(tape rewinding) (bluegrass music) - [Garrison] There was a man sitting on his front porch and the pastor came by and they sat and talked about theology for a little while.
And the pastor asked the man if he believed in infant baptism.
And the man said "Believe in it, hell, "I've seen it done."
(audience laughing) A humorist has to, has to, has to what?
What was I about to say?
(laughter) I was distracted, if everyone would just be perfectly still I'm sure I... (laughing) - When did you decide to become a writer, and why?
- I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant family that stressed that we were a select people, and so we were to avoid contact with others who did not share our faith.
We were isolated.
And, perhaps, growing up in this world, first of all, one has a reverence for the word, and for language, God spoke to us through the word, and in our family this was the King James Bible.
It also, I think, gave books, fiction, great power, because they were proscribed.
We were not to touch them, and my family was shocked when I came home with a volume of Hemingway when I was a boy, and I wanted to read it.
So there was a price to be paid for being interested in fiction and in writing.
Pushing my family away.
Books and authors became my family.
It's a decision however that continually seems temporary, that you're never quite sure you've made it absolutely.
I'm only 52, so I made a sort of tentative chice that has lasted this long, but, I could still fall back on retail sales.
(laughing) - Being considered a humorist, are you constantly aware that it's time to come up with something as clever as you've just described, or to be comic in some way?
- I think that you're only obliged to be a humorist from maybe the age of 18 until you turn 30.
Past the age of 30, I don't think there's any obligation to be clever at all.
After that, you, I think, are supposed to settle down, be a good person, raise your children, and be good to your friends which you may not have been when you were very clever.
And try to atone for your cleverness.
Humor has to surprise us, otherwise it isn't funny, and, it's a death knell for a writer to be labeled a humorist, because then of course, it's not a surprise anymore, it's what's expected of him.
And when you come to expect humor of people, you will never get it.
Looking for it, demanding it, expecting it, what you do is to kill off every joke you ever come across.
Humor in writing needs to come in under cover of darkness and be disguised.
It has to surprise people.
You don't want to get that sort of badoing, badoing, badoing sound in your writing, that boing, that gives you away.
Humor is not about problems with airline luggage handlers, it's about our lives in America.
And it's about the ends of our lives, it's about everything that happens after that and everything that happened before.
- [George] Well you paint this lovely picture of the piece going up and then immediately appearing in the magazine, I was wondering if sometimes, at the New Yorker they say, "Well you know this is not quite up to snuff."
Or however they would put it.
- [Garrison] Well, you see though, when the New Yorker turned down work, they turned it down in such an elaborately gentlemanly way, making apologies for their own shortsightedness, and undoubtedly it was their fault, but somehow, for some reason, this fell short of the remarkably high standard that you, by your own work have set for yourself.
(laughing) They had a way of rejecting my work that made me feel sorry for them somehow.
(laughing) (tape rewinding)