Writers On Writing / Comedy = tragedy + time with Luke Ryan

Ahead of his one-day comedy writing workshop at Writing NSW, From Punchline to Pathos, we spoke to Luke Ryan about the relationship between comedy and tragedy.

You edit the Best Australian Comedy Writing series. Is there anything you wish you could read more of in Australian humour writing? 

Well, I think I’d just like to read more Australian humour writing. Unfortunately, the avenues for humour publication are pretty few and far between in this country—even Best Australian Comedy Writing folded after two years. The only form that gets published with any regularity is snark-ridden current affairs satire, which totally undersells the full range and richness of comedy writing forms. Aside from that it’s just brilliant comic memoirs written by the under-35 set *cough* A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo *cough*

Your comic memoir, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo, deals with serious events in a humourous way. Can sadness be a spur to comedy, and can comedy help you to move your audience?

Oh look, there it is. *cough* Thousands of copies still available *cough*

Anyway. There’s a famous saying that comedy = tragedy + time. This is absolutely true. Comedy is a profoundly powerful tool that humans have developed to aid the processing and sharing of trauma. Done well, it’s an empathy generator with no peer—by laughing together you can take some of the most difficult and unpleasant parts of the human experience and render them newly comprehensible. Done poorly and it’s a surefire way to isolate you more than ever. Because when people do not like your comedy, they do not like you. Trust me, I know. Although I guess that still qualifies as ‘moving your audience’ …

Can you develop comedic skill or are some people just born with it?

Look, I was not a particularly funny child. My personality basically stopped at emulating my older brother, but I was always interested in comedy. Calvin & Hobbes, Monty Python, The Simpsons, Looney Tunes: this is what my childhood was made of. (Because that’s what my brother was into, obvs.) But those early obsessions are only going to take you so far. You cultivate an awareness, let that language, those rhythms sink into your skin, and then you develop the skill. And that skill is developed through years of practice and failure, just like anything else. Except for the fact that when you fail at comedy, you find out real fast, because discovering silence where you expected to find laughter is a cauterising experience you won’t soon forget.

Luke Ryan is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and comedian. He is the author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo, a comedy memoir about having had cancer a couple of times, out through Affirm Press. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Best Australian Essays, the GuardianQuartz, Smith Journal, The Lifted Brow, Junkee, Crikey, Kill Your Darlings and many more.

From Punchline to Pathos: Writing Comedy will take place at Writing NSW on Saturday 10 November, 10am-4pmBook your spot here >

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