I was walking up Broadway the other day, and I stopped to snap a quick picture to send to my bestie, Meg. She’ll be visiting NYC for the first time in a few weeks, and it’s been lots of fun stoking her excitement:
Me: “You know. Just another day. Walkin’ around the city.”
When asked what it is that makes a writer funny, my friend Geraldine, author of the popular and hilarious travel blog The Everywhereist, simply replies, “A traumatic middle school experience.” It is a deft rejoinder, showcasing a keen wit, and succinctly demonstrating her brilliance as a writer and humorist. While one might take this question as an invitation to expound at length on the theory and philosophy of humor, Geraldine’s answer neatly compresses as much insight into five little words. For all its concision, her response conveys layers of widely relatable truth, while pinpointing personal experience as an essential source of humor. It works because it delivers the incisive honesty that underlies so much great comedy. The joke is funny because it’s true. Geraldine is funny because she is honest.
To be clear, Geraldine doesn’t actually identify as a humorist. Indeed, she is reluctant even to identify as a writer, preferring to call herself a blogger, which she feels “sounds less boastful.” Though she pens daily essays, has been recognized in national publications like Time and Forbes, and is currently at work on a full-length travel memoir, she considers the “writer” title something she still aspires to achieve. And as far being labeled a humorist, she says she has “never considered [herself] as part of that genre or aspiring to be part of that genre.” She describes herself as “surprised and delighted” that people find her work funny.
This is not to say that Geraldine’s writing is unintentionally funny; that the humor found in so many of her posts is not deliberate. While getting laughs may not be Geraldine’s primary motive as a blogger, the amusing tone of her writing emerges as the inevitable by-product of a naturally humorous disposition. “It’s just a reflection of how I view the world,” she explains. “I find humor in a lot of things. Every day … I encounter stuff that makes me laugh.” And though not every observation lends itself to humor, Geraldine explains that some posts “practically demand that you take a humorous approach.” Given this outlook, it is not surprising that so many of her posts land squarely in the “funny” column.
Still, whether or not one actually identifies as a humorist, crafting a funny blog post takes skill. Most would argue that a great joke hinges on its delivery, and for a blogger like Geraldine, the delivery comes in writing. This means that snappy writing skills are an essential component of her humor. Fortunately, she has no small amount of experience as a writer, and plenty of passion for the craft. “I’ve always loved write,” she explains. “It satisfies the creative bug in me.”
It was this love of writing that led her to initially pursue a major in journalism, and ultimately earn a communications degree from the University of Washington. After college, she held a series of jobs in which her duties entailed writing blog posts, newsletters, marketing material, and more. Though Geraldine found much of this work creatively limiting, with few opportunities to write in her own voice, the experience was undoubtedly useful in helping fine-tune her skills as a wordsmith.
Geraldine launched The Everywhereist in 2009 after being laid off from a full-time copywriting position with the Seattle game company Cranium. The loss of this job, she writes on her site’s homepage, “might have been one of the best things that ever happened to me.” It finally freed her to accompany her husband on the frequent jaunts across the nation and the globe demanded by his work. The blog, which has become her primary creative outlet, serves as a lighthearted diary of their adventures abroad, preserving these memories for the benefit of a man who spends much of this time in meetings and giving presentations. “Yes it’s a travel blog,” she writes. “But at its core, it’s a love letter to my husband. A big, long, cuss-filled love letter. The only kind I’m able to write.”
Putting it this way, Geraldine stays true-to-form, blending unvarnished humor with heartfelt purpose. This is her voice – a humorous style she describes as “observational … peppered with sarcasm and occasionally punctuated with long tirades written in all caps.” Her approach is at times “so insane, so passionate, so over-the-top” that she makes herself “cackle like a madwoman” while she writes.
Luckily, this voice finds tremendous liberty in the freewheeling format of a personal blog. Real-life Geraldine and her Everywhereist persona are “virtually identical,” she explains. “Which is kind of terrifying, because it means I say lots of inappropriate things in person.”
As a result of this candid style, Geraldine’s posts often veer from travel into discussions of her marriage and personal life, her quirky obsessions with cake and Jeff Goldblum, and a particularly heart-tugging (yet somehow still amusing) series about undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor (which she had named “Steve,” and from which she has mostly recovered). It’s an honest, likable approach that enables an easy personal connection with her audience – the kind of connection upon which the best comedy relies.
Geraldine’s answer to my question about what makes a writer funny is a perfect example of this relatable style of humorous writing. What, one might ask, does “a traumatic middle school experience” have to do with being funny in your thirties? She doesn’t elaborate. But I think the point is that she doesn’t need to. She knows her audience, and banks on the assumption that they will be able to relate. Many of us can recall the awkwardness and anxiety of adolescence, and the internalized pain that often resulted. While this certainly doesn’t make everyone funny, Geraldine has an undeniable knack for locating the humor in such trauma and exploiting it to full comic effect. She isn’t afraid to make light of her insecurities or to poke fun at her own human imperfections. Indeed, disarming self-deprecation seems to be a cornerstone of her appeal. “I’m really awkward, and I’m a huge dork,” she replies when asked why people read her blog. “I’m kind of a walking disaster … which I think people can relate to.”
