Guest Blog: Humor is the Best Therapy and Other Writing Lessons from THE Sweet Potato Queen

April 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm , by

Jill Conner Browne (aka THE Sweet Potato Queen) is the multiple #1 New York Times bestselling, laugh-out-loud funny leader of the Sweet Potato Queens—a movement that boasts some 6,200 chapters in more than 37 countries. Known for her bawdy, tongue-in-cheek humor, and for spreading what she refers to as “sparkle,” Browne started her reign when she and a few friends decided to enter the Jackson, Mississippi, St. Patrick’s Parade in 1982. The Sweet Potato Queens focus on sisterhood, self-esteem (you’re never too old or too anything to be a Queen) and positive thinking. Their annual Zippity Doo Dah Parade benefits the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, which just dedicated an examination room named for the group in its new ER.

The book that launched Browne was The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, a kind of manifesto for the movement, which came out in 1999. Here, Browne writes about the events that gave rise to the ninth book in the series, Fat Is the New 30: The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life, out this month.

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Since 1999, I have cranked out a funny book about my life as THE Sweet Potato Queen every year or so and had more than my share of success. Out of eight books, all attained “bestseller” status with two actually reaching that much-coveted spot on the Only List That Really Matters: #1 on the New York Times list.

In 2009, I’d have to say my status as a writer felt pretty safe and secure—as did my whole life, truth be told. Married to a wonderful man (The Cutest Boy in the World), my only child doing well in college, a houseful of dogs and cats—happy as a pig in the sunshine would not be overstating my condition.

Life was perfect—until one day, it wasn’t anymore. “Mama fell.” How many friends have told me sad stories that began with those two words? Every minute of every hour of every day for six months, my husband and I were my mother’s total caregivers. Her hospital bed was literally in our bedroom with us until she died.

The daily horror of that six months took an enormous toll on my entire being and I was unable to write or fulfill speaking engagements. I am a humor writer, after all and this was not exactly fertile ground.

Or was it? My daddy always taught us that there are very few situations in life that we really and truly cannot change—but when we do encounter one of those, the task at hand is to either figure out how to make fun out of it or to make fun of it. Time to test his theory.

One afternoon Mama called me to her bedside and told me she was upset. “I can’t remember my young’uns names.” Choking back tears, I leaned down and softly said, “Well, do you know that you have some?” Yes. “Do you know that they love you?” Oh, of course. “Well, then, Mama, it doesn’t really matter what you call us—but I’m Jill—and I’m your favorite. And That Other One is Judy and she lives in New Orleans.”

Couldn’t wait to call and report this exchange to That Other One, and we did share great guffaws over it—kinda like laughing in church. Nothing is ever quite as funny as the stuff you’re not supposed to be laughing at, in a place where you’re not supposed to be laughing.

By and by, it became incumbent upon us to compose Mama’s obituary. Now, if you’re not from the South, you may be unaware of this, but down here, we do purely love a “good obituary.” I have seen summations of the lives of the Dearly Departed say things like, “He was fond of bowling and squirrels.” We were determined to give Mama the most entertaining obit to ever run in Mississippi’s largest newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger. (You can read it here). It went viral and was even read aloud on NPR in San Francisco. Mama woulda been so proud.)

My new book was born out of the self-therapy I had to do—utilizing my Daddy’s sage advice—in order to recover and heal. It turns out that laughter really is the best medicine after all.

Photo of Jill Conner Browne by Tom Joynt

11 Responses to “Guest Blog: Humor is the Best Therapy and Other Writing Lessons from THE Sweet Potato Queen”

  1. HRH Jill has been a source of comfort, amusement, bemusement, and compassion. In her writing, ,the annual weekend in March in Jackson, MS and in her friendship. Get a copy of the book for your very ownself and laugh and learn.

  2. Jill, your humor never disappoints. I can’t wait for my very own copy of your new book!


  3. Jill is a national treasure and her new book, FAT IS THE NEW 30, is as uproariously funny as her eight previous ones (including one novel!). Truly enjoyed reading this guest blog that explained the absence of new titles during the last two years. Do yourself a favor and don’t forget to click on the hotlink within this column that takes readers to the hilarious and touching obit she and her sister wrote for their mother. I hope we get to read more from Jill on your pages and web site!

  4. I have it and read it twice already! Laughed so hard I cried! HRH Jill is truely a special person. She does so much good in this world, why you just have to go to Jackson and meet her your own self!

  5. Oh Joy!! I will be the wackaloon pressed up on the glass door waiting for the book store to open to get a copy for myownself. (No Sharing!) HRH Jill, you and your writing helped me regain and reclaim the humor in life that keeps us going. I will be reading the new book with my tiara in place…ah life is good!!!

  6. Jill’s books, philosophies and friendship have helped me make it through the many ups and and really bad downs of my life. She truly is a gift. And the incredible queen girlfriends I have made as a result have ENRICHED my life SO MUCH. Coming in March is a good way to fundraise for the children’s hospital and have one of the most fun four days in your life, while spending time with Jill and the queens!

  7. Absolutely love HRH Jill! Has helped so many Woman (Queens) in so many ways! Can’t wait to read my newest book! Have been waiting for the right day by the pool under an umbrella because I know I won’t be able to put it down!!

  8. Hooray for LHJ blog to have JCB as a guest blogger. I alternately laughed and cried.

    Her books are just fantastic – I give them as gifts and reread my copies. If you don’t already own your own copies, go buy them – how else can she get her plastic surgery!?

    Kudos to LHJ again!

  9. What started out as an affection for her southern sharp wit has transitioned into being part of the merryment that is The Sweet Potato Queens. It’s more than a party with bawdy costumes and late night dancin’. It’s a lesson in “If life ain’t goin’ your way, suck it up and do something about it.” Noone ever threw a memorable pity party.

  10. It is a pity, that now I can not express – I hurry up on job. I will return – I will necessarily express the opinion on this question.

    By the way, what do you think about this icons site?

  11. Isn’t Jill the best? She says what we all think, and says the most hilarious things! Her books are ALWAYS great, and they make the best gifts!