A Conversation with… Jay M Johar on humour

What exposed you to reading humour?

As a kid, I used to read those children’s joke books. I liked puns, even from an early age. Being one of the few people in my class who appreciated jokes in English (I went to a school where English literacy is quite low), I ended up always calling my cousin to tell these jokes. She lived in USA for a while, and as a kid I was excited to have someone to tell these jokes to. Looking back on it, she must have found me so obnoxious.

But popular humour as a whole–especially on television–is very obnoxious! To me, the textual writing of it has an underdog feel. There’s also a complication in trying to understand a joke if it’s very subtly written. How old were you when you first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

I agree with that. There’s also a consideration that subtle jokes don’t always translate well to a global audience. Straightforward jokes or so-called cheap laughs are useful because they are universal i.e. the best way to get as large an audience as possible. Most cultures will find someone slipping on a banana peel to be inherently funny, for the same reason Charlie Chaplin or The Three Stooges films are considered classics worldwide.

I don’t exactly remember when I first started Hitchhiker’s. It may well have been in the Maktab Sains library when I was supposed to be studying for my final exams. I didn’t think I would ever laugh so hard at the existential crisis of a whale, but there you go.

Yeah! The whale part is my favourite monologue. Douglas Adams write humour in a way that he makes the line between humour on visual and literature visible, but he also writes humour in such a way that it doesn’t alienate people on their education levels. Other than Adams, what other humour writers are you into?

I find Bill Bryson to be really funny. I know that quite a lot of people found his excessive descriptions of things to be overly nostalgic and dull, but I find them extremely absorbing. It’s like listening to a grandfather lovingly describing his childhood in exhaustive detail. I can’t help but be charmed. I think that’s his intention, a self-awareness of how absurdly nostalgic he is that he becomes a lovable, self-deprecating old fool on paper.

Your description actually fits with how Bryson looks, so I can imagine him sitting next to a fireplace and telling stories until people sleep. For me personally, humour within non-fiction tends to stay with me longer than non-fiction. Do you have a preference?

I don’t really. I just sort of pick up any book in the book store that has “hilarious!” on the cover and look at the synopsis to see if it’s something I’d fancy. Right now I am in the habit of spending money on books that has webcomic strips that I could’ve read online for free because I often feel that my money pit is getting too deep for me to dive to the bottom.

One of my favourite webcomics is Axe Cop, and I have every single book they’ve released so far. I actually created the first Facebook fanpage, and now it’s become the official Facebook page for Axe Cop. I’ve even become friends with the artist, Ethan Nicolle. And I’m really excited because now they’re in the process of making a FOX tv show with Peter Serafinowicz as a voice actor. AAAAGH!

Lastly, any humour recommendations for the wonderful B:READ followers out there?

Bill Bryson – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. It’s one of the funniest and most exhaustively detailed memoir I’ve ever read. I adore Bryson’s snail-paced writing, and his best work comes when he is describing himself or something really obscure, like the different type of rocks you can find in a specific layer of the Earth’s crust.

 The QI fact books, based on the show, are both incredibly interesting and quite funny. Just like the show then.

Peter Serafinowicz’s A Billion Jokes is a great source for one-liners for people to plagiarize for their twitter accounts.

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Jay M Johar is an English teacher. When he isn’t teaching, Jay does various things to keep him busy in the relaxed Brunei life, which includes writing for Musical Mathematics, running the Brunei based music website Muzikaliti, a committee member of B:READ, and one-fourth host of the Brunei podcast, Let’s Nasi Katalk. Jay is also the co-founder of Movember Brunei and has grown a mean moustache in 2012. More information on Jay can be found on his website.

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