Writing tip for Erick Erickson: Put the funny part last

Erick Erickson struggles under the weight of previous Erick Ericksons.

Erick Erickson struggles under the weight of previous Erick Ericksons.

After Donald Trump suggested that crystalline superbeing Mygyn Kylly questioned him aggressively at the debate because she was on her period, Erick Erickson disinvited him from the annual RedState Gathering. Explaining his decision, Erickson wrote:

[Trump] is not a professional politician and is known for being a blunt talker. He connects with so much of the anger in the Republican base and is not afraid to be outspoken on a lot of issues. But there are even lines blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross. Decency is one of those lines.

In response to his call for decency, Erickson got approximately one million internet articles reminding us of the time he tweeted this:

I know nothing of Justice Souter’s relations with goats and will not judge Erickson for his decency. His tweet did, however, violate an important rule of discourse: put the funny part last.

When you come up with a phrase as snappy as “goat-fucking child molester,”1 you want to deploy it as quickly as you can. I understand that. But putting it at the beginning of the sentence forces the reader to discern context at the moment he wants to laugh.

When I read Erickson’s tweet for the first time, I had to make sense of the phrase “goat-fucking child molester” absent the concepts of the Supreme Court and David Souter. It’s still a shocking phrase with a nice meter to it, but for my money, it’s funny because of the phrase “the only [such person] to..serve on the Supreme Court.”

Erickson uses a recognizable template for facts about Supreme Court justices—the first woman, the only left-handed Mason, etc.—to present a fact that is obviously, absurdly not true. This template sets up an expectation that “goat-fucking child molester” thwarts. That incongruity between expectation and shocking phrase makes us laugh.

Or it would, if Erickson were a little more deft. Instead, he gives us “goat-fucking child molester” and then erects a context to which the phrase does not belong. Wave goodbye to the element of surprise, which got to the party before we did. It’s a shame to see Erickson blow this opportunity, since the dependent clause “In David Souter’s retirement” would so nicely set up an atmosphere of reverence, if it began the sentence. As it is, Erickson’s joke reads like a close-up of people throwing food at each other that pulls back to reveal a stately banquet. The funny part happens before the thing that makes it funny.

Also, I’m using “funny” in its most technical sense. Erickson’s tweet isn’t funny to my sense of humor, although his poor judgment in tweeting it kind of is. Similarly situated in the realm of dark humor, the sequence of events in the last few days runs like this:

  1. Donald Trump says something crass.
  2. Erick Erickson says he should be decent.
  3. Internet derides Erickson because what he said six years ago was indecent.

We are all on the side of decency here, right? Even if Erickson is a loose-talking huckster—and I personally place him among the more revolting species in that class—he’s still right about what Trump said. He was still right to disinvite him from2 the RedState Gathering. Instead of answering his call for decency, the internet dismissed it because Erickson has been indecent.

In the process, it dramatically increased the visibility of Erickson’s 2009 tweet. If you don’t believe me, check out how many people replied to it in the last three days. In proclaiming our opposition to indecency, we have amplified it. None of us can believe Erickson, that hypocrite, would say that awful thing about a supreme court justice we’re all repeating now. How dare he suggest we speak respectfully to one another? He’s an asshole, too.

Anyway, back to Trump. All he does is attack. He refuses to engage with ideas, insisting instead on deriding whoever advances them. I can’t believe people don’t see through it.

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