Jun 29, 2009, 12:44PM

"Huang Lee has a simple mission: deliver an ancient sword to his Uncle Kenny"

The winners of the 2009 Lyttle Lytton contest -- honoring the best in unintentionally funny writing. 

"What? Those are the winners?! Where is my glorious entry? Dammit, you wouldn't know funny if it bit you on the ass!"No doubt. This sort of thing is enormously subjective. It's hard to draw a line between those that just barely make it in and those which are just barely left out; on another day I might well have chosen a rather different set of winners. And of course, I wouldn't know funny if it bit me on the ass.I will begin with my now-traditional exhortation about what this contest is not. It is not a "funniest sentence" contest. It's relatively easy make people laugh with you, if you try. In the past I've attached long lists of such entries, but this time I'll keep it to just three:Larry, the dung beetle, was in tears outside the soda shop, having realized that his dung ball had been stolen while he had been inside enjoying a cola and some dung.Norm Macdonald, is that you? No, actually it's someone named Dave McKenzie, who submitted way too many entries to be considered even if they had been the right sort of thing. Here's another of his:The familiar "Arf! Arf! Boom!!" jolted Captain Lance Westwood out of a dream and reminded him that the war against the planet of the dog people wasn't going well.And one from longtime contributor Mark Silcox:The slender Zap-gun shivered lewdly in Captain Freck's hand, then whispered "ka-pow" and squirted its laser into the damp cave.Again, what this contest is going for is a simulation of unintentional comedy — we should be laughing at your entry, not with it. This is hard to do on purpose. It's a lot easier when you're not trying. For instance, I just went to the suspiciously heterosexual Amazon bestseller list and pulled up the top book, which was something called Liberty and Tyranny by one Mark Levin. It begins:There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism.See, that would be a winning entry in this year's contest! It raises a number of questions: who exactly does the author think he's disabusing of the notion that a political belief system can be rendered as a "scientific or mathematical formula"? What distinction does he believe he's drawing between scientific formulas and mathematical ones? How deep into this imaginary argument is he that he thinks he needs to add the word "simply"?Most importantly, it doesn't make me want to learn the answers to any of these questions. The first sentence convinces me that the author isn't going anywhere with this that I have any interest in following. On the other hand, this entry sounds like a setup:As a secretary, Penny was skilled in answering multi-line phones, receptionist duties, copying, faxing and documenting things, but as her performance evaluation noted, she wasn't very good at filing. (John Vent)The rhythm of this sentence suggests that the author is going somewhere with this. Heck, I can finish it myself. "As a secretary, Penny was skilled in answering multi-line phones, receptionist duties, copying, faxing and documenting things, but as her performance evaluation noted, she wasn't very good at filing. A memo about the new parking policy might be found under H for 'horseless carriages,' while a cash payment was likely to end up in the Jaa-Jal drawer in a folder labeled 'Jackson, Andrew, portraits of.' Thus, Penny was fired, and a new secretary brought in who didn't quite understand the intricacies of the phone system. And that is how, in attempting to put me on hold, she wound up connecting me to the private conference call in which CEO Avner Wilkrest ordered me killed." Or something like that.Here's another:At sixteen, Ben understood the emotional depth of the world around him and he had a number of respectable poems to prove it. (Erin Spradlin)That would indeed suggest a bad novel if I thought for a moment that the author wasn't being sardonic. But since clearly this will be a satire at Ben's expense, it is just plain funny rather than unintentionally so. And it's well-written enough that I'd certainly read on. Another example: She swabbed her pale neck with alcohol. "I'm ready," she cooed. He licked his canines, anticipating the germ-free surface of her skin and the taste of her blood. (anonymous)OCD vampire! I'm sold! Clearly this author has a future in comedy! And that's why her entry didn't appear among the winners. Because that's not what this contest is about. We're not supposed to be laughing with you, but at you, and while, as noted, that's easy enough to pull off when you're not trying, it's harder when you are. And the best example I found this year was the winner of the 2009 Lyttle Lytton Contest:The mighty frigate Indestructible rounded the Horn of Africa and lurched east’ard. –Pete Wirtala


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