The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared 85 years ago this week and we’ve been laughing ever since. Okay, we were laughing before that too if you want to get all technical about it. But there’s no question the famous mouse has consistently brought hundreds of thousands of people joy over the years.
I’ve been thinking about humor quite a bit lately. I’m in the middle of writing a book tentatively titled STEPPING OUT for Orca Publisher’s Limelights line. The story focuses on Paige Larrson, a 15-year-old Seattle girl who wants to be a comedian. In fact, that Mickey Mouse quote – to laugh at yourself is to love yourself – could pretty much be her mantra. Laughter is Paige’s currency in life. As far as she’s concerned, laughter takes the sting out of life’s crap. It eases the pain of nasty comments and dirty looks; agonizing moments in gym class; and those awkward pauses at parties.
Paige has been uploading comedy videos to YouTube, and she’s starting to get noticed. Her daily views are rising. She has subscribers. She’s determined to be the biggest YouTube sensation ever. But her two best friends think she’s undervaluing herself. Without her knowledge, they submit one of her videos to an International Teens in Comedy Festival. Paige is shortlisted. Suddenly, she faces the biggest opportunity of her life. But she also faces her biggest challenge. Because in order to compete, Paige will have to step out of her comfort zone and walk out on stage to perform in front of live bodies. That’s no laughing matter when she has a disability she’s self-conscious about, and the disability will be front and center too.
I’m having fun writing the book, though I have to admit it’s stretching me a little. I love comedy (the wackier, the better; I loved Craig Ferguson with his fake horse and gay robot skeleton), but stand-up comedy makes me uneasy. Especially when newish comedians are performing. Ferguson was great at giving young comedians the stage near the end of his show. I admired his generosity, but if one came out, I’d tune out. At least I did before I started researching STEPPING OUT. I would worry that no one would laugh . . . that they’d bomb in a very public and humiliating way. The thought would make me almost hyperventilate. Certainly it was enough to make me leave the room or switch channels.
At first I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing a book about a comedian at all. Why am I? The editor was looking for a manuscript about a teen who wants to be a comedian . . . the idea that many comedians use laughter as a coping skill has always intrigued me . . . Paige crept out of my consciousness and tugged on my sleeve late one sleepless night and . . . well . . . insert ‘the rest is history’ cliché here.
It turns out my discomfort is a good thing. At least I hope so. If nothing else, I can relate at a visceral level to the fear and discomfort Paige feels as she goes through the process of preparing for the competition and stepping out on stage.
The big question, however, (aside from: will Paige win?) is can I convey the depth of that emotion to readers? I hope so. The manuscript is due at the publisher’s in six weeks. And it’s due out sometime next year. We’ll see how it goes.