While Geraldine tends not to target any specific audience with her work, readers of the The Everywhereist do seem to be predominantly women in their twenties and thirties. When asked why this is so, Geraldine guesses that her easy-to-relate-to approach may have a lot to do with it. “Often times people are more comfortable relating to those who are in their same demographic,” she supposes. “I’m a woman in her early thirties. Many of my readers are, too.”
In 2011, The Everywhereist won a spot on Forbes’ “Top 10 Lifestyle Blogs for Women” list, and the blog has been named among the magazine’s “Top 100 Sites for Women” for the past two years. While she truly appreciates these honors, Geraldine notes that she’s a little uncomfortable with the “for women” modifier. “I just like to say that Forbes magazine listed me as ‘one of the best websites for human beings … many of whom happen to have vaginas.’” Even as the numbers show her blog’s most frequent visitors to be women, she isn’t necessarily shooting for an all-female audience. It just goes to show that as much as a blogger decides what she wants to write and how she wants to write it, she can’t decide who is going to respond or how much they will enjoy it. Audiences tend to choose themselves.
What all of this comes down to is the subjective nature of humor. What makes a writer funny is a question of how well they speak to the experience of a given audience; whether the sheer silliness or outright absurdity of a bit will resonate with readers. There is no objective formula that guarantees laughter, no mathematic equation that adds up to funny. Every attempt at humor is essentially a gamble. “My post about German fooddid really well,” Geraldine explains with a degree of surprise. “I’m not really sure why it’s so funny. At some point, I think I just started writing crazed proclamations about sausages in all caps.”
But, even when the gamble pays off, humor remains a far-from-universal thing. There will always be those who don’t get the joke, and Geraldine’s offbeat antics and sarcasm-laden rants have had their share of detractors. “The post I wrote about dying our milk pink garnered quite a few angry responses,” she recalls. “BECAUSE I DYED OUR MILK PINK.” Nevertheless, there are plenty of folks who look to The Everywhereist for a daily dose of irreverent hilarity. One commenter recently wisecracked, “You’re my favorite immature jerk who isn’t me,” capturing the pitch-perfect harmony between Geraldine’s humor and the comedic tastes of her readers. They get her, it is safe to say, because she gets them.
Geraldine’s writing is funny for many reasons. She is naturally inclined toward humor and she enjoys making people laugh. She is incisively observant and wickedly clever with words. She is unabashedly candid and unflinching in riffs on her own warty humanity. She is unpretentious and humble, with an appealing authenticity that draws thousands of readers to The Everywhereist each day. She addresses her audience with well-earned credibility; they come back with genuine admiration and devoted fandom. It is the complete honesty of her writing that makes this possible – a “keepin’ it real” style that cannot be faked. Her fearless embrace of this approach is evident whenever she rolls the comedic dice, and made explicit in her own tidy summation: “I feel like there’s humor and value in my opinion – I just need to express it honestly and be myself.”
There’s really no better way to enjoy the city you call home than to do so in the company of a first-time visitor. What better excuse to indulge in all the local delights and quirky trappings of your burg than to show them off to an out-of-towner? New guests can offer refreshing insights into what it is that makes your city special, and renew your appreciation for a place you’d nearly forgotten how to enjoy:
Curious visitor: “Why’s that wall caked in gum?”
Proud local: “Because Seattle!”
Last week, Mike and I had the pleasure of playing host to our dear friend Belinda, who was visiting the Emerald City for the first time. By all accounts, her stay with us was a big success. The weather was freakishly pleasant, traffic was uncharacteristically obliging, and we didn’t run out of toilet paper once (wins all around). We took in all the must-see sights, enjoyed some of our favorite local eateries, and snapped a bunch of great photos:
It was a real treat to witness Belinda’s reactions as she took in the sights and, perhaps more importantly, the flavors of Seattle. There was, of course, plenty of basking in the scenic splendor that surrounds our city. Belinda seemed particularly impressed by the rows of snow-capped peaks flanking the city, noting that our home state’s Green Mountains would be mere foothills in their midst:
And Belinda learned that when it comes to iconic landmarks, Seattle’s not all Space Needles and fish markets. We also have this:
But let’s not kid ourselves: This city’s real attractions come in dessert form. I would be lying if I told you most of our itinerary wasn’t planned around visits to places like this:
For such a health-conscious city, Seattle is quite the dessert mecca. As a longtime resident of this Bermuda Triangle of sweets, all I can say is, thank goodness for its many steep hills. “No wonder you’re all so fit,” Belinda observed as I put away my eleventh doughnut. “These hills are just brutal.” Word.
