks with commas thanks to social media referrals. If done well, social media can be your best (and cheapest!) publicist.

3. Be Genuine

Erma’s humor was rooted in real. She revealed an absolute love of family while being honestly hilarious. Great writing and humor comes when you allow yourself to be genuine. You’ll find your voice and develop your brand in the process.

4. Consider Alternate Routes

Success doesn’t always happen in the direction you’d thought. Keep an open mind about opportunities and analyze carefully before turning anything down. Every opportunity is a possible connection or avenue to showcase your talent.

5. Give Back

Don’t lose sight of the need to be an advocate for others. Help them find opportunities for success. Promote those you respect. Help out when someone needs an extra push. There are great rewards in being supportive. As your circles grow, you’ll learn more than you ever imagined.

—Nancy Berk, Ph.D.

Nancy Berk is a member of the 2012 Bombeck Workshop faculty. Her second book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind, is a parent survival guide for the college-bound journey.

Chutzpah

Award-winning journalist  and humorist Lisa Alcalay Klug’s new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe debuts in October from Andrews McMeel Publishing. Hot Mamalah is a humorous pop culture guide, a start-to-finish celebration of the strengths, challenges and triumphs of women: the good, the great, the PMSy and the menopausal. Hot Mamalah is the much anticipated companion to the hilarious 21st century Jewish catalog, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.

Reflections of Erma