Let’s Get Serious About Being Funny

I’m a comic writer. I write funny things. Books, essays, tweets and short videos. Mostly because I like to laugh. And I like to get laughs. It makes me feel like I’ve made the world a nicer place to live. Just a teensy bit.

There’s a second, but equally important reason I write things that are funny: I can’t help it. It’s my way of coping with the fact that I just can’t make sense of this planet. The people on it. The funny, bizarre and sometimes cruel things they do to each other. Even the way the universe is constructed. Bosons, leptons, quarks, gravitons, dark energy, dark matter, black holes, white holes, parallel universes, sheesh! The universe seems not only to be run by a bunch of maniacs, to quote sci-fi great Douglas Adams, but designed by one as well. It’s all wildly, entertainingly, hysterically insane. Making fun of it all seems like a natural.

I suppose I could make a placard and march up and down the street, screaming my dissatisfaction with the way things are. Or break some store windows or throw Molotov Cocktails into businesses along Sunset Boulevard.

I’m just not the violent type.

So instead of getting nihilistic, angry or bewildered about it all, I take another tack. I draw attention to whatever craziness I see by exposing it with exaggeration and humor. It’s called satire.

The problem is that most people don’t take comedy seriously. They hear the joke, utter a quick laugh, and assume that’s the end of it.


No real lasting change, right? Only drama can do that.

The pen isn’t mightier than the sword.

Comedy can be a powerful instrument for change, but we humans fail to see the subtle change in our thinking because we’re too busy laughing.

Consider this. Comedian John Cleese says that when people saw Beyond the Fringe, the early 1960s London comedy stage review, the audience screamed with laughter. “It was a liberation!” Decades of stuffy protocol dissolved in a matter of minutes. Indeed, until that point, comedians rarely made public fun of the Queen, the clergy, the Prime Minister or members of Parliament. Things started to change and it all started with humor.

Since I’m on the subject of British humor, take what I noticed while watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail recently. The scene: two peasants challenge King Arthur’s authority by flatly stating that they didn’t vote for him. Arthur counters by saying that a lady of the lake held forth a sacred sword, Excalibur, for him to carry, signifying his rule by divine right. The peasants still weren’t buying it. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”


While I find this scene very funny, it’s also making a very serious point about the insane methods royalty used to justify their power. Divine right is up there at the top of crazy thinking, but it has plenty of company with prophesies, omens, bloodlines or familial assassinations.

So am I advocating that this scene is going to make people in the Middle East or Southeast Asia rise up and overthrow their ridiculous monarchs or totalitarian regimes?

Hardly. But like a stone dropped into a pond, the ripples fan out, causing waves on the shore. Little by little, splash by splash, the shoreline is changed.

In ending, I’d like to see comedies taken more seriously. To point, in the 86 years that the Academy Awards have been given out, only six Best Picture awards have been given to pure comedies.* Just because the messages in a comedy come in on little cat feet, doesn’t mean they don’t have impact. It’s just that we lovers of really great comedy prefer our messages served up with a few good laughs.

*Dramadies not included in this figure.

I Saw Mommy Eating Santa Claus

Truly lost in the cosmos the stupidest angelNow that the holidays are upon us, it’s time to deck the halls with boughs of holly and flesh-eating zombies. What better way to celebrate our annual bout of family dysfunction and commercial overconsumption than by reading a comedic tale of a coastal California town overrun by zombies brought to life by an inept angel. Throw in a C-grade movie star, a pot-smoking town sheriff and a repulsive Santa who takes a fatal shovel to the face and you have a heart-warming tale the whole family can enjoy. Brought to you by one of the funniest comic authors around: Christopher Moore. So buy it and curl up next to the fire with this very funny book. Just keep a shotgun by your side. Ho ho ho.

The Greatest Story Ever Told. Complete with Extraterrestrials.

Someone Has to Save the Earth book cover dave stukasA year and a half in writing and editing. Seventeen full revisions. Thousands of gallons of coffee. Countless hours of brain-storming.

And finally, it’s finished. My comedy science-fiction adventure: Someone Has to Save the Earth. Available on Amazon Kindle. Just $2.99. A bargain.

Yes, I self-published it. So now comes the next, logical question.

Why write a comedy science-fiction adventure novel?

