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 clearing.

Gunther Schmidl

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, crime, crime!”

Carl Muckenhoupt

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 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 Zamboni’s crotch.

Leon Arnott

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 probably fine.

The other third-place winner:

Ah, poetic Paris: with its pâtés and beaujolais, tiramisu and au jus.

Leslie Muir

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!

Bret Victor

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.

J. Hudson

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!

Rachel Spitler

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.

Lisa Lindquist

I’m a sucker for subtle syllepsis. In fact, it’s my latest Livejournal interest.

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.

Simon Parker

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 I’m concerned.

Anthony’s eyes bulged as we all watched, with languid, infinite slowness, his skull float across the cockpit.

Ben Tolkin

Why do I find orbital mishaps hilarious?  I don’t know!  At least Comrade Todd now has some company.

MacGyver had grown old.

Mathias Frank

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!

Davina Aw

Aieee!  Though this one’s even worse:

Shylockina, Queen of the Jews, surveyed her realm.

Tristan Parker

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!

Mary Potts

The dawn blushed; not because it was embarrassed (that doesn’t even make sense), but because light bends funny.

Sean Kermes

The air hung heavy with the perfume of the circus⁠—elephants, greasepaint and hot buttered chimps.

Mark Schweizer

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.

Jacob Roberts

Tingling with joy and anticipation, Paul’s gonads are just exactly that way.

Jessie Mahan

It was more than a flirtation⁠—he parted her labia like Moses did the Red Sea.

Clay White

One juror notes about the last entry, “It’s funnier if you imagine the hand gestures.”

But who says romance is dead?:

For hobos, spring was the season of love.

Rob Lenzi

Sound effects were popular this year:

“BRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” rang the alarm clock, awakening me from my Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate-induced slumber.

Deborah Grumet

BUDDABUDABDABUDDA, went the bullets.

Brendan Adkins

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. WANG! WANG!

Max L.

As you can see above, the contest now allows entries that go beyond a single sentence, so long as they stay within the length limit.  Here are a couple that took advantage of this:

Scaling Everest was, by far, the most amazing and transformative experience of my life.  Unfortunately, this is a thesis on context-free grammars.

Jonathan Blum

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?!!”

Edna Watkins

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 people’s benefit.

Wikipedia entry on Fukutsuru
quoted by Eero Vitie

“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 even-toed ungulate.)

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.

Leigh Belanger in Cook’s Illustrated
quoted by Dan Schmidt

Academic writing is actually improved by imagining it as postmodern fiction:

Clarissa plunges⁠—a verb of great adventurous spirit⁠—into her day.

“The Sane Woman in the Attic” by Jesse Wolfe
quoted by Hannah Douglas

Sportswriting is… well, really, no context could make this mixed metaphor work:

He was marooned in the jaws of a human minefield, and with every step the noose grew tighter.

Jerry Izenberg in the New Jersey Star Ledger
quoted by Paul and Anthony Cuneo

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.
quoted by P. Scott Hamilton

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:

I’ll 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.

Richard Cannon in the program for a bluegrass festival
quoted by Jacqui Graham

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 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.

Blind Spot by Lynne Rebeiro and J. Chloe Braun
quoted anonymously

Because, y’know, in most countries a million dollars is chicken feed.

Anamaria had already gotten up obviously because there was no Anamaria in Anamaria’s bed.
quoted by Christine Dearden

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:



COW is standing in the field.


The cow is sad.
     (Pretending to be a mournful cow.)

Sean Kermes

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?

Mary Potts

This next one I almost left out because it hits a little too close to something I’m working on now!:


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.

Bryan Fernando

And finally:


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 started.

Jonathan Blum

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.

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