Compare This!


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Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

CRAFT
 
 

Let’s agree that comparisons are indeed a basic literary device, but that’s exactly why they are so often overlooked.

Humorist have, or certainly should develop, a knack for comparing things to… Well, damn near anything. And that’s the point. The average fiction writer strives for comparisons that are novel, emotionally evocative, or impressive to literary critics. (Although frankly, if a literary critic is nitpicking individual similes, he\she needs their dosage adjusted.)

The sunset used a palette that left mortal artists found wanting.

Comparisons for a humorist have no such limitations. Or, any limitations.

LSD invented: 1938. The Wizard of Oz flying monkeys: 1939.

To Compare or Not to Compare
It’s true, comparisons can be considered trite, and there are some fairly good arguments supporting that belief. However, comparisons can also be very effective, which is why they have survived as a literary device, and as jokes. If a comparison is trite, it’s not the fault of the device, but the writer.

Ooh, that hurts!

The problem with comparisons is that, although they offer a fabulous opportunity to stretch one’s imagination, many humorists—particularly beginners—bypass the opportunity or settle for the patently obvious. On the other hand, stretching one’s imagination—really pushing the envelope—when using a comparison offers your audience exactly what they’re looking for: a great laugh.

Ah yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet. – Robin Williams

Simile Smiles
The simile is in its simplest, purest, and totally unadulterated form: this is like that.

She welcomed me like E. coli in the mayonnaise.

Or, one of my personal favorites from Judy Rose’s post, The 25 Funniest Analogies (Collected by High School English Teachers):

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

A true artiste that one!

The lowly simile is probably the first comparison that most us learned in grade school English class. Used well, it is also the most effective. With no exaggeration, millions of jokes are based on similes. The funniest, by far, are those where the writer refused to settle for his first idea and kept pushing until he had a great gag tickling hell out of his audience.

TOP SECRET Humor Formula #7826: Pushing your imagination is not time consuming after a modest bit of practice. It quite easily becomes second nature, and the speed with which you will be able to formulate a great gag regularly increases.

Metaphor, My Love
A metaphor is a hidden comparison not using like or as. However, it’s the same soup, just a different flavor.

All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players.
– William Shakespeare

Olde Will could certainly turn a phrase, and he was screaming funny at times, even in his tragedies. Of course, there’s still plenty of humor fodder in more modern views:

Obstetricians aren’t real doctors; not once did mine say, ‘This won’t hurt a bit.’

Oh, So Familiar Analogy
An analogy explains something unfamiliar by comparing it to something familiar, which is particularly useful in topical humor when something esoteric makes headlines.

Scientist have discovered that electrons are spherical. If an electron was the size of the solar system, any imperfection would be less than the width of a human hair or the dust that your mother-in-law can see on your countertop.

Allegory
Welcome to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Allegory uses symbols and symbolism to compare people, things or even all of society to abstract ideas or events. As allegories are generally longer works, I’ll skip posting an example, but you can find a list of popular allegorical books at Goodreads. Note, longer forms are not immune to humor. The theme, entire plots, and bits and pieces of any book can be both humorous and allegorical.

Conclusion
Comparative literary devices are practically straight-lines for humorists. And for those humorists with lots of imagination and no fear, one final comparison: Use them like you know what you’re doing.

Parting Funny: The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they’re too old to do it.Ann Bancroft
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Comedians and Tragedy


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

CRAFT – A special note.
 
 

Sometimes, the elephant in the room is the one with the most influence.

Most of us have experienced personal tragedy—the loss of a loved one, a family member who receives a frightening diagnosis from their doctor, or the disastrous loss of a family home from fire or natural disaster. Being human, we grieve, each in our own way, until such time as we are able to, as the Brits say so succinctly, soldier on.

Professional writers who experience a personal tragedy usually continue writing, some introducing a cathartic strain to their prose. Professional humorists follow a similar course, continuing to craft jokes, but there are some differences.

