“But I just want to make the people laugh!” he cried, as the rotten tomatoes splatted against his tear-stained face and the boos drowned his artistic dreams.
Yes, it’s true. From stand-up comedians to comedy novelists, there are always people out there who won’t find you funny. And that’s good, because originality should set off a range of reactions – some good, some bad. Boring, safe, same-old is easy to do. I’m sure some people make money from it but it’s not very satisfying from a creative point of view. (Though if someone wants to offer me a million pounds to be boring, safe, same-old, I would certainly give it some serious consideration.)
The reviews for my first two novels, We Have Lost The President and We Have Lost The Pelicans, have already proven that not everyone ‘gets’ my sense of humour (or ‘humor’, as most of my readers call it). My small band of British readers all seem to all understand it – no surprise really, given that Brits use humour about every 10 seconds when in a group. But a small minority of my core non-British readership don’t get it. Once again, no surprises, as I write original books embedded in British culture. But what has surprised me is this small minority is very vocal. Believe it not, they can get quite mad and rude about it all – something I never imagined would happen with a comedy novel. And that’s when humo(u)r goes bad. It’s not nice to wake up to one of those reviews – it’s a bit like getting a rejection for a job application. You feel deflated and you start to doubt yourself – even if sales are booming. If you’re ever in the presence of an author when they receive one of these, there’s only one course of action to take: tea and sympathy (preferably involving cuddles). Yes, that’s right. We are very delicate creatures.
In an effort to cope with the comedy doubters, I’ve decided to turn it around and find a brighter side to it all. So, here are some of the funniest critical comments about my lack of funniness (with the book being reviewed in brackets and my allegedly humorous commentary underneath):
Reviewer 1 (President): “I was hoping for a mystery with some humor, not a comical story.”
So, it was too funny? Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment!
Reviewer 2 (President): “Humor quite juvenile – was hoping, at least, some semi sophisticated English humor. Is slapstick comedy in written form, not good…For this kind of humor I would watch old Buster Keaton movies.”
This completely baffled me. Firstly, the book is a political satire based on a vision of the British Government in the future – not the kind of thing Junior watches on Saturday morning TV. Also, comparing a book to American silent movies – who, what, why, when, how? I want some of whatever he’s smoking!
Reviewer 3 (President): “Not sure I ever got the point of this book.”
I did point out to Amazon that this comment was not a review, as the point of a book is to read it. Imagine a review about a barbecue that read, ‘Not sure I ever got the point of this barbecue.’ You’d rightly wonder what type of spicy sauce they were putting on their sausages. But Amazon wouldn’t budge. Still, it makes me chuckle every time, so I quite like it staying up there!
Reviewer 4 (President): “It wasn’t funny or exiting. Unfortunately I bought the next book too. I am not sure I am going to read it.”
I’m sorry it wasn’t funny for this reader. Or ‘exiting’ (whatever that is – possibly the type of feeling that makes you want to walk out on friends and family and find a dark corner to read your book). I love the way this review leaves us all on a cliffhanger. “Will they read it, won’t they read it? Join us next week, to find out!” It’s like a soap opera in three sentences. (Although personally, I’m hoping they won’t read it, as the inevitable one-star review will follow..!)
Reviewer 5 (Pelicans): “The short intro doesn’t really give you any idea of how witless this story is written…I have friends in U.K. and understand their sense of humor can be different but this wasn’t even worth the paper it could have been written on.”
This person sounded really angry. I can imagine him calling his British friends and explaining his comedic angst to them, while they ‘um’ and ‘ah’ sympathetically and check their watches. His username is ‘The glass half full!’ but I think he’s being a little optimistic there.
Reviewer 6 (Pelicans): “bad reading, bad plot. just bad”
As someone who enjoyed a lot of Michael Jackson’s songs, I was tempted to respond with a big ‘Thank you so much! Glad you loved my Thriller. Who’s bad?!’ but I’m not sure they would get the joke.
Reviewer 7 (Pelicans): “not only did I not laugh I seldom smiled”
I utterly love this line. Every time I read it, it conjures up an image of a man so sad, you would just want to go up to him, kiss him on the forehead, and tell him ‘Everything’s going to be alright – it’s just a futuristic satirical British novel that you didn’t find in the least bit funny. There now.’
Okay, that’s enough examples (all from Amazon US). You need a thick skin in this business – which I don’t have – and there is a consensus that authors should never respond to negative reviews. But if they give me a subject for a blog I haven’t written in nearly six months, I reserve the right to perform a dramatic shimmy and declare, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’