The 2007 Winners
"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. It's hard to draw
a line between those that just barely make it in and those which are just
barely left out; this year, however, I convened an impromptu jury to weigh
in on whether anything in the Maybe pile definitely deserved inclusion.
Still, if your sentence doesn't appear below, that doesn't necessarily mean
it was no good — in some cases, on another day I might well have chosen
it. And of course, I wouldn't know funny if it bit me on the ass.
As I've noted in the past, it has become clear over the years that this
contest is hard. It is basically an exercise in intentional
unintentional comedy. Here's an entry by Kevin Hogg that is funny, or
at least worthy of a groan, but doesn't really fit the parameters:
"As I walked out the front door, it dawned on me — and, for that
matter, everyone else north of the equator in my time zone." Why is that
funny? Because of the pun. Is the pun unintentional? No, the structure
and diction of the sentence make it clear it is no accident. Therefore,
this isn't the sort of thing that fits. Another example, by Lauren
Thompson: "James would later realize that bringing the severed head to
the church was not an appropriate way to arrive at the funeral for the
body." That is a comedic situation, wittily described. Again, it
misses the "unintentional" part.
It's difficult to be unintentionally funny on purpose! This is why it's
often easier to find good entries than to compose original ones. We'll
get to the Found contest in a bit, but let's start with the main event.
The winner of the 2007 Lyttle Lytton Contest is:
It clawed its way out of Katie, bit through the cord and started
Comedy is to a great extent an exercise in short-circuiting expectations.
So we start reading — "It clawed its way out of..." — and next
up should be what, "the crypt"? "Hell"? And instead we get... "Katie"!
Any actual name would have been funny in that spot, but "Katie" in
particular forces us to replace our image of a subterranean prison with
that of a pert-nosed Girl Scout. Then we get to "bit through the cord,"
which is both unexpectedly gruesome and rejiggers our mental image again
(oh, so this is a pregnancy! described in such a way as to make the whole
concept of pregnancy horrifying!) before the coup de grâce: "and
started clearing." What does the demon baby do upon emerging? Tear out
the throat of the obstetrician? Unleash a torrent of hellfire? No, it
just starts clearing — funny because it's unexpectedly peaceful,
funny because Scientology is inherently hilarious, and funny because now
we have to readjust our mental reconstruction of events yet again
to account for the realization that this sentence must describing the
birth of Suri Cruise. Winner.
But right on its heels is the runner-up:
Crime, declared the police captain, is everywhere,
I think this one is funny for three reasons. One is, again, the subversion
of expectations: we anticipate that the police captain will have something
measured and authoritative to say on the subject of crime, but he doesn't.
Second, the conniption fit described is hilarious. For months now, I have
found myself in odd moments crying, "Crime is everywhere, crime, crime!"
and then giggling like an idiot. Finally, this sentence functions as a
parody of a lot of hysterical law-and-order narrative. I mean, "Crime is
everywhere, crime, crime!" is basically Batman's motto, not to mention
that of a lot of political campaigns.
An interesting note about this one is that it was a reworking of an earlier
entry, which was "'Crime,' evoked the head of police forces Captain, 'is
every where, crime, crime!'" That the earlier sentence is not funny at all
teaches a valuable lesson: know the source of your humor. Does the
humor derive from the sources described above, or from the writer's butchering
of the English language? Trying to make it both is futile, because the latter
undercuts the former. And butchering the language is not nearly as
funny as the type of humor embodied in the reworked sentence.
I don't normally do third place, but this was a strong enough field that
this year I'll make an exception. In fact, two exceptions. (Not three,
because I don't want Joe Lieberman to think that there's such a thing as
a three-way tie for third.)
The foot delivered an unending holocaust of pain as it rocketed into
A guy getting kicked in the crotch is not funny. Having the crotch kick
described as the delivery, by a foot, of "an unending holocaust of pain"
is the sort of thing that makes this contest worth running. At first I
thought that "Zamboni" diluted the humor by seeming to allude to the
ice-smoothing vehicle, but upon consideration, nah, it's fine.
The other third-place winner:
Ah, poetic Paris: with its pâtés and beaujolais,
tiramisu and au jus.
This is splendid. The mere fact of trying to describe Paris by naming
four fancy-sounding French comestibles in awkward couplets would be amusing
enough, but the fact that tiramisu is Italian and "au jus" is a
phrase meaning "with broth" makes it all the more awesome.