Good question. And I have some good answers. After all, when you spend a year and a half writing a novel, you better be damn sure you can justify the choices you made.

For starters, almost nobody was writing in this genre. Browse through the sci-fi section of your local bookstore or on Amazon and you’ll discover that everything is either space opera, military, apocalyptic (both pre- and post-), hard sci-fi, steampunk, or cyberpunk. Don’t get me wrong, I read all these genres. Love ‘em. But most of it is dark, dystopian stuff. I wanted to give sci-fi readers something lighter. Something funny. But it wasn’t just laughs I was after. I also wanted to throw in some social commentary, grind some sacred cows into hamburger, and throw in some philosophy, physics, cosmology, and general science along the way.

Another reason for the comedy? I just can’t help it. It’s the way my mind works. I find things funny. Or just downright absurd. The universe. This planet. The people occupying this lump of rock we live on. It’s all funny to me. So why not laugh? As Ella Wheeler Wilcox, an American poet wrote in her poem, Solitude: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.”

Amen, sister.

Screw You Edwin Hubble

Truly lost in the cosmos screw you edwin hubble daves stukasA few weekends ago, I made a trip to the Mount Wilson observatory high above Pasadena, California. It’s where some of the greatest discoveries of 20th century astronomy took place.

It’s also where we humans got taken down a peg or two from our lofty, self-awarded importance in the cosmos. Not that Copernicus didn’t give us a well-deserved kick in the ass by putting the sun at the center of our solar system. But it’s at Mount Wilson where we really got a good booting up the rear.

You see, up until the 1920s, most astronomers believed there was only one galaxy in the universe: ours.

The universe was all about us.

Along comes upstart Edwin Hubble working on the newly installed 100-inch telescope and he turns astronomy on its head by discovering that the fuzzy patches in the sky that everyone else had called “spiral nebulae,” weren’t gaseous clouds inside our Milky Way. They were separate galaxies* millions of light years away. And there were billions of them.

Humans had just learned that the universe was a very big place. Far larger than anyone had ever imagined.

Astronomers and cosmologists were thrilled. The human race, however, was beginning to feel a tad unimportant.

As if this finding wasn’t bad enough, Hubble added insult to injury in a paper published in 1929, announcing an even more shocking finding: the universe was expanding.** The idea that the cosmos was eternal, unchanging and reassuringly dull, was dead wrong.

Not only was our conception of the universe wrong, but it threw out another unsettling idea: it seemed to be flying apart. Most galaxies were moving away from each other, and those at the furthest reaches of the known universe were moving away at even higher velocities.

The universe was careening out of control.

There it was in a horrible, little nutshell: the universe was not all about us. In fact, it had nothing whatsoever to do with us. In less than a decade, we had gone from our smug, safe and comfy position in a galaxy that was the center of the universe to nothing more than tiny, insignificant life forms living on a laughably small planet that was no more than a speck of dust, helplessly hurtling through an incomprehensibly large universe that would either rip itself to shreds in the far future, eventually contract back on itself and end in a fiery explosion—or worse—just expand forever until it became a soul-annihilating frozen deadness in lonely, cold blackness.

The human psyche has never been the same since.

It’s probably a good thing that most humans are blissfully unaware of recent theories that say there may be billions of universes. Perhaps an infinite number.

Let’s just keep it our little secret for now.


*Even though he proved their existence, Hubble refused to call his discovery galaxies. This was due to the fact that he linked the term to a rival astronomer Harlow Shapley, who also worked atop Mt. Wilson and was kind of a dick to Hubble and his theory of separate galaxies outside ours. Shapley’s taunts may have been sour grapes caused by the fact that he had to work with the 60-inch telescope while Hubble got the sexy 100-inch.

**I know, I know. Georges Lemaître had come to the same conclusion, some say, two years earlier.

Einstein Was a Loser

truly lost in the cosmos dave stukas einstein was a loserThose aren’t my words about the great theoretical physicist. They’re his.

Unable to find work after graduating from the Zürich Polytechnic with a teaching diploma, he wrote to his sister and said that it would have been better had he never been born.

Can you imagine?

The job he eventually got as a lowly clerk at the patent office in Bern gave him what he really needed besides a paycheck: time to think. He put his time there to good use, indulging in his thought experiments, and writing the three papers that changed how we understand the universe. Even after these papers were published, they weren’t universally accepted. It took time. Many years, in fact.

