A Salute to Silliness

My best friend in first grade (hi, Robbie) and I were briefly forbidden from seeing each other after school because our mothers decided we were too silly together. They had a point. Soon as I showed up at Robbie’s house (or vice versa) we would collapse on the floor, giggling helplessly for no apparent reason.

I’m proud to say I’m still silly. You can see this on display in some of the Thursday videos I make for Gotham’s social media, and they got especially silly during the darkest days of the pandemic. Evidence here and here and here.

I’m in good company, I think. Monty Python specialized in silly, nowhere more apparent than their famous sketch about the Ministry of Silly Walks. Perhaps you have your own favorite masters of silliness. Anyone else here love Sally O’Malley?

So, what exactly is silly? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as: exhibiting or indicative of a lack of common sense or sound judgment. I’m sorry Merriam and Webster, but I dispute that definition. I’d say that silliness is about taking a break from reality, relishing the willy-nilly around us, and perhaps even laughing at the ever-ready sword of our inevitable death. The fools in Shakespeare’s plays are usually the wisest characters, are they not? 

And maybe a bit of silliness might help your writing. If you’re feeling uptight, overly judgmental, put on a goofy hat or do a dopey dance and you’re bound to enter with a lighter approach. Most stories could use a little levity too. Put a ridiculous obstacle in a character’s path or give someone a funny name.

(Funny names slay me, by the way. I can’t look at the picture above without snickering.)

Or just write something outrageously silly as a creative stretching exercise. I’m still laughing about something I read on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency about 15 years ago, by Tim Carvell. It was a “serious” essay pondering how various scenarios might have impacted the fame of Elvis Presley. Like so:

What if he—instead of Tennessee Williams—had written A Streetcar Named Desire, but he’d also been born with lobster-like claws for hands? Leave aside the question of how he would have written the play—for the sake of argument, let’s say he dictated it, or maybe had some sort of special typewriter. How he wrote the plays isn’t important. The question is, would he have been as widely adored? More so? Less so?

You’re free to bring your silliness to any Gotham class, but you might find it especially welcome in our Stand-Up Comedy Writing and Humor Writing courses. Maybe Robbie and I should sign up for these.

Alex Steele,

Gotham President

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