And not all tragedies are personal.

As we were so recently reminded in Orlando, national tragedy also impacts our consciousness. For those who need help, psychologists are available to deal with the varying degrees of shock and horror. Most writers or performers need only recognize the fact of its existence. At such times, the catastrophic event weighs on each mind in every humorist’s audience. Even if audience members are not aware consciously, tragedy can subdue their mood and limit their ability to enjoy the work of even the most talented humorists.

How can we laugh in the face of tragedy?

How can a comedian make jokes in a time of crisis?

How can a humorist do his\her job while our nation grieves?

The same way as doctors, lawyers, plumbers and carpenters. We get out of bed. We go to work. We do our job.

First, address the pain.
In the aftermath of tragedy, it’s entirely normal for a humorist to want to act professionally and carry on. However, respect for the feelings of your audience (and your own feelings) is best served by acknowledgement. Avoiding a harsh reality accomplishes nothing; directly confronting the event compassionately helps clear the air. Be clear. Be direct. Express your own thoughts, your own sympathies.

There is no right or wrong way.
Sometimes, all we can do is our best, and hope it’s adequate.

A nicely written article by Adam Epstein (with video clips) demonstrates for us how some popular comedians addressed the Orlando mass shooting. Speaking with palpable discomfort in some of these clips, these professional humorists express their feelings and those of our nation.

Note the range of feelings expressed. From sincere empathy to blatant anger, it can honestly be said that all are appropriate at such emotionally confusing times. It is also brave for them to be so open with their audience, and whether you agree with all of their sentiments or not, each effort to reach out to our nation is wholly admirable.

Human, then humor
As a nation, Americans have always come together and been supportive in times of national tragedy. American comedians have the same desire to be supportive; today both of the Orlando victims’ families and of their audience members concerned with the often uncertain feelings this horrific crime has engendered in their hearts and minds.

Afterwards, humorists will return to work. There will be new jokes written and performed. Audiences will once again enjoy a smile, a giggle and a laugh. And each succeeding day, it will get a little easier for all of us.

No tragedy, no depraved act will ever permanently rob our country of normal.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
– Helen Keller

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Familiarity Breeds Laughter


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Perhaps the oldest cliché in every class and text on the craft of writing is: Write what you know.

Fair enough.

No one writes War and Peace on a first attempt. The familiar is a comfortable place for any novice to start. It’s also entirely sensible to assume that a novice would be able to describe something familiar to them, and that telling a story about known people and places will add a touch of realism to their writing.

BUT…

The familiar has other uses.

Never Lost In Unfamiliar Territory
Let’s assume that action-adventure writers have never tried to smuggle a nuclear device into London. Further, romance writers have never had their bodice ripped, and science fiction writers have not beaten NASA to Mars. Such situations are obviously NOT familiar to the writer. Of course, there may be exceptions.

I write fantasy. What else can a troll do?

Genre fiction by nature offers the reader a flight of fancy, an escape into imagination, which is exactly where the reader wishes to be. However, regardless of the imaginary destination, it is the familiar that grounds the reader in the story.

If you’re uncertain if your writing belongs in the Adults Only category, find an adult and ask them.

In science fiction, humans may negotiate with aliens, but is this really that much different than the United Nations? Are the translation difficulties, the ease of misunderstanding, or the lack of many common references the stuff of fiction or a simple fact of life in international politics? Obviously, the latter is true, and introducing ET or moving our conversation from New York to Alpha Centauri does not change the familiar aspects of the situation.

Or, the opportunities for humor.

Lieutenant Worf: Mrs. Troi… I must protest your unauthorized presence on the bridge!
Lwaxana Troi: [pointing to tactical console] What does that little one do Mr. Woof?
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Paramount Television

Directions: Add Humor Here
Adding a touch of humor to your writing uses the same cliché as a basic writing class—with just a little twist. Write what you know becomes Laugh at what we all know.

