The second session of the second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Laughter Weeping Writing, presented by the HT, had the audience rolling down the aisle with laughter. It was clear once the panelists -- Deborah Moggach, author of These Foolish Things, which turned into a film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Gary Shteyngart, an American writer born in soviet Russia and recently out with highly successful Super Sad True Love Story and Manu Joseph, editor of Open magazine and author of The Illicit Happiness of Other People -- finished reading extracts and began talking on humour and tragedy, that writers can be as funny in person as in their work.
It's very hard not to be funny, agree the writers. "If you are not, then you're probably suffering a psychiatric problem," says Joseph. Shteyngart adds, "Writers in New York tell our stories first to psychiatrics. If he cries, the rates go up. if he laughs the rates go down. It's a good sign."
Moggach had a slightly different take on how humour is perceived and where it comes from. She feels there's a slight misconception that you need to be solemn to become a better writer. How jokes are often viewed as avoiding facing the truth. "Good comedy has to come organically. If it doesn't, it's laborious," she says. "But I find in order to be truly serious, you have to be funny."
"Comedy works because there's an element of actuality to it. Strongest humour needs reality. It has to be spot on. There can't be comedy without tragedy," says Joseph, admitting his wife doesn't find him funny. "I live in a country desperate to be offended. I have now developed a personality not to care." He says he hates those NRIs who acquire bright degrees and settle in the US and find themselves extremely dissatisfied. When they have nothing to do but go over the news and have these bouts of nationalism and patriotism.
But as far as offending people is concerned, it doesn't bother Shteyngart about America which he says has 17 million writers and only 6,00,000 readers. "No one here takes offence because no one reads," he says, admitting that the best thing about his book is its cover to lure the youth. But back home, in Russia, one of his reviews carried the headline 'Balding traitor betrays motherland'. "That was one of the favourable reviews."