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Leacock Association looking to shed some light on dark humour

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Leacock Medal for Humour

Leacock Medal for Humour

What do the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour judges find so funny about a couple of murderers?

For the past two years, the prestigious medal has been won by works of dark humour.

“People are saying ‘What’s so funny about The Sisters Brothers (by Patrick deWitt) when it’s about a couple of murderers?’” Mike Hill, president of the Stephen Leacock Association, said. “It’s really dark material.”

The Sisters Brothers won the medal this year while Practical Jean, by Trevor Cole, won in 2011.

“It’s about a woman who goes around murdering her friends,” Hill said of Practical Jean. “We’ve had two years in a row of very dark material winning.”

Prompted by the public’s reaction, the Stephen Leacock Association will be having a discussion on defining humour at its annual general meeting Sunday.

Joseph Kertes, dean of the school of creative and performing arts at Humber College in Toronto and a former Leacock Medal winner, will be leading the discussion.

“Humour is very subjective,” Hill said. “I think it changes over the decades.”

The Leacock Medal has reflected that evolution.

“Over the years, different styles of humour have won,” Hill said. “Right now, maybe it’s a reflection of the economy or something, but it’s kind of dark humour.”

Some stories written by Leacock — My Financial Career, for example — are still funny today, he said.

“It’s still humorous 100-and- some years after he wrote it,” said Hill.

Kertes, who won the 1989 medal for his work, Winter Tulips, will talk about the evolution of humour and how satire isn’t always uproariously funny.

“I’m trying to talk about how the Leacock award should remain a distinguished literary award even though it features comic voices and satire,” he said.

Submissions to the Leacock Medal for Humour vary from joke books to comedic works of literature.

Kertes will be discussing the difference between comical and tragic works.

Sisters Brothers and Practical Jean both take a comedic view of the world, he said.

“Yes, some people are not laughing out loud perhaps, although there are places you can laugh out loud in both those books,” Kertes said. “They take a comic view of the world as opposed to tragedy.”

In comedy, things work out; in tragedies, they don’t, he said.

“Technically, Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen, first published in 1813) is a comedy,” Kertes said. “The young couple fall in love and they get married and everything works out. That’s actually a comedy. Although it’s not terribly funny, it has comic elements.”

The Catcher in the Rye, a 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger, is another example.

The Stephen Leacock Association hopes the discussion will encourage more people to attend the annual general meeting.

“This is kind of a new thing to bring someone from Toronto to talk about humour,” Hill said. “We would like to encourage people to come.”

The meeting will take place Sunday at Lakehead University at 2 p.m. The event and parking are free. Anyone can attend.


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