"What? Those are the winners?! Where is my glorious entry? Dammit, you wouldn't know funny if it bit you on the ass!"
No doubt. This sort of thing is enormously subjective. On a different day I might well have picked a slightly different group of winners, and a different judge would almost certainly have come up with a very different list. With well over 100 entries, I ended up having to reluctantly leave off some submissions I liked quite a bit. So if your sentence doesn't appear below, that doesn't necessarily mean it was no good — it just didn't jump out at me the way these did. And of course, I wouldn't know funny if it bit me on the ass.
So, with no further ado, the 2001 Lyttle Lytton Contest winner is:
|Turning, I mentally digested all of what you, the reader, are about to find out heartbreakingly.|
There's just so much and so many different kinds of badness packed into these sixteen words that it's hard to know where to begin. From the fact that we meet our protagonist in the middle of turning ("So, what're you doing this afternoon?" "Enh, thought I'd turn for a bit.") to the slightly dodgily-phrased non-action of mental digestion, to the implication that the entire novel that is to follow is occurring to the narrator in mid-turn, to the mid-sentence time-out for a reminder that the reader is, in fact, the reader, to perhaps the clumsiest attempt at pathos I've ever seen (tacking "heartbreakingly" on at the end in, "oh, yeah, almost forgot!" fashion), this is a true tour de force.
Then there's the runner-up:
|The cosmonauts were transfixed with wonderment as the sun set — over the Earth — there lucklessly, untethered Comrade Todd on fire.|
It's hard to go wrong with "cosmonauts transfixed with wonderment," but on top of that we get another mid-sentence interruption ("NB: the sun is setting OVER THE EARTH!") and then meet poor untethered Comrade Todd ("COMRADE TODD"! HA HA HA HA HA) engulfed in flames, lucklessly. Lucklessly! Another triumph.
And now, in no particular order, the honorable mentions.
There were a few postmodern ones, referring to the world outside the text and drawing attention to the fact that these words are staring up at you out of the pages of a physical book (though, in an extra-postmodern twist, they're actually not.) One such was this:
|Mary (who dies at the end, so don't get all surprised like the stupid person who wrote me on my other book) loved Joe, a lot.|
This would be slightly improved by changing "on" to "about", but is otherwise great. The fact that you can take out the hilarious parenthetical aside and still get a strong contender for this contest makes this one doubly impressive. In a similar vein but taking the "hey this is a book" theme in a slightly different direction is this:
|If you're going to start reading my novel, please stop touching yourself like that.|
Hee hee hee.
A lot of the entries were fairly straightforward relations of gross events or, alternatively, nothing more than gross metaphors or similes; most of these I discarded right away, not because I was offended but because I just don't generally find gross to equal funny. (Hollywood apparently disagrees; I do not envy Roger Ebert his job.) A few of these had a twist that placed them a rank above the rest, though, so I thought I ought to include a few of the best as a sort of sampler:
|Monica had exploded, and I had a mystery, and pieces of her pancreas, on my hands.|
The pairing of "mystery" and "pancreas" isn't bad, but the matter-of-fact "Monica had exploded, and..." is what really sells this one. Then there's this:
|The moon was full, the hot-dog-eating contest was over, and I had a lot of throwing up to do.|
|A lone testicle lay in a barren field.|
David Lynch is probably slapping his forehead and saying, "Dammit, why didn't I think of that?"
Then we have the entries that start to provoke an "ewww" which is then abruptly intercepted by a "wait a minute, what does that even mean?":
|"Handful of Meat" was, unfortunately, more than just the name of Carl's band.|
And, getting even more surreal:
|Jeremy didn't remember eating corn or, for that matter, wearing his good loafers.|
|Leon fell out of the goat.|
Some entries I almost discarded because, even though they were quite striking, I could see them as audacious beginnings to good comedic novels:
|First, let me give you some background on the whole monkey thing.|
|real name withheld|
|"Man, you won't believe what happened to me tonight," Dave declared, bursting into our dorm room, "but first I gotta go beat off!"|
And in a Douglas Adams-y mood:
|The night passed like a kidney stone: painfully and with the help of major sedatives.|
I can also see this as the beginning of a Forrest Gump sort of thing:
|Before I got hit by that ole bus, I never used to think much, but now I think PLENTY.|
The entry that would fit most comfortably in the big Bulwer-Lytton contest, not just because of its length but also its content, was this one:
|Done with slaughtering nuns and the infirmed out of cyber-lust, Mandroid turned his optical probes towards a more pastoral (and spiritually recondite) existence.|
Here's one that's sort of a one-trick pony but which I still like — in this case, the one trick is the old "unnecessary clarification" gag:
|In anticipation, John licked his own lips.|
This one gets in less because of its wince-worthy metaphor than its promise of a truly awful novel to come:
|Hank, Herculean therapist, cleansed the Augean stables of my soul.|
400 pages lovingly detailing Hank's gentle yet masculine counseling... urgh. Another book which I would most definitely not want to read begins thusly:
|To stand tall, to humbly crawl; to laugh, to cry; to puke bitterly, to suck on come what may — here follows my turbulent infancy.|
If I had to pick a second runner-up, that one would probably be it — it's a bit punchliney, but the initial bombast followed by a problematizing clause ("...'suck on come what'... what?") and then the stinger makes for a textbook piece o' comedy.
I conclude the list of honorable mentions with a couple short ones. The first was submitted by J. Braun, who writes, "Unfortunately, the entry below isn't mine. Credit belongs to the 'poet' cousin of an old college friend, who used to leave gems like this scribbled on sheets of scrap paper scattered around her apartment. I can't remember the author's name, but the line has stuck with me for five years as the low-water mark of English prose:" — and I can see why —:
|Six o'clock comes early, and so does death.|
|In 3010, the potatoes triumphed.|
Indeed they did, friend. Indeed they did.