Fiction may be imagination run amok but it is always grounded in the familiar. Those familiar bits ARE your opportunities for humor.

(Arriving at restaurant) “Sorry I’m late, mother.”
“I didn’t wait. I’ve already eaten.”
(to waiter) “Then, I’ll just have dessert with a side order of shame, please.”

While you may not have had an overbearing mother, the character is so familiar that your readers can easily relate the situation to their own experience. Place your overbearing mother in Philadelphia, Beijing, or on a spaceship to Saturn’s moons and the character is still identifiable. This familiarity is relevant to the reader regardless of venue, and a joke grounded in the familiar has an easily understood reference.

A Familiar Example
Situation comedies are a television staple for good reason. No matter how exaggerated the characters or the humor, the situation itself grounds the comedy.

One very popular show, The Big Bang Theory (Warner Brothers Television) offers us a look into nerd nirvana. Although the distinction between a nerd and a geek is always arguable, the familiarity of a socially-awkward intellectual is not. We all know someone who is more comfortable with an equation than with another human being. However, Big Bang’s humor is not based on insider jokes for theoretical physicists. It’s based on the easily identifiable aspects of the characters and the situation.

Leonard: I did a bad thing.
Sheldon: Does it affect me?
Leonard: No.
Sheldon: Then suffer in silence.

Book Cover image

“Hilarious!”

While the audience members likely can’t relate to the latest advances in String Theory or astrophysics, they have all experienced selfishness and a lack of empathy at some time in their lives. Immediate grounding equals immediate humor.

No matter where your story takes you, from steamy romance in a European castle to the outer reaches of the galaxy, our shared human experience is always present, always familiar, and always an opportunity for funny.

Parting Funny: My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch. – Jack Nicholson
 
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Socially Acceptable Idiots


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Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

One of the major complaints about both television and the internet is the pervasive belief that they have been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. That is, TV and the web actively promote the same idea:

Stupid is an acceptable lifestyle.

I completely disagree!

A Few Facts
No one wants to be considered stupid.

Note, ignorance and stupidity are often considered equals; they are not. They are viewed as equals only because all humans regularly suffer from them.

I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did. That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse. But right now there’s no rehab for stupidity.Chris Rock

One part of embracing your humanity is recognizing that we are all ignorant on a topic or two or two hundred thousand, and we all succumb to bouts of stupidity, normally each and every day.

BUT…

Progress DEMANDS that we fight ignorance and stupidity.

We need new socially acceptable tools.
Social media has many virtues. However, truth, erudition and enlightenment must compete with ‘dreck’—the technical term for ‘I read your post, and am now convinced our educational system is dead.’

Worse, many online arguments try to prove completely invalid points despite mounds of refuting evidence. Honestly, people argue over ‘crap’ (another technical term) that any moderately motivated fifth grader could research from credible sources in a matter of minutes.

Facing facts.
Step #1: Look for them.

Then again, one can simply slam an online opponent:

Trust me, your belief system will change once you join AA.

-OR-

I nominate you as the poster child for mandatory sterilization.

However, such negative responses raise additional problems:

  1. Online, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between ignorance (curable) and genuine stupidity (When finally cured, please remember to donate your organs.).
  2. The real poster child would be out of a job.

Still, there must be some way to fight the lowest common denominator in our major entertainment and information systems.

Fortunately, I have a few modest suggestions.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Television Proposal
All television rating agencies that supply set-top boxes to record and collect consumer TV ratings must also supply boxes to every zoo in the country. Any television show that receives an equal or higher rating from average chimpanzees than from average consumers must be immediately cancelled.

Social Media Proposal
Here, there are several options:

The internet has a variety of adaptable error messages. For example, ‘ERROR 404 – Page not found’ can be easily adapted to:

ERROR IQ-404 Brain not found.

Consider, highlighting an internet error is certainly more polite than pointing out that someone’s nearest evolutionary relative is a mollusk.

