What Does It Mean To ‘Push the Envelope’?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

When a topic is vitally important to humorists, sometimes I have to be a bit serious. I know I’ll be forgiven.

For your penance, sincerely compliment your mother’s good taste in choosing a Medieval theme for her kitchen.

Now, shall we?

If you talk to any fighter pilot who has flown numerous air-to-air combat missions, you know that he\she has pushed their aircraft to the very limits of its performance, riding that razor’s edge between loss of control and victory. How do you know this? You’re talking to them. They survived.

Success is rarely so brutal and final as combat, but there are lessons to be learned from such experiences.

The Iraqi Air Force likes to take sick leave en masse.

Well, yes, but what I was getting at is that success is rarely risk free. For people who don’t literally have their butts on the line every day, there are still huge benefits to riding the razor’s edge. Survival. Rare Insights. Victory.

The Faint of Heart
Leave now.

Writers: Stark Raving Mad by Choice
Face facts: If you are a writer, it is entirely justifiable to question your sanity.

I don’t doubt my sanity for a minute. I doubt it all day long.

As a writer, you have a different mindset from “normal” people. You willfully and vicariously experience a time and place through the senses of your main character, even though that place exists only in your head and your character is unquestionably a phantom. You spend hours upon hours converting your imaginings into the ideal format to choke your printer.

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.Gene Fowler

Next, you edit, which is basically a state of frenzied, obsessive worry over where to place a comma.

Should you complete your manuscript before your hard drive crashes, you then share your phantom character and his\her make-believe world with glorious and much appreciated test readers, who hopefully enjoy the experience vicariously through their interpretation of your interpretation of your fantastic, but entirely delusional world.

Finally, in almost all cases, traditional publishers ignore you and call you names, but you still sell enough copies of your book to afford supersizing at least one Big Mac meal.

Seriously, what is sane and reasonable about this process?

You need a little bit of insanity to do great things.Henry Rollins

So, when it comes time to add a bit of humor to your writing, is it really any more insane to swing for the fences, giving it all you’ve got?

HINT=> No.

Take a moment.
Yes, I know that I’ve mentioned pushing your boundaries on several occasions, but take a moment now to seriously consider what this involves:

  • Defining your comfort zone.
  • Asking why and how your comfort zone became established.
  • Imagining stepping outside of your comfort zone.
  • Imagining yourself on the razor’s edge and finding the funniest line.
  • Realizing that the risk involved in a joke is negligible.

I always hate it when you have to do a lame euphemism that no normal person would ever use.James Downey

Book Cover image

“…witty, funny, and well written.”

The best humor is never found in your comfort zone. If you are writing a scene or a bit of dialogue that would greatly benefit from a bit of humor, pushing the envelope IS the safe bet, and stepping outside your comfort zone is the sanest thing that you can do.

SPECIAL NOTE: Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks (Penguin Books, 2014) is the sequel to And Here’s the Kicker. I’m just a few chapters into this book, and I can already state that the advice from these successful comedy writers is PURE GOLD! The best mentors are always those who have ‘been there and done that.’ Don’t miss this read!

Parting Funny: I have a “carpe diem” mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day. They make me want to slap a dead poet. – Joanne Sherman

Next Up: Angles, Bangles and Tangles

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