“Serious” Authors Can Be Funny Too

By Emily Saso


The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Emily Saso—author of The Weather Inside—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, she found hilarity even in the most serious panels.

I expected many things from this year’s International Festival of Authors: intellectual debates, empathetic insights, writing tips, and the chance to meet my favourite authors. What I didn’t expect, however, was comedy.

As a delegate at IFOA 2017, I was lucky enough to attend seven panels. At none of them was humour explicitly on the table. In fact, one event was actually called—wait for it—Futile Fates. Throughout the festival, the writers before me included literary icons, horror masters and articulate historians. Humorists? No. However, at each panel, I spent half of the time in stitches.

Take the gothic writer Andrew Pyper. His books have been described as “disturbing, horrifying,” but at the Dissecting the Villain event, he had me LOLing on several occasions. For example, when the moderator opened with a question—where do monsters come from?—Pyper deadpanned, “Burlington.”

Walking Cities event at the Brigantine Room (Harbourfront Centre) on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Featuring (L to R) Dionne Brand and Vahni Capildeo. Photograph by Zeinali Majid.

Walking Cities event at the Brigantine Room (Harbourfront Centre) on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Featuring (L to R) Dionne Brand and Vahni Capildeo.

The literary legends were just as hilarious. In her featured appearance at IFOA, Barbara Gowdy—who has written about a host of unfunny things, including lusting after dead bodies—slayed the audience with her self-effacing wit. Some of my favourite Gowdy hits included references to ordering too many unnecessary appliances late at night, testing her “zen-ness” by reading reviews of her work on Goodreads, and even, at one point, pulling off a pitch-perfect Margaret Atwood impression: “‘Barbara,’ she told me, ‘do not expect your mother to like your book.’”

And the poets! My goodness, the poets! When asked for her thoughts on airports, the prize-winning Rhodes Scholar, Vahni Capildeo, said, “The gradual loss of dignity, and where one becomes more liable to lie down in public.” She later shared her outright suspicion of avocado toast.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that writers such as these have a flair for the comedic. They’re incredibly gifted storytellers, after all. I don’t know how to explain my misjudgment exactly, but I’ll try. I think I expect “serious” authors to be serious. Quick to reach for a quill or a cigarette, but not a joke.

I won’t make that same mistake twice. At IFOA 2018, while I take notes on craft and the human condition, I’ll park my preconceptions about what authors “should” be like in person, and I’ll delight in the fact that funny is often high on the list.

Saso, Emily_credit Anthony TummilloEmily Saso writes fiction and screenplays. She lives in Toronto and blogs at egoburn.blogspot.ca. Her debut novel, The Weather Inside, was published in 2016. She is currently writing her second.