Alternatively, we can create new emoticons. Since I’m not a graphic artist, I’ll just describe a couple of possibilities:

Emoticon 1 – A book.
MEANING: Regarding your posted comment, supply credible references from people who have read one.

I realize a book may be frightening for some people, but there is nothing wrong with them. Honest.

Emoticon 2 – Bats in a belfry.
MEANING: Mental health services are available in your area—take the hint.

Discontinue commenting if the targeted user starts feeding the bats.

Lastly, we could always mimic the ‘LIKE’ button with a one-click ‘IDIOT’ button. It’s fast and easy; perfect for both active students and busy professionals. If a user collects 100 or more ‘IDIOT’ clicks in any one month, the forum moderators should consider using my proposed one-click ‘FLUSH’ button.

Conclusion
The reason for the lowest common denominator is NOT that the majority of television viewers or internet users are idiots. It’s because we don’t hold the idiots and outright liars accountable. Frankly, it takes too much time, which is why my fast and easy proposals make so much sense. Promote them NOW!

And now, I click ‘POST’ to spread the…

Damn! Someone just clicked my ‘IDIOT’ button!

Parting Funny: Let’s have some new clichés. – Samuel Goldwyn

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The Abused News, Part 2


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Writing topical humor is a bit like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how, you can pretty much ride at will until dementia forces you back onto training wheels. However, riding a bicycle is not the same as understanding how one works.

CAUTION: Long, fairly boring quote ahead:

A simple explanation does not seem possible because the lean and steer are coupled by a combination of several effects including gyroscopic precession, lateral ground reaction forces at the front wheel ground contact point trailing behind the steering axis, gravity and inertial reactions from the front assembly having centre-of-mass offset from the steer axis, and from effects associated with the moment of inertia matrix of the front assembly.
Linearized dynamics equations for the balance and steer of a bicycle: a benchmark and review – J.P Meijaard, et al.

Meanwhile, other scientists readily admit that they don’t know how a bicycle works, as in this article by Michael Brooks, who holds a PhD in quantum physics.

So, if topical humor is like riding a bicycle, does that mean no one really knows how it works?

Possibly.

However, let’s skip the philosophy and focus on a few things that we do know:

LIMITED SHELF LIFE
Topical humor may be old by the end of a news cycle. Political humor, in particular, ages at about the same rate as ripe melons. Today’s breakfast can be tomorrow’s garbage. There are however two caveats to this characteristic:

1. Some jokes about people, including politicians, are non-specific. That is, applicable to anyone, at any time.

Unfortunately for Senator Cruz, there’s no little blue pill for debate performance. I can’t comment on any other possible benefits as he was standing behind a lectern.

2. Events repeat. Disasters, contested elections, mayhem, crimes, foreign policy flubs, etc. repeat in human history, and therefore in the news of the day. For example, the macabre jokes told about the Hindenburg disaster (1937) might easily apply to 9/11/2001.

I’ll bet they won’t fly that airline again.

MORE EVERYDAY
Topics come in endless supply. Newspapers, magazines, television, the Internet, advertising, etc. provide the writer with subjects from politics to celebrity news to economics to….everything and anything. Even on a slow news day, something is happening somewhere.

North Korea’s medium-range missile test apparently failed due to a severe overload. A government spokesman stated, “Our prototype missile was never designed to seat 436 escaping defectors.”

VIEWS NOT NEWS
Journalists report the news. Humorists report views and punchlines. Truth is irrelevant, and lying like a rug is perfectly acceptable.

Asked about his pick for vice president, Donald Trump said, “I pledged to run the government like a business. We’ll hire a temp.”

ON PUBLIC FIGURES
Yes, public figures are fair game. However, humor is not carte blanche to be mean-spirited. Granted, this is subjective, but audiences generally fail to find humor in what they consider a below-the-belt attack (such as, attacks on spouse, children, race, ethnicity, etc.). Think!—the goal of a joke is to amuse your audience, NOT alienate them. When in doubt, lighten up.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declined to join the presidential race, stating, “Please, I’m from Wisconsin. I know cheesy when I see it.”

