Bear with me here. I’ve got some things to say about this book and at some point I’ll render a verdict, but I’m not quite sure how we’ll get there.
Let’s begin with the obvious: comedy is hard. We’re not talking hard like conjugating verbs hard. We’re talking double cork 1080 hard. Nevermind how the latter involves off-axis spins that render most of us food-proof for the rest of the week, the point here is that comedy has a way of taking the smart right out of brilliant as quickly as opening the plug in a car’s oil pan. Glug glug.
There’s a famous story of the actor/writer/director Albert Brooks carrying on at a dinner party and so entertaining the guests that people nearly vomited up dinner due to their incessant laughter. Everyone was in tears. Embarrassed by the way he had derailed the evening, he excused himself from the table and left.
Albert Brooks was so embarrassed by his gift of comedy that he left a party where absolutely no one—including the women whose makeup was streaked down their faces—wanted him to leave.
Brooks has such a command of funny there are people who would teach the entire county of Los Angeles how to properly use an apostrophe just to be that funny for a weekend. I know this to be true. I’m one of them.
Elden “Fatty” Nelson has a similar gift for comedy. Funny comes to him the way money comes to Donald Trump. And while not all of his funny is victimless (the folks at Assos seem still to be a little sensitive about his open letter to them), most of his barbs catch no one so much as himself. Yes, self-deprecating humor. Does it get better?
Well, in fact, it does. Bill Cosby is my favorite example of a comic who can take a circumstance—say walking home from a scary movie when you’re 10—and then show you the humor in it without embarrassing you. Think of any of his routines about childhood or driving. We were all there. We all have the same foibles, the same weaknesses.
Thank God Bill Cosby wasn’t a cyclist. I’d have spent the last 25 years in tears laughing at myself. Nevermind. I’ve spent the last six years laughing at myself thanks to Fatty. One of my favorite recurring themes in his work is the way he (like me) thinks he must be the only person on the planet suffering from some failing of character. Of course, he isn’t and not only is he not the only person waging said private battle, I’m busy thinking I’m the only one as well.
Sting once noted his favorite example of irony was singing the song “So Lonely” and having thousands of people sing it along with him.
Oh hell, I can’t keep a secret. I love this book. I absolutely love this book.
Here’s why: Even though the volume encompasses just about three years of his work, from the beginning of the blog in 2005 up through 2007, and it leaves out what has become my all-time favorite post (That’s strictly for personal reasons—I had an editor quote his post about leg-shaving and say that there was no way to accept any rationale for leg-shaving as legitimate, not after reading Fatty’s post. Only she missed his joke, which was kind of like missing the yellow on the school bus.) yet the collection doesn’t seem remotely incomplete. There’s an easier way to say what I just wrote: It’s a surprisingly complete overview of his work.
In three years of work he mined enough to flesh out a 312-page book. That, dear reader, is the mark of a real writer.
The obvious thing to do would have been to simply collect a bunch of old posts and reprint them. Crap, it’s what I’d have done. But then Fatty is no hack. He went back and revisited each post. It’s one thing to re-read your old work; it’s quite another to re-immerse yourself enough to comment on the work and your frame of mind when you wrote it. And that’s just what he did. He wrote introductions for each post, giving readers a little behind-the-scenes look on the composition and then, in a stroke only someone familiar with literature in the late 20th century would do, he proceeded to footnote the text.
I can say I laughed out loud at some of the same jokes I laughed at six years ago. They were often as funny as the first time I read them. But some of my biggest laughs came from the footnotes. Sure, some only gave me a knowing smile, but others held the kind of insider wink that only a close friend can give. It’s an intimacy every writer dreams of and very few achieve.
As much as love BSNYC, I need to say that I think Fatty’s gift for comedy is greater. Believe me, I’ve dissolved into hopeless giggles at things BSNYC has written, but the thing about Fatty is that his is almost always a victimless comedy. No one gets offended and everyone gets a laugh. It’s the ultimate festival seating of humor. He could charge a nickel a laugh and had he done so he would have earned far more than the $19.95 cover price on this book.
It’s not a perfect collection, though. He’s dead wrong about the They Might Be Giants song “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” Having had an earworm of Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Gadda da Vida”, I can tell you there are lower rungs on the ladder of torture. Someday at some race, I plan to ride up to him and hum a bar of that heavy metal classic, then whisper the words, “Don’t you know I’m lovin’ you?” in his ear.
There won’t be a trace of irony in my voice.
You can pick up your own copy of “Comedian Mastermind” here.
UPDATE: Apparently, I’m a fair bit sicker than I thought. I wrote a second review of Fatty’s book. Not that it needed a second one, but I don’t see any point in not sharing it: http://redkiteprayer.com/?p=7790. Strange things like this happen when I’m sick.