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Southern humor is comprised of two parts, form & content.
As to content, we find everything funny, from the mundane to the morbid. Maybe death most of all. Southerners have historically found hilarious ways to kill off characters or watch their own funerals and laugh about it.
Death is no more a serious thing than the fella who lives by the railroad tracks and wears a stuffed possum for a hat. Death has all the qualities of good comedy because we believe in resurrections. Death is a punch line. And we have the last laugh.
But we also have a great capacity to laugh at ourselves. And why not? Everyone else does. So we try to find humor under every heartache. If nothing else, there’s probably a funny story in how we got the wound in the first place.
But what probably strikes the non-native southerner first about our humor is the form itself. Unhurried, but deliberate. Vivid, but not purple. Dialogue that sounds like the people sound, diagonal on the page.
You get dialect and idiom and diction and cadence even in printed form. All that nailed down with spoken images more than punctuation (Faulkner couldn’t be bothered, and the rest of us think an ellipsis is some sort of medical condition). So even on paper, the stories aren’t flat.
She said, “Dear, you’re sprang.
I said, “Do what?”
She said, “You’re sprang. You can’t have a winter color like silver next to your face, it won’t go.”
Or this from Portis,
“My oldest sister was bit by a mad fox. They didn’t have any screens on their house and it came in a window one night and nipped her on the leg like a little dog will do. They carried that fox’s head to Birmingham in some ice and said it was mad and she had to take all them shots.”
Being bitten by a rabid animal isn’t a funny affair. Or is it? Perhaps not until someone tells about it. And that’s the kind of thing we like to tell on each other in the South. And the habit of getting bit by mad animals probably explains a lot of other things about us too.