Aw, hell with it. Three-way tie for third. Frickin' Lieberman. The
third third-place winner:
Emperor Wu liked cake, but not exploding cake!
Many sources of humor here. Exploding cake is funny. The fact that the
writer feels the need to explain that someone didn't like exploding
cake is funny. The mere assertion that Emperor Wu liked cake is funny.
I picture Emperor Wu on his throne being presented with a small square of
white cake with pink icing on it, and his face lighting up with delight.
On to the honorable mentions! In the introduction I mentioned some types
of humor that don't really work in this contest. But I do tend to like
sentences that on the surface seem perfectly reasonable but then a moment
later make you say, "Hey, wait—" For example:
The ship sliced through the ocean like wood through water.
It only takes a second to realize that the simile in that one might be a bit
too apt. Here's one that's subtler:
I knew it was called salsa dancing, but phew!
That's funny because of the perkiness, but I like how it takes quite a long
moment before you think, "Hang on — how does the name 'salsa
dancing' suggest that one will be saying 'phew' afterwards?"
Here's another one that sounds perfectly reasonable... at first:
Beatrice was aware that many had stood before her at this sacred
place, with their own reasons, but with surprisingly few footprints.
I'm a sucker for subtle syllepsis. In fact, it's my latest Livejournal
Here are a couple of others that make the list because they happen to appeal
to my own quirks:
Either the skeleton was a sheila, or some bloke had been sleeping
with two silicone balloons on his chest.
I don't think the joke here is all that funny, but this entry had me at "the
skeleton was a sheila." Actually, any use of the word "sheila" (or, even
better, "sheilas") gets an unjustifiable number of bonus points as far as
Anthonys eyes bulged as we all watched, with languid, infinite
slowness, his skull float across the cockpit.
Why do I find orbital mishaps hilarious? I don't know! At least Comrade
Todd now has some company.
MacGyver had grown old.
I like the solemnity of that one. Angus MacGyver, lion in winter. Making
radios out of denture adhesive and jars of Metamucil.
Okay, ready to wince? Here we go!
Mesa Jar Jar Binks, and thisa mesa story!
Aieee! Though this one's even worse:
Shylockina, Queen of the Jews, surveyed her realm.
Hello, imaginary author! Care to join the 21st century? Or at least the 18th?
On to the jury prizes, rescued from the Maybe pile by my hand-picked team of
comedy experts, by which I mean some people in a chatroom.
What a horrible future we live in! said FutureMax!
The dawn blushed; not because it was embarrassed (that doesnt even
make sense), but because light bends funny.
The air hung heavy with the perfume of the circus — elephants,
greasepaint and hot buttered chimps.
That last one once again proves my theory: focus groups like a monkey.
They also evidently really like sex. And while saying so more or less
guarantees that next year I will be inundated with sentences about
monkey sex, they can hardly be more painful than these, which the
jurors gleefully plucked from the Maybe pile:
The flowers in the meadow grew slowly, as did my erection.
Tingling with joy and anticipation, Pauls gonads are just exactly
It was more than a flirtation — he parted her labia like Moses
did the Red Sea.
One juror notes about the last entry, "It's funnier if you imagine the
But who says romance is dead?:
For hobos, spring was the season of love.
Sound effects were popular this year:
BRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! rang the alarm clock,
awakening me from my Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate-induced slumber.
BUDDABUDABDABUDDA, went the bullets.
And here's a sound-effects entry for the Freeform contest:
Oh no! There they were coming! Francis shut his eyes and jumped into
the fray. WANG! went the shovel wielded by him against the zombies.
Note that the Freeform contest was not intended as a division for interminable
entries; save those for the Bulwer-Lytton. No, Freeform is just for when you
want to break things up into a couple of sentences, or go a bit beyond the 25
words. There were only a couple of other entries that preserved the spirit of
Lyttle Lytton; this one's the winner:
Scaling Everest was, by far, the most amazing and transformative
experience of my life. Unfortunately, this is a thesis on context-free
I think the sort of contrast there has been done before, but "context-free
grammars" is intrinsically funny. This one's also good:
Eve stood there, half-eaten apple in one hand, desire burning in her
eyes. Adam screamed Jesus woman what the fuck have you done?!!
I was on the fence about that one until I realized that Adam says "Jesus."
Throwing in a subtle anachronism along with your register shift is going
the extra mile.
