October 2016 Books


We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, Yael Kohen

I should have read this three years ago, when I had many more feelings about standup and women in comedy. That’s also probably when I added it to Amazon wishlist, so. Still, I happened to pass by it in the library and picked it up on the basis of my feelings three years ago.

Oral histories are fun, and it helps when the subjects being interviewed are funny people, although a lot of these excerpts were quite earnest or just factual. The oral history format also means that there may be some views expressed by various interview subjects and then grouped together by the author/editor that are totally objectionable or dumb; one kind of wants the author/editor to either reassure you that she doesn’t necessarily agree with the speakers (or that she does, so that you can feel outraged and superior) but there’s none of that. Conveniently, I can’t remember my exact gripes; I think the section that bothered me the most were a string of soundbites from various sources criticizing post-Sarah Silverman comedians as being lazy/unoriginal/inauthentic for trying to do the “whoa I’m a cute girl who says offensive things” schtick.  Which just rubbed me the wrong way, even though I sometimes agree with it? The people speaking were just not addressing it in a very nuanced way, I think; certainly there is a mimicry aspect, in that Silverman’s success with that schtick probably made aspiring comedians realize “Oh, this specific delivery is a surefire way to get laughs. Let’s do that!”, but that’s going to be a case with aspiring comedians and any successful comic persona. Stay at any open mic night for more than three or four acts and you’ll start to notice trends in delivery, and probably they’re going to be different trends now than they were 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, etc. And authenticity arguments are always going to irk, because yeah, Sarah Silverman obviously isn’t the only woman in the world whose conventionally attractive appearance and girly voice doesn’t match her personality, thoughts, sense of humor, etc. (Why, it’s almost as if society trains women to look and behave a certain way and so when they say socially unacceptable things while still maintaining than socially acceptable exterior, it can be shocking and transgressive and hence, probably, funny.)

Straight Man, Richard Russo

Possibly I’m reaching a point of being totally over books about English professors and/or aspiring novelists? Although this was more or less funny, and the protagonist was not having or seriously contemplating an affair with any of his students, so there’s that.

Selected quote:

“Are you suggesting that we not consider male candidates?” Teddy wondered. “Simply on the basis of gender?”
“Exactly,” Orshee replied.
“That would be illegal,” Teddy said, but his voice didn’t fall quite right, leaving an implied “wouldn’t it?” hanging in the air.
“It’d be moral,” Orshee insisted. “It’d be right.”
“Still, it’s not the procedure we followed when we hired you,” Finny reminded him. Finny, who’d come out of the closet several years ago and then gone back in again, had even more reason than the rest of us to be disappointed in our young colleague. He’d been Orshee’s most vocal advocate, having apparently concluded on the basis of several remarks made during his interview that Campbell Wheeler was gay, whereas it turned out that all Orshee was trying to imply was that gay people were fine with him, as were black people and Asian people and Latino people and Native American people. In fact, Orshee would have preferred to be one of these people himself, politically and morally speaking, had the choice been his. Bad luck.
“You should have hired a woman,” Orshee continued. He seemed on the verge of tears, so deep were his convictions in the matter of his having been hired over a qualified woman. “And when I come up for tenure, you should vote against me. If we in the English department don’t take a stand against sexism, who will?”

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath


I mean, based on its constant presence on lists of Works of Literary Merit, I’m sure this is a Good and Important book.

(Although one wonders how much its presence is due to the “Oh shit, we’ve just listed 90 books by male authors. Can we think of 10 books by women?” factor rather than its Goodness and Importance. But what even are Goodness and Importance?)

But holy shit, was this not the correct time in my life to read it. The fucking fig tree metaphor fuck. And of course, the autobiographical aspect of it makes it so much worse; knowing that Esther is based on Plath and Plath does eventually commit suicide, the ending with the bell jar being ready to descend again at any time becomes much more ominous.

Selected quote:

Nope, fuck you.

It’s Not Me, It’s You, Jon Richardson

Man, I love Jon Richardson on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown but his writing style does not do him justice, even when you try to read it in a sort of endearingly nasal Northern accent. There’s a lot of stilted padding between bits, basically? And on some level it’s comforting to think that this guy went through a long period of self-imposed isolation (partly because he holds himself and other people to semi-impossible standards, which is semi-relatable) and is now married and has a kid and shit, but on the other hand, like with all comedians talking about their “lives,” one does wonder how much is exaggerated for comic effect

(And so what you’re “relating” to is someone else’s idea of so sad/pathetic/whatever that it’s funny, rather than their actual experience. Which wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the genre were fiction, maybe? But all memoirs/non-fiction have agendas anyway and are shaping the Truth to produce a specific effect so what even is non-fiction blah blah blah)

Still, maybe one is just better off watching one of his gigs?

Selected quote:

Two people together on a beach can drink and doze and walk along hand in hand, knowing that should anything go wrong for one, the other would step in and take control. One person alone on the beach must always have one eye on not getting too drunk to find their way back to the hotel, not wandering too far from their possessions or getting sunburnt. In short, a part of the brain is always with the bags and wallets on the shore, even if the spirit is doing its best to float away in the warm, blue waters.


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