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Clean Humor

Writers Encourage More Fun

— April 6, 2008 — Pop Culture
I just got back from the bi-annual Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater, which was held from April 3 to 5, 2008 in Dayton, Ohio. The current trend is “clean humor,” a term that I heard many times by attendees and faculty throughout the entire three days. The workshops were excellent, and teach how to interject more humor into your business presentations, speeches, and writing.

Famous public radio personality, Garrison Keillor (pictured), of Lake Wobegone fame kicked off the conference on Thursday, as did two of the late Erma Bombeck’s children. Of Erma’s legacy, Keillor said, “She was a great writer, a writer always true to her audience. She knew the people from whom she came. She was never guilty of the arrogance that creeps over writers when they become famous. She won the friendship of millions and millions of women and grudgingly of men — even though she said, ‘God created man, and I could have done better.’ “

Garrison Keillor is the author of more than a dozen books, including Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Love Me and Homegrown Democrat. He is also the creator, host and writer of the shows A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac, both heard on public radio stations across the country and filled with “clean humor.”

Pulitzer Prize winner Connie Schultz, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s wife, gave the keynote address at lunch on Friday, and finally set the record straight as to why she has refused to change her last name. In a beautifully done tribute to her late father, she decided that because he put her through college to get the education she needed to win the Pulitzer as a Schultz, she will always retain the name her father gave her. Of course, the entire Kennedy Union Ballroom stood up and cheered at her remarkable talent and candor.  Connie won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2005 as a columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Pulitzer judges praised her for writing “pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged.”

Saturday afternoon and evening, we heard from author, Martha Bolton, and cartoonist, Mike Peters. In 1981 Mike was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism and in 1984 the award-winning “Mother Goose & Grimm” comic strip was born. His work is syndicated in newspapers worldwide and frequently appears in national publications and on national television. He let slip at the workshop that he still likes dressing up as his hero, Superman. Martha Bolton is an Emmy-nominated writer and author of more than 50 books of “clean humor,” including Maybe Life’s Just Not That Into You, Cooking With Hot Flashes, I Think, Therefore I Have a Headache! and Didn’t My Skin Used to Fit. She was also a staff writer for Bob Hope for more than 15 years.

I mingled most of the time and met dozens of interesting people, including Canadian humorist, Gordon Kirkland, who has just released a book titled I May Be Big But I Didn’t Cause That Solar Eclipse. Gordon books speaking engagements and teaches classes. You can find out more on his personal website,

As things wound down Saturday night, I found myself having a conversation with Craig Wilson, a feature writer with USA Today. His famous Wednesday column, “The Final Word,” has appeared in USA Today for over 10 years. I had him all to myself for 10 minutes as he talked about the trials and tribulations of writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. He also taught one of the workshops, “Are you SURE you want to be a humor columnist?” Again, this is “clean humor,” Craig’s columns are also very touching.

I thoroughly enjoyed this event, which is near and dear to my heart, as I practically grew up reading Erma Bombeck, who left us too soon on April 22, 1996. I can’t help thinking how much she would have enjoyed all of the wonderful tributes given to her by the attendees and event speakers this year. She inspired many talented people with her creative, animated, and humorous descriptions of frustrations in everyday life. As a new mother, I can still remember hitting the panic button a few times and consulting Aunt Erma’s Cope Book. Millions of baby boomers will lovingly remember her for the popular syndicated column, “At Wit’s End,” which was compiled into her first published book.

Thank you, Erma Bombeck!