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"LEARN TO LOVE CONTROVERSY
People are going to discuss controversial topics whether you address them or not. Avoiding them is pointless.

Remember also, well-crafted humor helps heal open wounds, and an obvious joke will not be taken seriously by any rational person. So, when the ship of state appears to be sinking, it’s okay to remind the passengers that dinner service will be delayed.

Fortunately, all of the injuries sustained at the Trump rally were covered by Obamacare.

NEVER OFFSIDES
Are you conservative or liberal?

Who cares? We’re all human and we’re all funny. Never fear taking on all sides of an issue. Don’t limit yourself.

Bernie Sanders further clarified his plan to make college for America’s youth debt free, stating that reimbursements for amenities would be limited to heat, air conditioning, and domestic beer.

With just a bit of practice, topical humor is easy and a great deal of fun. It’s also perfect for articles, blogs, emails, and even conversations. Once you’ve caught the topical humor bug, you’ll never look at the news the same way again.

Parting Funny: The trouble with some women is they get all excited about nothing—and then they marry him.Cher
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Genius or Idiot?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Humorous commentary is both one of the most sought after jobs in publishing and one of the most problematic. Newspaper and magazine editors have long understood the appeal of humor, but they also understand that it’s not their primary job, and that a writer must have a particular mindset to sustain a humorous column in the long-term. Everybody wants the job, but wanting is not the same as producing good copy day after day after day.

Endurance is patience concentrated. – Thomas Carlyle

One of the obvious problems with writing commentary is encapsulated nicely in the title of this piece. When your opinion finds its way from your confused brain to your keyboard, it’s not always viewed by readers as a fine addition to the wisdom of the ages. Indeed, some people will gladly dismiss your words out of hand, or even burn you in effigy.

For youngsters, ‘burning in effigy’ was the old-school, non-Internet version of the hashtags #hate-this-fool and #roast-his-giblets.

No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have; and I think he’s a dirty little beast. – William S. Gilbert

But, I Say…
Despite any possible backlash, writers have a fascination with commentary, including humorous commentary, no matter what format or genre we choose to pursue. Some part of our ego deludes us into believing that our opinion is vital to the survival of the universe, which may be why so many of us enter the Frito Lay 25 words or less essay contest.

Rampaging ego aside, all opinions are created equal, being spawned from the firing of synapses within a human brain. It’s only upon being communicated that opinions become differentiated.

We credit scarcely any persons with good sense except those who are of our opinion. – François de La Rochefoucauld

Not all commentary is equal upon delivery. Note, Hollywood stars’ opinions receive inordinate attention even if the speaker is a world-class idiot. This is somewhat surprising since winning an Oscar simply means that you’re very adept at not being yourself and at representing things make-believe. There is no Oscar for Fewest Brain Cells Killed at the After Party.

Less Than Reputable
We must also admit that some opinions may be disreputable or even wholly criminal. At this very moment, Bernie Madoff has an opinion on both the current stock market and survival strategies when one drops his soap in the prison shower.

Of Two Minds
Humorous commentary requires a unique mindset because it’s a bit schizophrenic. Is the goal to make your point or get a good laugh from the reader?

These goals are not mutually exclusive. One can express a valuable opinion in such a way that the reader is both intrigued and amused, but it’s not always easy. More to the point, it’s not always successful.

Examples
For over thirty years, Andy Rooney‘s weekly commentary on 60 Minutes (CBS News) was often hilarious, but just as often merely grumpy. Yet, America loved him and mourned his passing because he gave us many marvelous insights, such as:

Vegetarian—that’s an old Indian word meaning lousy hunter.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Curmudgeonly Andy was certainly not alone. The magazine The Atlantic offers a list of 10 of the Funniest Essayists of Our Time and the networks give us such fabulously funny political commentators as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Dennis Miller. Many standup comedians are well-known commentators, including Lewis Black, D.L. Hughley, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Rock.

