A few principles seem to govern the writing of humorous essays. The first principle is comparison and contrast, which Sedaris embraces so wonderfully throughout to evoke humor. He began by laying the groundwork for which to grow his comparisons and contrasts. The question of when Christmas presents are opened shows us the comparison of how other cultures approach the holiday. Then, by weaving in some of the elements of the American Christmas tradition, he contrasts the Dutch Christmas tradition. The contrast in itself is humorous because we feel comfortable in our own traditions and we react to the very different, almost unbelievable traditions of others. The best example of this was the third paragraph on page 293, with “… our Christmas story remains relatively simple …” and the subsequent paragraphs, with the contrast of “A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate …” and those subsequent paragraphs.
The second principle is internal dialogue. Sedaris’ own reactions through internal dialogue is where the humor takes flight. He used his reactions to support the hilarity of the comparison/contrasts. One of my favorites was, “What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you’ve got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment” (293). Sedaris already explained these details to the reader, but the way he presents his thoughts–which often reflects the readers’ own thoughts–is the extra support that makes it so hilarious and memorable.
The third principle is the inclusion of the little-known, unbelievable elements of reality. This is conveyed to us at the beginning with the legality of blind weapon-carry. The average person has no idea that law even exists, and it’s so illogical and contradictory that it’s funny. It is much like the attraction to dumb criminals, dumb facts, dumb warnings. There are entire websites devoted to dumb laws because there is an attractive humor in the sheer absurdity of them. The absurd is often hilarious and doesn’t need much explanation to convey this.
Sedaris’ gift is somehow extracting charm in the most mundane elements of his piece. Simple conversations with ordinary people in foreign cultures become a standalone source of contagious laughter that the reader won’t dare to leave until the last word.