Fannish Humor

There’s a lot of funny stuff here at Worldcon. But science fiction and fantasy fans don’t have quite the same sense of humor as the average person on the street.

It’s a truism that over-analyzing humor presses all the life out of it. But a bit of investigation shows the kind of things the people here find amusing is sometimes very self-referential, and often, more than a bit twisted. And wordplay does big business here.

Let’s look at some examples:

One of the mainstays of convention evenings are the parties, which at this con are mostly on the 15th and 16th floors of the Atlantis hotel. You’ll find parties run by publishers or by particular sub-groups of fandom. But by far, the most crowded parties are the bid parties, run by convention committees that are trying to influence fans to vote for their bid for future conventions. Worldcon members vote for the Worldcon location for two years hence. For example, two big parties tonight were thrown by bids for future Worldcons: San Antonio in 2013 and London in 2014. As it happens, both those bids are going to win because they have no credible competition.

Maritime Disasters with Toy BoatsOK, back to humor.

All the party suites in the Atlantis have two or three rooms. And each suite has a huge Jacuzzi tub set right smack in the middle of one of the rooms. All the parties, save one, had tubs that were empty, or at best, were filled with ice and cold drinks. But tonight’s party for Westercon, a regional convention, put the tub to good use, with a tableau of historic maritime disasters—as represented by toy boats. A plaque on the side of the tub explained the history of each of the doomed ships, with the Titanic, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and many others represented. It was so weird and unexpected that I had to shoot a picture.

Funny ButtonsAs a literary convention (with a very healthy dose of media thrown in), wordplay is amply represented, often in the form of buttons worn by attendees. The buttons shown here were worn by tech writer and SF fan John Hedtke, who I’ve known on tech writer’s mailing lists for years but never had the pleasure of meeting until tonight.

You’ll also find a lot a funny music at Worldcon. Dr. Demento, one of the special guests, performed Wednesday night. He featured many songs by acts he’s made famous over the years, including videos of
Weird Al Yankovic, and the classic strangeness of Fish Heads, by Barnes and Barnes (featuring a very early screen appearance by Bill Paxton). He also showed a rare 1998 clip of satirist Tom Lehrer coming out of retirement to perform “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” in London, for an audience that included Queen Elizabeth II.

We’re having a lot of fun here in Reno, and the sometimes odd sensibilities of the people here is a big part of it.


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