Category Archives: comedy

Not Quite a Genius by Nate Dern

notquiteageniusNate Dern, a comedian who has spent time at UCB and Funny or Die, wrote this compilation that is a blend of memoir and fictional, sometimes absurdist, pieces. I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to warm up to this collection, in the same way it takes an audience member to warm up to a stand up comedian spewing jokes on a stage. Before stumbling across this book, I had never heard of Nate Dern and wasn’t familiar with any of his comedy bits. This also meant that his humor wasn’t easy for me to access initially because I was completely unfamiliar with his style. Reading Not Quite a Genius was the opposite of my experience reading Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection that is somewhat similar in style, but from a writer I was familiar with and thus was more easily able to dive into his kookier bits that may have been inaccessible otherwise. In the same way that an audience member must be warmed up at a comedy gig, it took me a few chapters to habituate to the writer’s humor and style, but once I did, I laughed to myself multiple times.  

For me, the collection picked up about a third of the way through… or that was how many pages it took to successfully warm me up to Dern’s humor. I thought the funniest bits were when Dern shifted more into humorous memoir territory (the first chapter is brilliant as he details his gawky young adult years). While the fictional bits were less my speed, I giggled several times while reading the “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate” and “How Many Farts Measure a Life” chapters.

That said, some of the funny bits just didn’t come across for me in print at all. In my head, I could imagine the fictional scenarios having more ~umph~ if I were hearing them performed live, but I experienced a disconnect while I was reading (specifically the chapter “I Like All Types of Music and My Sense of Humor Is So Random”). That’s the thing about these types of compilations: while this chapter was a swing and a miss in print for me, it might be a grand slam for a different reader. For any reader seeking a comedic collection, there will be a piece in Not Quite a Genius that is a grand slam for you. If you’re already a fan of Dern’s comedy, you’ll probably witness several grand slams. 

Not Quite a Genius will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on August 8, 2017! 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster or NetGalley.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

imjustaperson

I love Tig Notaro, which might just be because her mom died and she talks about it all of the time. It greatly influenced who she is and I relate to that. I always wonder if my obsession with my own mother’s death is because I was so young when it happened, but I don’t think that’s the case after reading Notaro’s account of losing her mother during middle adulthood. Loss of loved ones will always profoundly affect me because I love so much and I am a culmination of those I love and who love me, something that Notaro shares in her memoir about her own life. 

Notaro had a hell of a two years: she got diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal infection, her mother died suddenly, she and her girlfriend broke up, she learned she had breast cancer, she experienced fertility issues, and so much more. This book details those experiences and expounds upon Tig’s wonderings about life, ties to family and friendship, and her place in the comedy and general world. It’s a pretty quick read, but I found myself pausing and ruminating frequently while reading. One memorable reflection was inspired by this quote,

“So my answer is no, I don’t have a need for my mother to ‘see me now.’ I just have the desire to see my mother again.” 

If you’re already a Tig Notaro fan, you won’t find much new about the life stories detailed in her memoir. The memoir is essentially written accounts of what is detailed in her stand up specials and documentary. Some readers might find this annoying and repetitive, but I didn’t mind it at all since I read I’m Just a Person about a year after watching her documentary. However, if you’re jumping into a Tig binge, I advise you to space out your consumption since it is pretty much a regurgitation of the same story in different formats. 

This was the first book that I’ve read in a long time that encouraged so many strangers to talk to me about it — someone sitting next to me on a train platform, the manager at a pie shop, any friend who saw me lugging it around. I was surprised at the great general interest in the book from passersby, but perhaps that speaks to the universal appeal of the fantastic Tig Notaro. 

I Know What I’m Doing by Jen Kirkman

iknowwhatimdoingBefore reading this book, I had never heard of Jen Kirkman, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying her memoir that largely details navigating a tricky break up (is there ever one that isn’t tricky?), the pressure to get married, the related pressure to stay married, the peer pressure to have certain feelings about divorce, and living life in your late 30s/early 40s as a single lady.

Kirkman is serious about her career and she doesn’t apologize for it, despite the many pleas that others have for her to focus more on being in a serious relationship regardless of her emotional state or physical state (as in is she in a single place long enough to see someone regularly?). Despite all of her experiences not overlapping with my current pursuits, I found her insights and stories comforting to read, highlighting a few lines here and there that resonate with an icky feeling I’ve previously experienced.

This is an easy, funny read that you’ll probably gobble up after two lounge sessions by a pool/body of water/large bath tub over the summer. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, which may be because all of Kirkman’s material was brand new to me. Another review stated that many of the jokes and stories were duplicates of her stand up jokes, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice that and I found them enjoyable.

I have to share my favorite piece of advice from Kirkman’s book that anyone dating someone seriously absolutely needs to know: if you question why you’re in a specific relationship multiple times or if you can’t actually see a future with someone, END THE RELATIONSHIP!! Now!! Do not keep coasting along until you continue your questioning as you make out with your partner in front of all of your loved ones on your wedding day! END THE RELATIONSHIP! Save yourself, your partner, and pretty much everyone who interacts with you the meaningless pain by getting out of that thing quickly and moving onto something that you’re sure about doing, whether that be another human, your career, or literally anything else that might excite you.

