Archive for March, 2014

Three Comedic Memoirs

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Before we headed to Wilbur (reminder: go there), I loaded up ye olde Kindle with three comedic memoirs. What can I say? I was in the mood. Plus, I wanted to do a mini-study on the comedification (and not the comodification, although they may be related!) of pain. As my loyal readers know (hello, Mom), I love both comedy and vulnerability, and the twain don’t always meet. In fact, I believe I complained as recently as the blog entry before this one¬†about Lorrie Moore’s tendency to joke herself away from the pain. Aaaaand, scrolling down a bit, we see that in the blog entry before that one, I was dealing with the very same subject in Gary Shteyngart.

Okay, maybe I have a fixation.

Anyway,¬†Moore isn’t writing memoir (though oh, how I wish she would!), but these three people are (or, rather, they’re writing comedically about their own lives; Maron’s book is more of a series of essays):

1) Ophira Eisenberg, in Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy;

2) Elna Baker, in The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance; and

3) Marc Maron, in Attempting Normal.

So . . . how did we fare?

I liked Maron’s book the best, because it’s the most raw and the most real. As Louis C.K. pointed out in his WTF appearance (and as Maron quotes in the opening of the book), something seems to have happened to Maron when he stopped trying to look good and got both humble and honest about where he was—professionally, emotionally, romantically, everything. He became sympathetic. He started connecting with his audience. In his podcast, I think he’s at his best not when he’s yelling at us about whatever has recently happened to him (oy) but when he’s reaching out to other people who have been in trouble and admitting that he, too, has been there—and that he’s still figuring his shit out. I love it when he essentially throws up his hands.

His book, I’m happy to report, is mainly characterized by that latter, more humble tone, so it’s amiable even when it’s obnoxious. It feels like something that was written with purpose—i.e., with something to say—rather than merely to serve as a vehicle for jokes or for the advancement of his career. Maron is very thinky, and all of that thinking fuels his passion about finding a way to be in the world, about digging into his issues and seeing what he can find there. In other words, he’s an openly emotional person openly (publicly!) contending with his emotions. And he’s found a way to joke about his pain without trivializing it. As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, me likey.

Baker is somewhere on that spectrum, too. She’s surprisingly candid about things that must be difficult to say publicly, considering her Mormonism, and she’s also careful to speak frankly, and not overly jokily, about how painful the central conflict of her life (Mormonism or sexual/behavioral freedom?) can be. But because her affect is so light, her book can feel a little breezy. I’ll chalk that up to youth, and also to her personality, which is clearly naturally buoyant. (Ain’t no accident that the bouncer at the restaurant she works at calls her “Bubbles.”) She’s like the anti-Maron in that way.

Eisenberg . . . well, this one’s harder to write about. Because I adore Eisenberg on Ask Me Another; she’s smart and hilarious and adorable and just really, really fun. But this book, in its copious procession of often unsavory hook-ups and scary levels of drunkenness, confused me a little. I mean, sure, she probably wrote it as a career-booster and wasn’t taking it too seriously; it’s literally a comedic memoir. But . . . is she okay? She seems to hit a pretty low bottom, involving probable alcoholism (and other addictions?) and perhaps suicidal ideation, but that gets glossed over fairly quickly in service to the narrative that her relationship with her now-husband resolved everything. And, well, she lost me there. I don’t get what actually happened to her. I guess we’re not supposed to? But it left me feeling cheated and a little deceived.

All in all, it was a glorious week of relaxation and chuckle-reads, so I’m not complaining. Well, maybe I’m complaining a little—but, you know. That’s how I do.