One of my favourite writers is Harlan Ellison. For a guy who can at times come across as misanthropic in his various not-unfounded rants, he has a distinct humanist tract which comes through most clearly in his writing.
Right now I'm going through his 1988 short story collection, Angry Candy. I first read this book many years ago, not long after it hit the market. A story I remembered clearly is "Laugh Track". The premise is a man who now works in television had an aunt whose voice lives forever in television laugh track tracks. Her distinctive "lelluva laugh", one that "could pucker your lips", had been recorded originally in the 1950s when she was a member of a live studio audience. It developed a life all its own as it was repeatedly dubbed down over the years and decades over dumbed down television fare; as in very unfunny, classically not funny at all!, sitcoms. The kind used to pry your brain away from any intellectual ambition and to make it live like a Jelly Roll projectile that will peak as decoration on a cinder block wall.
Out of a kernel that may on the surface seem like something best left as chicken scratch on an old chalkboard, Ellison spins poignancy. There is an urgency to live, to feel, and not to resist fate. He knows life in the same way that Woody Allen does: It's a load of crap but a survivable load made survivable by laughing. Like an unfunny sitcom.
Harlan Ellison could write about a late bill payment and make it funny, surreal, and something to think about. Now for the next story: