Beginning as well as experienced writers of comedy invited: humorous flash fiction, short stories, monologues, screenplays.
Please bring your copy of Mel Helitzer's "Comedy Writing Secrets, second edition" as we use this book as a basic resource. (Helitzer was the first professor to teach a university course for credit on humor writing -- Ohio, in the 1980's. Currently more than 100 universities.
Sample of humor published by the meetup organizer:
Stories published in ZYZZYVA literary magazine, Vol XXIII.2
Varieties of Shorter Fiction
By C. J. Singh
Nano-fiction: <exactly 55 words>
Are You Jewish?
Walking to snack at Noah’s Bagels, I often passed by Berkeley’s Chabad House, where the men all wore black caps. Seeing my black cap, they’d smile warmly. One man asked: “Are you Jewish?” They wanted to connect, but I walked on. To come clean, I turned back and said: “No, I’m not Jewish. I’m balding.”
Drabble: <exactly 100 words>
Newly arrived from Punjab, uncle Ajaib was sipping masala chai in a Berkeley outdoor café.
He asked the young man reading at the next table what time it was. The dreamy-eyed, bearded American gave a twenty-minute nonstop lecture on time, most of which, uncle, with his limited English, could not understand. Perplexed, he returned home and told me his strange encounter. “All I did was ask him, ‘what is time?’”
I said, smiling, “I’ll bet the guy was a philosophy grad student—doing a dissertation on the nature of time. Uncle, the correct English is: ‘What is the time?’
(C. J. Singh currently participates in the novel-writing
workshops at the Stanford University Writers Studio.
A recent MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College,
he received a Ph. D. in Psychology at Stanford.
Reader response welcome.<email@example.com>)
Micro-fiction: <250-words max limit>
Learning German Fast
By C. J. Singh
Having finished a course in basic German at the university in Berkeley, I took off for a two-week holiday in the famous German city of Cologne.
In a Cologne shopping mall, one afternoon, I stood on a little bridge over an artificial stream, watching fish. Standing next to me, also watching fish, were a woman and her five-year-old brunette daughter who reminded me of my own same-age daughter. After a while, apparently bored with fish, the child raised her head, looked at me, and said to her mother, “Guck mal, Mutti, ein Schwarzer! (Do take a look, mama, a dark man!)”
I smiled at her accurate observation. Her mother scolded her,“Sei ruhig! (Be quiet!).” And to me, she said, “Entschuldigen Sie bitte (Please forgive.)”
My sustained smile encouraged the child. She said, “Hast du zu viel Schokolade gegessen? (Have you eaten too many chocolates?) ”
The mother grasped her arm and started walking away. I was putting together in my mind a teasing response to the girl: Hast du zuviel Milch betrunken?But, before I was ready to speak, the pair, fortunately, was out of my talking range. The girl turned around and waved me a cheerful good-bye.
Thanks to my not-so-fast German, I shall cherish the impish smile of the little German girl.
Later, I found out that my unspoken, ungrammatical German sentence translates translates not to my intended: “Have you had too much milk to drink?” but to: “Are you drunk with too much milk?
Flash-fiction: <250- to 750 words range>
New to BerkeleyBy C. J. Singh
On his first day in Berkeley, where he had come from the Punjab, in northwest India, to study American literature at the university, the fellow next door in his boarding house suggested that he tour Telegraph Avenue for a good intro to the city.
Gurucharan Singh walked down the gentle slope of Bancroft Avenue for three blocks and arrived at the Telegraph entrance to the campus. He stopped to hear a group of Hispanic musicians in wide brimmed hats and horizontally striped, multi-hued ponchos. The lead singer completed her song to enthusiastic applause. She stepped forward, mike in one hand, and her long, thick black braid in the other. “We are Indians from Colombia. We are called Indians because Columbus was looking for India.” She twirled her braid, tossed it behind, and looked skyward saying, “I guess we are lucky.” She paused and with the precision of a smooth performer, said: “We are lucky Columbus wasn’t looking for Turkey.” The crowd roared.
Guru made his way among various stalls that sold metal studded leather belts, turquoise rings, silver jewelry, tie-dye shirts. He smelled sandalwood incense from India. Nostalgic, he bought two packets and put them in his backpack. Across the street, he saw the giant white-and-blue letters of Café Mediterraneum sign-board, immediately recognizing it from the classic American film The Graduate, which showed Dustin Hoffman sipping coffee at the window table.
Near the doorway to the café, a steel-spiked forearm wrapped in leather barred his way. The blond young man with a red-spiked Mohawk stretched his palm and looked at him, silent, menacing. Not at all like the humble beggars in New Delhi, Gurucharan thought. He gave him a dollar and joined the long line at the counter of the café. All the tables except a few at the back were taken. No chance sitting in the Hoffman chair this time.
At the counter, he ordered, “Tea Indiano for an Indian.” The pretty young server smiled at him, blue eyes sparkling. Cup in hand, he made his way to the rear. Only one chair vacant. He asked the woman at the table if he could sit at the table. Perusing a tabloid through dark glasses, she barely raised her head and nodded.
Guru sipped chai and saw that she was reading “Meet Your Match” columns. She was wearing a tight blouse with small lettering that zigzagged across her ample bosom. He recalled the cartoon he saw in The New Yorker magazine on the plane: a young man sitting at a bar counter staring straight at the cleavage of the woman about to sit on a nearby stool. The cartoon carried the caption “Male Pattern Blindness.”
From his back-pack, Guru took out an oversized book, Berkeley Guide to the Good Life. He leafed through a few pages, then raised the book to eye-level, and leaned forward trying to read the lettering on the woman’s blouse. The zig-zagging minsicule letters were clustered around her nipples and stretched grotesquely across her cleavage: “Stare at your own goddamned tits.” Guru finished his chai in rapid gulps and exited, heading off to the world-famous university’s library.
Sudden Fiction <750- to 2000-word range>
His One-Day Jesus
By C. J. Singh
At the first meeting, when the tall, bearded, turbaned young professor entered Stanford’s English seminar room and took the chair next to the board, the students were surprised.
Taking out a thick book from his bag, he placed it on the table, and stood up to write: Gurucharan Singh. He beamed and nodded at the eleven seated at the round table, one by one, his boat-shaped brown turban dipping and rising each time.
“Call me just Guru,” he said, with an exaggerated wink. “Your guru’s voicemail informed him that the Stanford bookstore doesn’t have the textbook, but it should arrive by Friday, the latest.” He read aloud from the book’s jacket: “The text of this new 1206-page scholarly edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the first ever to be based on Mark Twain's complete, original manuscript -- including its first 665 pages, which had been lost for over a hundred years when they turned up in 1990 in a Los Angeles attic. It includes all of the 188 first edition illustrations, which the author called ‘most rattling good.’ There you go: ‘most rattling good’ says Mark Twain, no less.
“Sounds like Mark the marketer to me,” said the student sitting directly across from him.
“Yeah right,” said the professor. “The illustrator he praised was someone else, not himself. But the fact remains Twain published the book himself -- he had double business interest in the sales.” He paused, pulled out a bottle of mineral water from his bag, and took a few sips. “Later, I’ll give you an overview of the book, but now, let’s begin by introducing ourselves. You are all majoring in English, right?”
A chorus of yeses.
“Doubtless, most of you know each other well. This is my first day at Stanford. I’ll begin by introducing myself and then let’s go around the table.
“I did my Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, completing my dissertation this year: “Mark Twain’s Sojourn in India.” It draws on material from the monumental collection of Mark Twain’s unpublished manuscripts at UC’s wonderful Bancroft library.
“I grew up in the Punjab, the northwest region of the Indian continent. I am a Sikh. Beard and unshorn hair under turban are the outer emblems of all Sikh male adults. Unfortunately, since 9/11, several Sikh males have been killed by American zealots, who mistook Sikhs to be Arab Muslims. Very ironic, this mistake. Sikhs are neither Arab, nor Muslims. Sikhism was founded in opposition to the Hindu caste system and regards all humanity as one family. It’s a modern, egalitarian religion.
“I live in Berkeley, but will be moving down here soon. This morning when I arrived at Palo Alto’s CalTran station and hailed a taxi, I saw the cabbie was an elderly Sikh. He wore a red turban and a Punjabi white tunic. His long white beard and ample belly made him look like a ready-made Santa Claus. I spoke to him in Punjabi. Yes, many Amriki passengers call him Santa Claus Singh, he said, laughing, belly shaking. When I told him I taught English, he was incredulous. ‘Sardarji (Sir), you teach Angrezi (English) to Amriki students?’ Yes, for eight years I was instructor at the university in Berkeley. Now I’m assistant professor at Stanford-- for at least six years. When the cab reached the campus, he declined to accept the five-dollar bill in my hand, saying, ‘Goray (White) people often make fun of my Angrezi. And you teach them! Ballay, ballay (more power to you).’”
The student sitting next to him, brow furrowed, asked, “Did you accept the free ride?”
“Ah, the Marxist critic?” Guru said.
The student nodded.
“No, I did not. I know very well how hard it is for cabbies to make a living.I insisted and the jolly old driver, reluctantly, took the bill.
Guru paused, took a swill of bottled spring-water, and resumed, “You might be wondering: Growing up on the other side of the earth, how and why this man decided to become a professor of American literature? I believe in full disclosure. Here it is.
“Well, my obsession goes back to my early schooling. I was born in Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple. At first I went to a neighborhood school. My teacher, a Sikh, who’d been educated at UCBerkeley came one evening to our house and said to my father that he thought I was a gifted child and should be sent to Sacred Heart School. That school was mainly for the children of American and European expatriates, but as a token it admitted a few Punjabi children.
“On my first day at this school, the teacher, Sister Mary, from America, announced an immediate spelling contest with prize for the highest scorer. She wore a nun’s black habit with white bands covering her neck and forehead. An image flashed in my mind. Penguin. She looked like the arctic birds in The National Geographic
magazine. She stood up and turned toward the boars. The giant Penguin wrote twenty words on the board. Some words, she told the class, she had intentionally misspelled. Our task was to spell them correctly and bring our notebook to her desk one by one.
“Betty, the blonde American girl sitting next to me, and I were the first to finish. Betty hurried to the teacher’s desk. Coming back, she whispered ‘just one mistake’ and waved her notebook at me, which had a word circled red. Next I walked to the teacher’s desk and submitted my notebook. As she scanned my notebook, I watched her closely, fascinated by her face, rosy pink like a Punjabi dawn and blue eyes glowing like the shiny marbles we played with. So different from the Punjabi brown skin and brown eyes! Handing back my notebook, she smiled warmly. No red circles. I walked back to my seat. One by one, she checked the notebooks of the other ten kids. Some were red-circled four, five times.
“Sister Mary beckoned me to her desk. Eyes sparkling, she gave me the prize: a framed holy picture.
“At the end of the school day, on the bus, Brian, the English boy, the burliest in the class hissed through clenched teeth, ‘you bloody Paki cheat’ and pulled my turban off my head. The driver screamed at him. I hurriedly rewound my turban, exited at the next stop, and walked several blocks home.
“My mother, clad in plain white sari, was reading from the Sikh holy book as she did every afternoon. She was voicing, as always, the melodious holy words softly. I waited till she finished.
“She saw my disheveled turban and hugged me. ‘What happened, son?’” “‘Nothing,’ I lied to her. I took out the holy picture from my school bag. ‘I won first prize in English today-- this beautiful framed picture of God.’ ” She took one look and frowned. “Jesus Christ! Their god. Not ours, my son. Tomorrow you must return it to the cunning Christian missionary teacher. One day in that Jesus school is enough. You shall go back to the old school.”