Keep It Simple
Writing humorous commentary, one has two choices:

  1. Humor takes priority.
  2. Message takes priority.

Hardly rocket science, but in the rush to put words on paper, it’s easy to lose one’s intent.

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding. – Marshall McLuhan

If your intent is to stress the joke, go for the laugh and don’t worry about it.

However, if your message is most important, worry over every word.

For inspiration, take a good look at the people mentioned above, and at their very fine work. They make us think, AND they make us laugh. In addition, whether viewed as a genius or an idiot, these writers have the courage to continue working day after day after day…

Parting Funny: She cried, and the judge wiped her tears with my checkbook.Tommy Manville

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Killer Quotes


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Quotations are likable, nay lovable for many reasons, not the least of which is the vainglorious experience of having someone quote something that you said or wrote.

Gentlemen, start your egos. – Billy Crystal

On the other hand, it’s somewhat humbling to note that people who are routinely and widely quoted are so phenomenally rare that we often honor them with various prizes—Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, Emmy, etc. Personally, I have yet to fly to that particular stratosphere, although I can certainly see the appeal of an award for professional excellence, especially those that come with a large check.

BUT…

Forget the stratosphere. Let’s start with the basics:

Quotation def. text or speech repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.

Dreadfully dull!

Such formal definitions completely fail to capture the real essence of a quotation, which may be entirely dependent on where a quotation is used.

In Academia
In academia, a quotation is serious business and must be carefully cited with appropriate references. Citation is defined as crap at the bottom of the page that no one reads and even fewer people bother to verify.

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality. – Beatrix Potter

In Journalism
In journalism, a quotation is a string of words that can be taken completely out of context in order to appear titillating to the news consumer. The goal, of course, is to make a parking lot fender-bender appear to be the Holocaust.

One of the reporters must have flunked journalism school because he asked a question that went straight to the point. – P. J. O’Rourke

In Politics
The voters in nearly all democracies have elected some of the least impressive people on the planet. In most cases, politicians quote great men and women from history because they are incapable of personally doing anything of substance, or of hiring speech writers who cherish original thought.

Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening. – Bill Clinton

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"In Folklore (AKA Pearls of Wisdom)
Every generation thinks itself wiser than its predecessors. Frankly, that’s arguable. However, it is fair to say that every generation produces insightful individuals who offer us unique insights into nearly every aspect of life. Such pearls of wisdom are traditionally passed down generation to generation, and may become lost or evolve over time as they are mixed in with adages, platitudes, clichés, and things our parents said when we weren’t really listening.

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. – Dave Barry

What is the ideal quotation?
The ideal marketing position for any product is to have the brand name become synonymous with the product. For example, asking for a Kleenex™ (brand name) is understood by everyone to mean ‘Hand me a tissue.’

Killer quotations deservedly have that same type of identification with readers. Some become so widely known and accepted that they are repeated for generations, or become entrenched in our language. Consider a few examples:

Titles
• Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
• 1984 (George Orwell)

Dialogue
• What light through yon window… (Shakespeare)
• I’ll be back. (Terminator, 1984)
• Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. (Groucho Marx)
• I think therefore I am. (René Descartes)
• Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn! (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

Many writers needlessly shy away from quotations. If a quotation works well, improving the reader’s experience, use it. If it also produces a laugh, use it with relish.

Regarding your original work, it should be noted that there is no secret sauce to guarantee a particular line will impact the public consciousness and become widely quoted. Just as no joke will make the whole world laugh, trying to write a line guaranteed to become a viral quote is a waste of time. Write a great joke instead. Write a great article, book or script. If you’re very, very lucky, people will quote you for generations.

Parting Funny: If Adam and Eve can’t make it work in Paradise, how am I going to make it work in Lewisham?Sara Pascoe

Check out some of my favorite funny quotes by great writers: TidBITS!

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