Anyway, one of Belinda’s more spot-on observations about Seattle came from her experience as an emergency-services dispatcher. As someone who routinely directs first responders to emergencies, she’s developed a keen sense of workable traffic patterns. And apparently, there are one or two kinks in the layout of our fair city:
Unlike, say, Manhattan, with its rigid, numerically ordered grid, Seattle’s street plan is anything but straightforward. If you ask me, it’s more like an Escher drawing, or one of those webs spun by spiders on crack. I’ll spare you the wonky details, but let’s just say that to the unschooled visitor, these streets can get pretty disorienting pretty fast. To quote Belinda’s professional assessment, “this place is ONE BIG CLUSTERFUCK.”
Okay, maybe those weren’t her exact words. But she did point out that this city is “full of emergency-services nightmares.”
As we zipped across our sprawling cityscape, Belinda couldn’t help but marvel at the confidence with which Mike and I navigated this jumbled maze of thoroughfares. How was it possible, she wondered, that we could find our way to cross-town destinations without the aid of GPS, or some kind of celestial navigation? Fortunately, Mike and I are seasoned Seattle veterans who’ve been working this crazy jigsaw puzzle for years. I suppose our ability to navigate the city with relative ease is one of those things we now take for granted.
This is not to say we don’t hit our fair share of snags around town. There are times, for example, when just getting home can be a bit of an ordeal. You see, while Seattle is not without imagination when it comes to naming its streets:
One sometimes senses that they’re not even trying:
This in-no-way-confusing intersection is where you’ll find Mike’s and my apartment building (you’re welcome, internet stalkers). It’s tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of our neighborhood, and, as Mike recounted to Belinda, it often requires careful explanation:
Taxi driver: “Where to?”
Mike: “The corner of Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue, please.”
Driver: “No such corner, wise guy.”
Mike: “Dude. I think I know where I live.”
And so begins the comedy routine that is describing our address to locals and visitors alike. Belinda was right – God help us in an emergency.
But thankfully, Belinda’s stay with us was emergency-free. It fact, the entire visit was just about perfect. I’m confident her first impression of Seattle blew away all expectations, and hopeful that a few days with the city’s two funnest gays left her eager to return soon. But until that day comes – thanks to Belinda’s own expert observations – Mike and I can rest easy knowing that if ever there is an emergency, we’ll be pretty well effed.
Yesterday my friends and I said goodbye to a former colleague and dear friend, Bryan Hutton.
From The Herald (Everett, WA):
Bryan P. Hutton, 27 years old, born June 29, 1983 in Seattle, WA died June 25, 2011 in Seattle, WA. Bryan was raised in Mill Creek, WA graduating from Jackson High School. He then graduated from the U of W with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree and was hired on at Microsoft in 2005. He started out as a paralegal and moved up the ranks quickly. He just recently was promoted to E Discovery program manager. He brought a wonderful and positive attitude to work.
Bryan was in a good place in his life, he had varied interests, was involved in his community, loved family get togethers and spending time with friends. He had a great love for travel and had the opportunity to travel many places these last few years with close friends. One of his most memorable was to Australia. Bryan was a unique individual with a wonderful sense of humor and a keen intellectual curiosity. He was well liked by everyone that crossed his path; he gave us so much happiness.
We are very proud of Bryan and how he lived his life. He will be missed so much.
Bryan was every bit the unique individual with a great sense of humor and keen intellect described here. Saying he was well liked by all perfectly describes the way I knew and remember the guy.
He and I became friends soon after we both started working at Washington Mutual Bank in 2005. I remember that Bryan, always funny and sociable, immediately hit it off with everyone in the branch, including our hundreds of daily customers. It wasn’t long before Bryan and the rest of our crew evolved into a tight-knit group that, despite our busy lives, diverging career paths, vast geographical separation, and increasingly occasional get-togethers, would always consider each other dear and lifelong friends.
I knew Bryan as a charming, genuine, and seriously smart guy who was as fun-loving as he was easygoing. He could always be counted in for our many after-work Happy Hours and WaMu-gang reunions; a Portland road trip here, a Las Vegas wedding there; even the odd surprise birthday dinner thrown together at the last minute. His lively and sweet-natured presence always enhanced these gatherings, and forever enriched our lives.
Bryan left us far too soon, and I sincerely regret not getting to know him even better than I did. But I know that he was loved, and I know he will be missed. And I only hope that this small tribute is worthy, and my brief reflections do him justice.
I know I speak for all of our friends when I say farewell to you, Bryan. You will always be remembered fondly – never far from our thoughts, and living on in our hearts.