“But I want to stay in the new school.”
“No, you will not,” she said, voice raised.
“Next day, my father walked me to the school bus stop. Betty was sitting near the driver. I handed the ‘holy picture’ to her. Puzzled, she took it, smiling. The bus drove away. My father walked me home. I whimpered all the way, pleading to go back to the new school.
“The following day, I returned to the neighborhood public school. But many nights I dreamt of walking the three miles to Sacred Heart School to see Sister Mary. A month later, my father was transferred to another town. We moved to the mountains near the India-Tibet border, two hundred miles northeast. I knew it was too far to run off to Sacred Heart School, but my dreams of almost reaching Sister Mary’s classroom kept recurring. She’d turn her rosy pink face toward the entrance, smile, and beckon me to come in, but then I’d wake up in night sweat, heart pounding. No one told me you don’t fall in love with a Catholic nun -- specially, not when you were only nine years’ old.”
Several students in the seminar room laughed.
“In fond remembrance of Sister Mary, my English teacher for one day, my goddess from America, I studied English for four years at Punjab University. I received a B. A. degree, first class honors. The literary works we studied were mainly British as all of our senior Punjabi professors had done their doctorates at Oxford or Cambridge decades earlier and had brought back the then prevailing dismissive British attitude toward American literature. During my undergraduate years, dreams of my running, breathless, to Sister Mary’s class continued, albeit mercifully less often. As I stood at her classroom door, she would move her lips, but I could not hear the words. In one early morning dream, I finally read her lips: “American literature.”
I journeyed half-way around the globe to Berkeley. With my Ph.D. done, I hope my goddess will release me from the enthralling dream for good.”
Micro-fiction published in Ishmael Reed’s KONCH Literary Magazine, 2013-14
Learning Spanish Fast
By C. J. Singh
As a brown man from northwest India, I’m often mistaken for a Hispanic in California. One sunny morning, I was walking with a Paraguayan friend, Rogelio, on University Avenue, Berkeley. Sitting on a bench, a brownish guy looked up at me, tapped his wrist, silently inquiring the time. So, I told him.
The man started shouting in Spanish, fist rising. We walked on. I asked Rogelio why the man was angry. “He was scolding you. ‘Look at this Mexican. I ask him a question in Spanish and he replies in English. What arrogance!’ ”
In the graying afternoon, I sat on a sofa in the glass-walled station of the Marina Car-Wash, watching my car getting chained, ready for the haul. I saw it creep under giant soapy rollers and water jets. Suddenly, the waiting room’s door swung open, ushering cold wind. An elegantly dressed Euro-American lady entered. She scowled at me. “The least one expects of you people is you’d all learn English.”
I quickly surmised that she’d just had some communication lapse with the poor Mexican car-wash guys. I stood up. Looking straight into her eyes, I put on my best Ox-bridge English accent and said, “No. Not at all. I should think everybody in California should learn Spanish.” A moment later, I panicked at the thought: What if she asks me a question in Spanish? I rushed out.
That evening, I went to the Borders bookstore and bought a CD: Learn Spanish While You Sleep.
Micro-fiction published in Ishmael Reed’s KONCH Literary Magazine, 2014-15
Learning Practical Spanish
By C. J. Singh
Newly arrived in Berkeley, J J Singh heads for the International Café near the campus. The girl behind the counter, wearing a black blouse emblazoned Guadalajara in gold stars, catches his eye. He orders Chai Indiano. For the three-dollar item, he hands her a hundred dollar bill and, looking into her eyes, says, “Please, teach me Spanish.”
“Si, I teach you. Repeat loudly after me: ‘El’ (The) ‘Cambio’ (change) ‘va’ (goes) ‘aquí’ (here)” and puts the entire change in the Tips Jar.
Seeing the shock in his face, she smiles, and counts the change back into his stretched palm.