You know something? Greg Heffley might be wimpy, but he’s funny as hell. And the first thing that struck me while reading is that the age group Kinney’s writing for (middle school-age, I assume?) might not get it. Sure, those kids may think it’s funny, but not for the reasons I’m laughing my ass off in line to renew my license at the DMV.
First, there are the cartoons. I didn’t think they would add a whole lot to Greg’s stories, but since I’m writing this, I’ve clearly come to believe otherwise. The scene in which I found this to be particularly true comes when Rodrick wakes Greg up in the middle of the night and convinces him he’s slept through the entire summer. And just as Greg makes his breakfast, “Dad was downstairs, yelling at me for eating Cheerios at 3:00 in the morning” (12). The cartoon that follows this passage, combined with the passage itself, made me laugh so hard and so loud that the guy standing behind me in line at the DMV just came right out and asked me what I found so funny. But I digress… the point is: the cartoons fill in gaps where words simply just won’t cut it. There is a distinct difference between saying/writing something and actually showing people what you mean. Kinney strikes the perfect (hilarious) balance with Diary. Crudely sketched stick figures, oddly enough, add another dimension to the humor because they compose a sort of convincing contradiction: they’re so basic they actually enhance the realism of Greg’s stories. Perhaps this is because, when I’m reading, I don’t need a detailed, immaculately drawn play-by-play of what’s happening. Give me the basics, the structure, the gist… and I’ll get it. In fact, the cartoons propelled the story forward just as much as Kinney’s writing. They didn’t require me to overanalyze, but they were worth noticing because they so perfectly and seamlessly connect to the scenes being described.
Then, there’s Greg himself. Emphasis on “self.” Kinney captures the self-absorbed-ness of middle school students so entirely that just thinking about it makes me laugh. Everything is someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s problem. Maybe I’m so attuned to this particular element of the book because I’ve been teaching sixth graders for two months of this semester, but I can’t help but think back to my own time in middle school and see a striking and painful and funny resemblance between Greg and myself. There’s that constant desire to be liked, to win, to earn the respect and awe of your classmates, to impress everyone and make it look effortless. What’s hysterical is Greg’s obliviousness (because I definitely don’t think I would have categorized myself as self-absorbed at the age of eleven, but let’s face it: I was.) The fact that Greg seems to have no clue that he’s thinking only of himself makes him a little less obnoxious and a little more endearing. His mishaps, failures, and flat-out belly flops into a pool of humiliation were mainly his clumsy fault and that strengthens my empathetic tendency and makes me laugh all over again. So, perhaps this connection to Greg returns us to the idea of humor and solidarity: we can laugh because we’ve been there (middle school, made fun of, humiliated) and because we feel that much closer to Greg as a result.
I couldn’t figure out how to address the most surprising thing I learned other than to just come out and say it. By far, the most surprising thing has been discovering just how much we rely on humor. It really is our touchstone, our life raft, our Hail Mary thrown up during the fourth quarter. It both defines and saves us: where would we be without it? And I think the best part is that humor has so many forms and there are so many different avenues to take, so many winding paths to follow when telling a joke that it’s impossible for anyone to say that nothing in this world is ever funny. I’m amazed after analyzing humor and its purpose this semester, how much laughter connects us. And I plan on keeping these things in mind. I plan on not taking humor and laughter for granted because I can really, honestly see how important they are.