One-act play: “Laughs, Etc.”
by look i have opinions
“Laughs, Etc.,” by James Leo Herlihy
About nine pages, not sure how many words
First appeared in Playboy in July 1967 (now a collectible for sale here); first performed in 1973; collected in Stop, You’re Killing Me
Brutally funny. Definitely going on my list of great mean short stories, though it’s presented as a play. I don’t know if Dorothy Parker ever saw/read it, but she would have approved. Herlihy’s books seem to be mostly out of print. I keep digging up more of them and I’m never disappointed.
Spoilers ahead. On a reread, the use of the word “embalmed” and the introduction of Jo-Anne are both even more stunning in their cruelty. “I haven’t to this day the faintest notion of what the child looked like. […] And yet, in retrospect, she managed, without speaking so much as a word that anyone heard, mind you, she saw to it that she became the star of the evening.” And towards the end, the word “alive”: “So it’s noisy, so it’s bearded and unwashed, so there are no taxis! You take all that, because it’s alive!”