The only part that I really didn’t like about the book was the essay where Kirkman details when she believed that she may have contracted Hepatitis C (Chapter 14, “Doctors without Boundaries”). It felt shame-y toward people who actually have STIs and the whole chapter should’ve been edited out of the memoir.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a physical copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster in advance of the paperback release. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.

Mini Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

scrappylittlenobodyThis audiobook memoir narrated by actress/author Anna Kendrick was… fine? Maybe I would’ve found it more endearing if I had been a bigger fan of Anna Kendrick. As it stands, I tend to enjoy her in movies and find her Twitter feed humorous, but I’m less invested or interested in what makes her tick and what her experiences are outside of the roles she portrays. So why did I even listen to this audiobook you ask? I honestly thought I would’ve become more interested as I listened along, but it never happened. I frequently forgot I was even reading this book until I would sign onto GoodReads and see that it was still on my currently reading shelf while I was eating lunch before my weekly therapy appointment… and then I would listen for an hour while I ate lunch alone and forget about the audiobook until the next week. This is an audiobook best enjoyed by people who already adore the actress.

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

sickintheheadI acquired Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow in an incredible deal from Greenlight Bookstore where I was allowed to buy slightly damaged hardcover books for $5 each! This unprecedented deal caused me to overzealously purchase many books that I normally wouldn’t have and subsequently allowed me to spend some time getting to know comedy extraordinaire Judd Apatow. 

This book isn’t a memoir — I had mistakenly assumed the book would be to match the style of the slew of comedy books that have been published in the past few years. The full title of the book, which, again, I picked up on a whim, reinforced my mistake: Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. Instead of being internal conversations between Judd and himself, this book consists of many interviews with people who dabble or fully embrace comedy. Each chapter consists of a transcript of Apatow interviewing a famous person — the topics vary dramatically from person to person as do the circumstances surrounding the conversations. Apatow first began interviewing comedians for his high school radio show in the 1980s and some of those original transcripts appear within the book, as do more recent interviews Apatow conducted specifically for the book and interviews Apatow either conducted or was the subject of for other publications or projects.

If you’re looking to read a history of stand up comedy, you’ll find that in Sick in the Head. If you enjoy comedians, but are less interested in their actual craft, you can also find that in the book by picking and choosing what interviews to read, as I did. Apatow briefly introduces each of his subjects to the reader to provide context for who they are within the comedy world and his own life which would help me to determine which interviews I should actually digest. That said, I probably only skipped 5 of 30+ interviews.

As with most deep conversations with comedians, interviewees often delved into discussions about their upbringings and childhoods which led me to also be reflective on my own circumstances. At times, the interviews almost felt like a print version of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast (the book has a transcript of Apatow’s appearance on that podcast too!). After the first interview, the subsequent interviews are sorted into alphabetical order by first name. My handpicked favorite interviews featured Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, a Freaks and Geeks Oral History, Jeff Garlin, Louis C. K., Marc Maron, Michal Che, Roseanne Barr, and Steve Martin. I enjoyed the Steve Matin interview which closes out the book so much that I scooped up and quickly devoured his novella Shopgirl, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon.

I recommend this book to anyone vaguely interested in comedy + entertainment and especially to those who want to dive into comedy, but don’t have access to the comedy sphere because of their geographic location or available resources.

Publication date: 16 June 2015 by Random House. All profits donated to 826 National, a nonprofit which provides tutoring and writing workshops to under-resourced students.

Author: Judd Apatow @twitter/instagram

i don’t know what you know me from: confessions of a co-star by judy greer

idontknowwhatyouknowmefromUpon finishing the incredibly enjoyable first season of Married, a show on FX starring Judy Greer, I remembered that I had placed her memoir on my TBR list a few weeks ago and decided to move it to the top. I checked out the audiobook from my local library and finished listening in a day. I was able to finish it so quickly partly because it was fairly short for an audiobook, stretching a little bit longer than five hours, and partly because listening felt like an extended catch up conversation with one of my friends.

Judy Greer narrates her memoir which alternates between mainly describing her early days growing up as an only child outside of Detroit, Michigan, and her current life as an actress, dog owner, wife, and stepmother in Los Angeles, California, while also briefly covering her time as a theatre undergrad in Chicago. Her tales of her life aren’t in chronological order and you weave between Greer’s current life to things that happened when she was a wee one. Because of the briefness of the book, I felt like the deviation from a linear storyline spiced the book up a bit.

Even though it seems most other readers enjoyed her recounting her place as an actress in Hollywood the most within the memoir, my favorite sections of the book were listening to Greer describe her love for Detroit and her heartbreak at how much Detroit is currently struggling as a city. It was in these moments that I feel like Greer was exposing me to something completely new, as I’ve never read someone describing Detroit, a city I’ve never visited, in such an authentic and touching way.

However, if you’re more interested in hearing about Greer’s time as an actress who’s actively working, but isn’t on the A-list, you won’t be disappointed in this book. If you recognize the author’s face from the cover art of the book, but can’t quite place her, you’re not alone. In fact, Greer devotes quite a bit of time in her memoir to explaining the phenomenon of having been in so many projects and being approached by people who can’t place her or requesting for her to help them deduce where they know her from. (Side note: if you recognize a celebrity and feel the need to approach them, try to make sure you actually know who they are. Bigger side note: if you recognize a celebrity and they are in public, but not in a place where it’s encouraged to talk to them such as a book signing, meet and greet, etc., maybe don’t approach them – celebrities need to buy milk at the grocery store, too, and they also have bad days when they don’t want to talk to anyone, especially a stranger.) Greer details life as a working actress, but doesn’t conflate it with this sparkly world that is so much better than the world of the normal plebeians – she still has to make food for her children that they hate and pick up her dog’s poop at the end of the day!

Greer’s down-to-earthness makes her so likable and this book so accessible. This book is not a tell-all revealing some deep, dark secrets like some celebrities release or a memoir bragging about the glamor of being a celebrity, but is a book about a normal person who happens to act as their profession. True to many of the characters that Greer is cast to play, she seems like one of your friends who also happens to be a successful, but not too successful, actress! My partner and I have been fans of Judy Greer for quite a while as she pops up in so many of the things that we love, and we frequently recount how we loved her in Love Monkey, a short lived and unpopular comedy from 2006. This book definitely gave me another layer of appreciation for Judy Greer, but probably isn’t a good read for someone who isn’t already a fan of Greer’s (like me) or doesn’t want to act professionally.

If you’re interested in checking out Judy Greer’s work as an actress and not as an author, you should definitely watch Married! The first season can be found on Hulu and the second season is currently in the process of airing on FX.

Unrelated to this book review, I wrote this while watching the newly released Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk concert. It’s amazing and had many tambourine beats that frequently woke up my aunt’s dog as he snoozed on my lap. Check out the Tiny Desk concert here and look up her tour dates here! I’ll be heading to the New York tour stop in October and I can’t wait!

Publication Date: 8 April 2014 by Doubleday Publishing. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author & Narrator: Judy Greer @twitter/instagram/facebook

modern romance by aziz ansari and eric klinenberg

modern romanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari departs from the typical comedian-writes-a-humorous-and-self-deprecating-memoir style that has been dominating the best seller lists as of late. While it’s not as a big of departure from the style as B. J. Novak’s fictional One More Thing: Stories and Other StoriesModern Romance tonally differs from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling and his Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which are both memoirs.

Ansari’s nonfiction book focuses on the current state of dating within American society. The book documents online dating culture in a way that I haven’t seen done before, which is easily the highlight of the book. He also details how dating culture has radically changed since the 1940s and beyond and made me extremely appreciative of the fact that I am a woman who is able to date in 2015 rather than courting someone who conveniently lived on my block in 1953. The book frequently integrates different sociology relationship studies in accessible ways, which pairs nicely with Ansari’s easily digestible telling of the current state of romance in America.

That said, I was very familiar with most of the studies that Ansari includes in his book. I took a lot of Sociology courses while in college and a course entirely about Interpersonal Relationships, which ranged from discussing roommate to family to romantic relationships. Because of my familiarity with the studies detailed in the book, I felt like new insight on the studies were lacking and left me wanting either more comedic spin from Ansari or for him to talk more about the actual research and limitations of each of the studies detailed. Instead, it seemed like he took the easy road of briefly detailing existing studies, which ultimately made most of the book pretty bland for me. If Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who is credited as having a huge influence on the book and has been appearing with Ansari on his book tour, had a larger impact on the work and had woven in some of his own sociological critique of the studies, I probably would have enjoyed the book as a whole much more. However, someone who wasn’t already aware of these studies would likely read the book very differently than I did and might not be thirsting for a more polished and academic version of Modern Romance like me.

Before reading this text, I was a pretty big fan of Aziz Ansari (and I still am!)… but I feel like being a fan is actually a disservice to readers of the book. I’ve consumed all of Ansari’s stand up specials and most of his television interviews, which means that I’m pretty familiar with the jokes that he has tucked safely away in his arsenal. Most of the funniest parts of Modern Romance were jokes or quips that I had already heard from him, which left me feeling like the judges who watch Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading squad perform the exact same routine as the previous team in Bring It On (forgive me, I just watched this movie last night with my roommate and it’s very fresh in my memory) aka not as impressed as I was the first time around.

Overall, this is a decent read if you’re wanting to learn more about the state of online dating in America, but is not for you if you want a more robust, academic read on romance in America or if you’re looking for a funny memoir in a similar vein to many other books recently published by comedians. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Author(s): Aziz Ansari web/@twitter/tumblr/facebook/instagram and Eric Klinenberg web/@twitter

Publication Date: 16 June 2015 by Penguin Press