So The Palace Job has these little news-bulletin narrative asides that are simultaneously playful and cutting, to the point where you almost, almost flinch at the vitriol of the satire. Then you cut away back to the friendly banter of a hodgepodge band of heroes in a fantasy adventure tale. Case in (spoilery) point:
“TODAY’S DISCUSSION: SECURITY,” intoned the dragon in the puppet show the next morning. “With today’s debacle, the Republic has lost an airship complete with wind-daemon, and three dangerous prisoners have escaped justice.”
“If I could just start,” the manticore butted in, knocking the dragon aside as the crowd laughed, “I think debacle is a very loaded term. We’ve got people assigned to their jobs, and they’re doing their jobs, and it’s very presumptuous to judge how they’re doing.”
“Well, any time you lose a ship,” suggested the griffon, “you have to wonder whether things are being done prop—”
“Silence!” steamed the dragon, driving the griffon back with alchemical flames, and the crowd applauded. “We’re here for a civilized discussion!”
“But I think that this event, when taken within the context of the earlier escape, points to an overall lack of performance by the Learned,” shouted the griffon from the edge of the stage, hiding from the flames.
“Wait, now, you can’t play politics with national security!” The manticore jumped onto the griffon, its stinger flashing, and the griffon howled and tried to buck it off. “And I’ll have you know that the leader of the task force, a justicar with a shady past and a reputation for playing loose with the rules, was appointed by the Skilled. They’re the ones who should be answering for this.”
“But that isn’t true!” cried the griffon. “Justicar Pyvic has an excellent reputation and—”
“Let’s not get off topic!” the dragon proclaimed, belching a puff of fire that stopped both of the other puppets in their tracks. It raised a claw toward the manticore, and the griffon took the opportunity to run to the other side of the stage. The crowd laughed derisively. “What do you have to say about Warden Orris’s resignation yesterday?”
“Totally unrelated,” the manticore said promptly, “and if you listen to what he has to say, you’ll know that.” The manticore yanked on a leash, and a goat puppet was reluctantly dragged onto the stage. The crowd hooted.
“…proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said the goat in the whiny whistling voice that signified a cheap recording crystal, “but now is… and now I intend to spend more time with my family. I know that others will continue this important work.” The goat broke off as the manticore’s jaws clamped down on it and tore off its head. The manticore then snatched up the body and shook it violently, throwing small candies out into the crowd.
“There you have it!” declared the manticore with a burp.
“But the timing,” protested the griffon, only to be knocked down by the manticore’s giant bat-wings.
“I honestly don’t know why we’re even having this discussion!” boomed the manticore. “This is the Skilled Party’s fault for putting this Pyvic fellow in charge, and if you want to play the partisan blame game, Warden Orris has already resigned. Why can’t you people let a good man retire in peace?”
“Strong words!” boomed the dragon. “We’ll keep you informed of any updates on this fast-breaking story!” It threw more candy out to the crowd while intoning the ritual words. “Remember, everyone, it’s your republic!”
I can’t do that. Maintain that balance. It’s exhausting even to try. It’s either grimdark or, at best, descriptive. I can do neutral or chipper description but that’s about it — funny is, typically, beyond me. Which is frustrating, because it’s not like I don’t appreciate a good laugh or work to surround myself with people capable of producing the same. But I can’t call those laughs up in others — and if I try, it’s a blackened humor that makes people’s faces fall even as they’re coughing up a snicker. I guess when you don’t stare stuff like dementia in the face all day you find it harder to laugh at. Your loss, people.
Only once was I on-target all the time. An old professor I helped out on a book thought I was the funniest damn thing on the planet. I had her humor pegged to a T, and I could always make her giggle helplessly. I miss her, most selfishly, for this reason. I’ve tried to figure out what worked so well. Like any professor, she was a bit cynical, but no more so than usual. And my jokes to her weren’t particularly dark, either, but they definitely poked fun at the departmental bullshit that weighed her down (and which she ultimately fled, more power to her). I think I was her only female friend, and I know I was the only woman who credited the crap she put up with from her male peers. Maybe that was it.
I wish I could play those sorts of notes in prose. I can make people thoughtful or sad, but I’m shit at making them laugh. Clearly everyone just needs to study the same things I did, obtain a position of slightly higher authority than me so I can always joke upward (joking down is mean), and I’d be entertainer of the year.