I believe a novel can be funny and serious. My work usually is (to the best of my ability) funny and serious. My latest novel, ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES, begins with this line “It takes less time for them to conquer the world than it takes me to brush my teeth.” It’s about what happens after the aliens take over and kill most of the inhabitants of our world. It’s about slavery and imperialism and ecology. There’s a lot of death in it. And, yet, if I’ve been successful at all, there’s also a lot of humor in it. You can write funny & serious and they can both even exist on the same page. It’s not easy. It’s walking a tightrope of tone. But it can be done.
Why is it so surprising to people that the comic and the serious can exist in a novel? Aren’t we humans this way in life? Don’t we cry at weddings and laugh at funerals? Sometimes in the saddest moments, even when we've lost someone, we’re reminded of some quirk of that person or something they did and we laugh even as tears fall from our eyes. Sometimes, as at weddings or intensely joyful moments, we’re so happy we cry.
Great comedians make us laugh at tragic things sometimes. Through their vision of a situation or verbal constructions they can make something sad funny. And it is a sad observation that many of the funniest people have a deep melancholy in them that allows them to be funny. Mark Twain said something like the secret source of humor is not joy, but sorrow. He should know.
Most of us are some mix of funny and sad and funny and serious and comic and tragic. I love fiction that mixes the two. Some examples of variations of these qualities are the following: STONER & SPAZ, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, HUCK FINN, FEED, ELSEWHERE, GODLESS, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, and THE TRUE STORY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN to name only a few.
In my opinion there are many, many stories, both realistic and speculative, that mix comedy and serious intent. They’re the ones I’m most likely to fall in love with.