Humor Exercise

How enjoyable can a novel without humour be? Humour keeps the audience engaged and gives us something to laugh about in situations that may make us feel awkward or uncomfortable. Lethem uses Lionel’s Tourette’s and multi-dimensional personality to give the novel this comical sense. There is no fun or excitement in answering the phone with a simple “Hello” or “Lionel speaking”, which is why he answers is with “DickTrycyphone” (163).  Lionel’s Tourette’s takes a part in this unusual and uncommon way to answer a phone, especially when you don’t know who is calling. The wordplay the author uses is unique and this is what catches the reader off guard and makes us find it amusing.

Lionel takes on the role of the funny man when the 4 men essentially kidnap him and throw him into their car. His innocence and honesty can be considered funny when he admits to them that “‘I’m listening to what you say no matter how you drive.’ I said wanting to make them feel better. ‘There’s four of you and one of me.'” (146). This is ironic in the sense that his opinion is completely irrelevant, and it should be considered a given that Lionel will obey as they say. He states the obvious in a completely honest and harmless way, and his ignorance is amusing. The 4 men’s goal is to essentially scare Lionel, and they even begin to contemplate is they should beat him up. While Lionel hears their conversation can pretty much be considered to be a part of it, he takes on the lead role yet again and suggest that “Maybe just a scare without the roughing-up will do” (147). Lionel is portrayed as the funny man as no one would dare speak or even worse give suggestions to those who have just abducted him about their next course of action.

Another example of humour that is demonstrated is when Tony calls Lionel to catch up on what has happened since they’ve last seen each other. We can see the way Tony treats Lionel and what he thinks of him in the passage where Tony begins by asking,

“Where are you, Freakshow?”
“Don’t call me Freakshow,” [Lionel] said.
“What should I call you- Buttercup?”
Valient Daffodil,” [Lionel] blurted. “Alibi Diffident.” (155).

This passage can be considered ridiculous and a misunderstanding on Lionel’s part in the sense that Lionel only makes it worse for himself, and doesn’t realize that Tony is making fun of him. Although valiant does mean courageous and determined, he then decides to associate it with a flower, which can be considered to be somewhat irrelevant and feminine.

In addition to this, Lionel’s humour is shown when he states that, “I waved good-bye and he waved back involuntarily- everyone’s a little ticklish that way sometimes” (160). This is Lionel’s way of trying to make himself feel better about his Tourette’s syndrome in saying that everyone has “tics” at times, yet it is rather ironic because it is simply common courtesy in waving back at someone when they say bye. Despite the fact that we may not consider it as a tic, this may be something that makes Lionel feel as though he fits in with everyone else.

Sara Vetere


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