At the risk of appearing disingenuous, I don’t really think of myself as "writing humor." I’m simply reporting on the world I observe, which is frequently hilarious. Here’s the thing. Most of what we witness in life is too complex to take in whole. Because of this we unconsciously edit what we see, select what to really record and what to ignore, which is why people who look at the same thing don’t necessarily see the same thing...Comic writers don’t so much invent funny things as strip away the distractions, the impediments to laughter.
I never worry about people not taking my work seriously as a result of the humor. In the end, the comic’s best trick is the illusion that comedy is effortless. That people imagine what he’s doing is easy is an occupational hazard. Cary Grant never won an Oscar, primarily, I suspect, because he made everything look so effortless. Why reward someone for having fun, for being charming? In "serious" fiction (as in "serious" film) you can feel the weight of the material. You expect to see the effort and the strain of all that heavy lifting, and we reward the effort as much as the success. Comedy is often just as serious, and to ignore that seriousness is misguided, of course, but most writers with comic world views have accustomed themselves to being sold at a discount. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I went to Spain, right after the Pulitzer I encountered Spanish journalists who are very different from American journalists. One way is that they are all very political. They want their writers to be very political. The first journalist that I met when I was there asked "Are you going to use your prize for political purposes?" I said, "Good Lord, no, I wouldn’t trade on it—I’m a professional liar. I tell stories. I make things up." They were appalled. They made it very clear to me that that was the wrong answer and that it was further evidence of what was wrong with American authors and Americans, in general, was that we were insular. Which we are. And that we were not bearing our responsibilities in the world. And that fame that is ours has been wasted on people like us because we won’t use it for good purposes. American writers are probably far more insular than we should be, nevertheless I am very much of the other persuasion. That people should not talk about what they don’t know.
"Harold and I tried to plant new trees, but they won't take because of the roots. You got to dig up the old stumps and they go way down. It cost a lot and the roots go everywhere. Under the streets and the lawns. We got them in our cellar. And you seen the sidewalks." I said I had. "You'd like to plant a tree or two, but where?" "The roots will die eventually," I said, trying to be optimistic, since she really wanted to plant trees. "That's what I said. Harold says no. He says they just petrify there in the ground, making it impossible for anything alive to find root and grab ahold. 'Course Harold is a sourpuss. I think sometimes he just says things like that so he won't have to go out and try. Some people would rather do without trees than dig a little hole."
Truth be told, I'm not an easy man. I can be an entertaining one, though it's been my experience that most people don't want to be entertained. They want to be comforted. And, of course, my idea of entertaining might not be yours. I'm in complete agreement with all those people who say, regarding movies, "I just want to be entertained." This populist position is much derided by my academic colleagues as simpleminded and unsophisticated, evidence of questionable analytical and critical acuity. But I agree with the premise, and I too just want to be entertained. That I am almost never entertained by what entertains other people who just want to be entertained doesn't make us philosophically incompatible. It just means we shouldn't go to movies together.
Were it not for Occam's Razor, which always demands simplicity, I'd be tempted to believe that human beings are more influenced by distant causes than immediate ones. This would especially be true of overeducated people, who are capable of thinking past the immediate, of becoming obsessed by the remote. It's the old stuff, the conflicts we've never come to terms with, that sneaks up on us, half forgotten, insisting upon action.
One of the nice things about our marriage, at least to my way of thinking, is that my wife and I no longer have to argue every thing through. We each know what the other will say, and so the saying becomes an unnecessary formality. No doubt some marriage counselor would explain to us that our problem is a failure to communicate, but to my way of thinking we've worked long and hard to achieve this silence, Lily's and mine, so fraught with mutual understanding.
That afternoon I came to understand that one of the deepest purposes of intellectual sophistication is to provide distance between us and our most disturbing personal truths and gnawing fears.