On to the Found contest. I'll ramble about this in a minute, but first,
here's the winner:
Fukutsuru died in 2005 but his frozen sperm lived on for peoples
Eero Vitie, quoting the Wikipedia entry on Fukutsuru
"Fukutsuru" is funny. "Fukutsuru died in 2005," as the start of a
novel, is funnier. Add "but his frozen sperm lived on" and it's funnier still.
Add "for people's benefit" and you have comedy gold.
(By the way, Fukutsuru was a bull. As the article notes, that makes him an
One thing I found while looking through the Found entries is that non-fiction
was much funnier for the purposes of this contest than fiction was. Imagine
this as the beginning of a tale of court intrigue:
The king of ketchups was being dethroned, and I wanted an explanation.
Dan Schmidt, quoting Leigh Belanger in Cook's Illustrated
Academic writing is actually improved by imagining it as postmodern fiction:
Clarissa plunges — a verb of great adventurous spirit —
into her day.
Hannah Douglas, quoting "The Sane Woman in the Attic: Sexuality and
Self-Authorship in Mrs. Dalloway" by Jesse Wolfe
Sportswriting is... well, really, no context could make this mixed metaphor
He was marooned in the jaws of a human minefield, and with every step
the noose grew tighter.
Paul and Anthony Cuneo, quoting sports columnist Jerry Izenberg in the
New Jersey Star Ledger
Advertising becomes hip second-person narrative (it's all the rage these
days, you hear):
Feel your tensions melt away as you drive down Wildflower Lane; the
natural beauty of the trees, the wildflowers and deer are all there
to welcome you as you enter Domaine Madeleine.
P. Scott Hamilton, quoting http://www.domainemadeleine.com
I don't know what's funnier, interpreting it as "the natural beauty of the
deer," or as the deer saying, "Hey, how's it goin'" as you drive in.
Here's someone who was evidently paid by the prepositional phrase:
Ill never forget that first morning I saw Francois Lake from outside
of the front door of a small red log cabin as a small boy in late winter.
Jacqui Graham, quoting Richard Cannon in the program for the 1999
Francois Lake Bluegrass and Acoustic Roots Festival
By contrast, grabbing bad writing out of works of fiction doesn't
really work for some reason. I guess it's the repurposing that I find amusing.
Just trawling fanfiction.net or some such seems too easy. I don't really have
much interest in running a "mock other people's existing writing" contest. That
said, here are a couple of entries drawn from fiction:
It was rumored that the necklace had cost close to a million dollars. This
was a small fortune in India — far beyond the reach of most people.
name withheld, quoting "Blind Spot" written by Lynne Rebeiro & J. Chloe Braun
Because, y'know, in most countries a million dollars is chicken feed.
Anamaria had already gotten up obviously because there was no Anamaria in
Christine Dearden, quoting fanfiction.net
I imagine this one was submitted because of the "no Anamaria in Anamaria's bed"
line, but I think that's fine — it's the "Anamaria had already gotten up
obviously" part that telegraphs this as the work of an amateur.
Still here? Okay, then let's wrap up with the screenplays. Winner:
EXT. FIELD DAY
COW is standing in the field.
The cow is sad.
(Pretending to be a mournful cow.)
A big part of why I run this contest year after year is to learn more about
comedy. This entry would not be funny if the "Mooooooo" were given to the
cow instead of the narrator. I find that fascinating — the fine line
between stupid and clever.
Ext., outside Port-a-John.
A giant radioactive werewolf eats DORALEEN while boyfriend CHUCK looks
on in horror.
Doraleen! Are you okay?
This next one I almost left out because it hits a little too close to something
I'm working on now!:
EXT FOREST - DAY
A group of furry brown squirrels run and play in the clearing of a dense
thicket. Off to the side, PANDORA the squirrel leans against a tree
smoking. Her fur is dyed black, culminating in a purple spike at the top
of her head. She takes a drag of her cigarette and squints up at the sun.
My life is a void.
INT. MY MANSION - DUSK
A study in subdued luxury. A tall, handsome figure enters — it's ME.
I have ninety minutes and lots of unpopular opinions, so let's get
Nah, let's conclude. In summary, I think 2007 was the best Lyttle Lytton
Contest to date. I hope you agree! Or at the very least, I hope you didn't
find it an unending holocaust of pain.
Return to the Lyttle Lytton page!