June 24 is National Flash Fiction Day in the United Kingdom. When we learned that flash fiction has its own day of celebration in the U.K., we at SmokeLong Quarterly wanted to participate in the festivities, especially since many of our beloved contributors are included in the National Flash Fiction anthology, Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour.
One of those contributors, Santino Prinzi, is a co-director and editor for the anthology. In celebration of (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day, we asked Santino and a few other amazing flash writers to give a list of their top ten favorite flash fiction stories on a topic of their choosing. Over the next few days we will be posting those lists in celebration. Enjoy and Happy Flash Fiction Day!
By Santino Prinzi
We all find different things funny. Some of us have a dry sense of humor, others love humor that’s crude and rude, while for some there is humor to be found in naivety or innocence. There’s intellectual humor and anecdotal humor. Humor that relies on puns, humor in the form of an “inside joke”, self-deprecating humor, and humor that whooshes over your head so fast you hardly notice it. But humor is subjective, and no matter what our sense of humor is there’s one thing we can all agree on: we all love a good laugh. These ten flash fictions are some of my favorite funny flashes that I find amusing, from a deep-bellied howl to a knowing smirk.
- “Our Cat Enters Heaven” by Margaret Atwood, published in The Tent (Bloomsbury, 2007), (watch here).
What is it about writers and cats? Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and her flash fiction is as striking as her novels. It was difficult for me to choose between this one and “Gertrude Talks Back” (Good Bones, Virago, 2010), but this one is more unusual. There’s a flippancy about this flash that adds to the humor, such as when the cat asks if he can have his testicles back and God says “they’re over behind that bush,” but the delightfully sinister and funny ending is what makes this flash fiction so special.
- “Giant Killer” by Meg Pokrass, published by Failbetter and available in The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press, 2016).
Sex scenes in literature have a tendency to be funny when they’re not supposed to be, usually because they’re unconvincing or poorly written. The sex scene in this story by Pokrass, however, is incredibly well-written because it’s meant to be funny. The story is filled with innuendos and euphemisms, but what adds to the comedic elements is how real and genuine this story feels as the awkward sexual encounter progresses.
- “The Spark of Inspiration” by Calum Kerr published by Litro Online.
I daresay that the humor we enjoy the most is that which we can relate to on a personal level. Though none of us have gone to the lengths as the protagonist of Kerr’s flash has (at least, I hope you haven’t!), we can all relate to the struggle of being inspired when we come to write.
Another funny flash of Kerr’s that will smack of that writer-reader-relatability is a flash called ‘Dewey-Eyed’ in his collection, 31 (Gumbo Press, 2nd ed 2014), which is about re-organizing your bookshelves.
- “On Reflection We’ve Decided We’re Going to Keep You” by Gary Duncan published by The Pygmy Giant, also in You’re Not Supposed to Cry (Vagabond Voices, 2017)
The Pygmy Giant is a wonderful flash fiction journal who publish writers living in the UK. In this story from Gary Duncan, Alan is uncomfortably waiting for a meeting with his parents that his mother has organized. This is a story that combines the annual work appraisal with your boss with parenthood. I love the story for this fusion, and I love it because it’s a story that builds up its intrigue subtly before revealing its true intentions in a way that doesn’t feel like a punchline. Another funny story from Duncan’s collection, You’re Not Supposed to Cry, that I particularly enjoy is “Floral Notes” for its direct, unapologetic honesty.
- “Dear Lady on Wheel of Fortune Who Just Unnecessarily Bought a Vowel” by Tara Laskowski, published in Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press, 2017)
First, a word about this anthology: Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief is an anthology of funny flash fiction that was produced to raise money for Comic Relief, a major UK-based charity dedicated to tackling poverty and injustice around the world. They are more than worthy of your support, and the anthology is excellent and, of course, funny!
Laskowski’s story stood out for me because I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune. It was one of my favorite shows, and I even had a handheld game of it. I loved it, and I love this story. There are rants reminiscent of the ones I remember hearing while I used to watch the UK equivalent of the show. The real humor behind this story, however, lies in its final paragraph; yes, the build-up and the ranting is amusing and enjoyable, but it’s the flash’s final images of the contestant at school picnics where the gravity of the contestant’s blunder hits home in a way that is both comedic and tragic.
