Calvin Trillin at the Strand Bookstore

I love a chance to hear Calvin Trillin speak; there’s no one with a sense of humor quite like his: dry ,wry, and hilarious. He spoke at The Strand last Wednesday night to promote his new book Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff. The setting was the new third floor public space, filled with rare books and signed and inscribed books. It was just right. Several years ago I saw a video of a talk he gave somewhere in the Midwest. One of the lines that I remember goes like this: “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”

Someone in the audience asked Trillin for the secret of writing humor. He answered that it was important to put in specific details–if you’re eating a Philly cheesesteak while leaning against a car, it’s funnier if you describe the car as a Pontiac. For me, that’s the secret of Woody Allen’s humor, too, the absurd, telling detail. Like his line, “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.” It’s the juxtaposition of the sublime and the mundane that gets the laugh.

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