The key thing was, he never gave up.

For those of you still waiting tables or tending bar or working retail, hang in there. If you have talent, the only other thing you need is a belief in yourself. And a little patience.

Download the Classics for Free. Legally.

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The Long Journey for The Martian

The martian dave stukas truly lost in the cosmosThe Martian is a great story.

I haven’t read it, however.

I’m sure the plot is thrilling, but what fascinates me is the other story here: how the book became a book. Then a movie. It goes pretty much like this:

The author, Andy Weir, wrote the science fiction novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars, waiting for a rescue that will take four years. It’s all about survival.

He originally posted the book, chapter by chapter on his no-frills website. His loyal followers were clamoring for somewhere on the Internet where they could download the whole thing in Kindle for free.

It turned out, there was such a place: Amazon e-books for self-published authors. It’s called Kindle Direct Publishing. But it wasn’t free. Amazon, required authors to charge a minimum of 99 cents, with Amazon getting 64 pennies per book, and him receiving 35.

He posted the book on Amazon for 99¢ and a miracle happened. Sales started slowly, but they soon climbed. Then took off. Within seven months, over 35,000 copies had been downloaded, even though the book was still available for free on his website (which required a little technical know-how to download it).

Throughout all this, he tried to get a literary agent, but no one would touch his novel. He approached publishers, too. No one was interested. He tried for three years.

A publisher, seeing the success of the book online, approached him and asked if he had an agent. When he said no, they suggested one. A short time later, he signed with agent David Fugate. Within four days, he was approached by a movie studio who wanted to option it. The movie premiers in October 2015, with Matt Damon starring and Ridley Scott as director.

Andy Weir writes full time, now.

He wasn’t the first author to take this path to success. Author Hugh Howey used the internet to publish his highly popular science fiction Wool series. Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James started on her own. Beatrix Potter did the same with her Peter Rabbit books way back in 1901 when she published them herself.

The moral of the story here isn’t that literary agents and publishers often can’t see a gold mine when it’s staring them right in the face. Or that the traditional path to getting a book in front of readers has been overturned.

It’s that these authors had an unshakeable belief in the story they wanted to tell.

For me, that’s the real success story.


Someone’s Going to Die and It Sure As Hell Isn’t Going to Be Me

Dave Stukas Truly lost in the cosmos writes about John Scalzi's Redshirts copy 2Being a science-fiction comedy author, I decided to read John Scalzi’s Redshirts. It’s a thinly veiled parody of the original Star Trek television series, told from the viewpoint of the lesser members on the starship Intrepid. The plot centers on the character of ensign Andrew Dahl, who uncovers a sinister reality: senior members of landing parties always survive extraterrestrial encounters while ship members of lower rank—wearing signature red shirts—die terrible deaths.

They’re disposable.

The story is about Dahl’s attempt to change the course of fate. It’s a comedy poking fun at the science-fiction conventions of the TV series.
I’m not going to get into reviewing Scalzi’s book. There are plenty of reviews online…go read some of those. My opinion isn’t all that important. Either you’ll either love it or not. Me, I enjoyed it.

But it was my reaction to the book that surprised me the most. A reaction that arose when I started watching the original episodes of Star Trek on Netflix. I hadn’t seen them in decades.

I got angry. And the more I watched, the angrier I became. As each episode enfolded, I got angrier about the callous, arrogant way Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy paraded around, smug in the knowledge that they would always survive. They had become assholes. Meanwhile, the innocent, underdog redshirts would be zapped, strangled, gassed, crushed, speared and incinerated, then tossed away after a poignant but short speech made by Captain Kirk.

It was like I was seven years old and someone had told me there was no Santa Claus. I sat there stunned. Here was a TV series that I had grown to love as a child, watching it with my dad in one of the few bonding rituals I had with him. And now, the series had turned on me. Deceived me. Tricked me. There was more going on than I had ever suspected.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the reaction John Scalzi wanted in his readers when he wrote this book. It was probably just great fun, showing things from a different viewpoint. I’m a comedic writer…I should know better.

But I can’t help it. I still haven’t forgiven my parents for lying to me about the fat, jolly man who supposedly lived at the North Pole.

The lie was fun while it lasted, though.