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What makes us laugh?



Last modified: Sunday, June 20, 2010
I am one of those obnoxious people who will, unbidden, treat anyone within hearing to selected nuggets from whatever book I happen to be reading. No matter that my daughter is watching the first episode of the new season of True Blood, or my husband is writing an urgent business e-mail. 'Listen to this,' I cry, and, ignoring their groans, launch in.

Generally, an hour or so into one of my reading sessions I look up, a quote on my lips, to find the room that once contained my entire family is now empty except for the dog, and she's only there because in my hyper-focused state, I failed to notice she'd snuck onto the couch.

It is the rare author indeed whose work, read aloud by me, will not drive my family away. Rarer still the author who could cause the most discerning of my offspring, my teenage son, to request a reading, this after I laughed so hard at the book in front of me - Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg by Michael Perry - that I spewed tea out of my nose.

My son aspires to write comedy professionally, and so it is of great interest to him how a joke may be structured such that nasal spewing ensues. Still, I wasn't sure he'd find the line as funny as I had. By the time I choked on my tea, I had Michael Perry's authorial voice - wry and self-deprecating - in

my head for close to 200 pages. He sounded familiar, an amalgam of every funny person I'd ever known, a guy with impeccable timing and an irony so understated it was easy to miss. I wasn't sure I could do the line justice. Still, I went for it.

'Today a dog bit me grievously upon the ass.'

My son cracked up.

'I think it's the juxtaposition of lofty language and mild profanity that does it,' I said, kicking into writing teacher mode. ' 'A dog bit me grievously upon the leg,' wouldn't be funny.'

My son agreed, but thought the imagery had something to do with it. 'A dog biting a guy isn't funny. A dog biting a guy's butt is funny.'

And a dog biting a guy's rear end while the guy is already busy wrestling a pig (which is exactly what Perry was doing at the time) is funnier still. Did I mention that Coop is a memoir?

Coop, though, is more than just a series of humorous stories loosely bound around a year in which Perry becomes a father, moves to a new farm and tries to finish the chicken coop of his dreams before predators devour his entire flock.

It is an often poignant, painfully honest examination of family, friendship and small-town life, which moves seamlessly between the present and Perry's mostly happy childhood in an enormous, fundamentalist Christian family living on a hardscrabble farm in Wisconsin. And if Perry knows how to construct a joke, he also writes beautifully of love and death, the sustenance of honest work, and the consolation to be found in nature.

Amazingly, Perry actually makes a living through freelance writing, logging a third of the year on the road, driving from indie bookstore to indie bookstore to read and sell his work. Reportedly he is sometimes enticed to tell sneezing cow jokes at these events. Find out if the rumor is true Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., when Perry will be reading from the just-released paperback version of Coop at Gibson's Bookstore, on South Main Street in Concord.