"I think humor in America has greatly declined and may disappear entirely," S. J. Perelman once told a writer. Perelman wrote humorous scripts, articles, and books for 50 years. His work was often to be found in the New Yorker, so he should know.
"I work very slowly," he said. "I'm a bleeder. It's a good day when I get a page done. I think easy writing makes hard reading."
I've never been a big fan of Perelman's fussy and over-studied writing, but I have been very impressed that he was a friend of Groucho Marx. Groucho would've been perfect in an advertising agency creative department ---his humor came in short, sharp spurts, perfect for the attention span of today's young customers; his visual humor made his life a series of ideas for commercials. Perelman, on the other hand, was rather shy and retiring. He used a typewriter to shield him from the culture he observed.
Is he right? Is humor disappearing in America? I must admit I see very little in the new media. When was the last time Facebook made you laugh out loud? Read any silly blogs lately? Has Twitter ever made you titter? Social media may be making us a nation of people taking ourselves too seriously.
In advertising however, humor is golden. Commercials reward their viewers with a laugh quite often, and our commercials and viral videos frequently are the most-watched on YouTube. If advertising ever loses its sense of humor, it's finished.
What kept S.J. Perelman so funny? Reading. "On Fridays, growing up, I'd go to the Providence, Rhode Island, library and take out 11 books and spend the weekend reading trash," he told a writer. "Adventures, detectives, romance. They help fertilize the brain, like mulch."
S.J. Perelman wrote lines like, "I have Addison's disease and he has mine." Wouldn't he have been great writing Lunesta commercials?