Other personal highlights from his anthology include “Selected Advice for Strangers” by Vanessa Gebbie, “My New Story” by Tania Hershman, and “Group Think” by David Steward.
- “The The Impotence of Proofreading” by Taylor Mali, published in Flash Fiction Funny (Blue Light Press, 2013) and performed here.
This is a controversial inclusion on my list. The reason is not its rudeness (it is very rude, and certainly NSFW), but because I’ve seen it published as a poem before. However, because it’s been published in Flash Fiction Funny, I’m counting it. As lovers of words and language, we can all appreciate how easy a typo can slip through our keys; Mali uses this to his advantage. To read the story itself is quite a humorous experience as you navigate and chuckle through all of the typos and malapropisms. Though mistakes quickly descend into filth, in this context they can’t help but cause a laugh.
- “How to Get Around in the Sky” by David Gaffney, published in More Sawn-Off Tales (Salt Publishing, 2013)
Sometimes you’re laughing when you’re not supposed to, or you laugh at something and then you stop as you read the rest of the story and realize you shouldn’t be laughing. In this story by Gaffney, the humorous elements allow us to see a pilot, someone in a position of trust, for who they really are. What begins as a seemingly normal, though superstitious, conversation between pilots quickly takes on a sinister turn. We are amused because we believe the plot is unlikely, but also because the plot is absolutely plausible. The rest of the stories in this collection for me echo this duality, this sense of seeing people for who they really are. I cannot recommend it enough.
- “Crazy Glue” by Etgar Keret, published by Pulp.Net and in The Girl on the Fridge (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), translated by Miriam Shlesinger.
I really admire Keret’s flash fiction and short stories. His stories are funny (often darkly so), touching, powerful, and they usually embrace the more peculiar side of life. I’ve chosen “Crazy Glue” because there’s so much going on: a husband and wife stuck in an unhappy marriage, his mistress, and some very strong superglue. We’re encouraged to love and hate the main character. We laugh with him, even though we know what he’s up to. Even so, the ending is not only rather tender, but it provides the reader with a good chuckle.
- “Sign, Signifier, Signified, or, The Deconstruction of the End of an Evening” by Ingrid Jendrzejewski. Winner of the 2016 Inktears Flash Fiction Award. (pages 3-4).
If you haven’t heard the name Ingrid Jendrzejewski—and I’d be surprised if you haven’t!—you’re in for a treat. This story is not only funny, it’s also very clever. It’s about a couple who are in bed who fall into a semantic debate about the meaning of the phrase “love you.” Throughout the story Jendrzejewski strikes the perfect balance between dialogue and description, resulting in a story that’s human, playful, and funny.
- “Sleep is a Beautiful Colour” by Helen Rye, the title story of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (Gumbo Press, 2017)
At National Flash Fiction Day this year, we received nearly 600 submissions for our annual anthology. This year’s theme was “Life As You Know It,” and Helen Rye’s “Sleep is a Beautiful Colour” shone particularly bright. Rye’s depiction of a conversation with a child throughout the course of a day caught me off-guard with its quirky humor, its innocence, and the final line that demonstrates the lengths a parent will go to so they can protect their child from the world. I read it once, I read it again, and I keep reading it, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever stop…
Hopefully these stories have made you chuckle! With the amount of talented flash writers out there, and the great presses and magazines who publish them, I’m certain there are more funny flashes out there that you’ve come across, so please share with us on social media the funniest flash fictions you’ve read online or in print. Share the joy, share the smiles, and share the laughter!
Santino Prinzi is the Co-Director of National Flash Fiction Day in the UK, a First Reader for Vestal Review, and the Flash Fiction Editor of Firefly Magazine. His debut flash fiction collection, Dots and other flashes of perception, is available from The Nottingham Review Press. His short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry have been published or is forthcoming in various places, such as Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Great Jones Street, Litro Online, The Nottingham Review, Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology Vol.2, and Flash Frontier. To find out more follow him on Twitter (@tinoprinzi) or visit his website: https://tinoprinzi.wordpress.