Almost as much as Rodney Dangerfield is quoted for his “No respect” catchphrase, Edmund Kean,* the famous Shakespearean actor, is often quoted as saying on his deathbed, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” ** Our finest actors are those who can play comedy, which requires more subtly and finesse than dramatic acting. The same is true of writing. It’s easy to make readers cry—just kill a beloved character, or in the case of many Newbery winners, the family pet, preferably a dog. It takes great skill, timing, and precision of language to make a reader laugh. By laugh, I mean laugh out loud, not chuckle, or in the case of Jack Gantos, to make readers laugh so hard and so long that they slobber themselves. That’s why I was so happy to see Gantos win the Newbery yesterday. A funny book finally won, and there is no one funnier or more deserving than Gantos. Great flow, Jack.
*I first heard this phrase uttered by Peter O’Toole in Mel Brooks’ film “My Favorite Year,” which is One of My Favorite Movies. Go watch it.
**In truth Kean probably didn’t say it quite that succinctly. After all, brevity is the soul of wit, and a guy about to shuffle off his mortal coil probably wasn’t worried about wordsmithing.