A brief interlude…

Michael Gerber
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I hope our Dear Leader, Mike, will excuse me for posting this…

I was flipping through a recent-ish New Yorker and came across an article about parodies, written by Louis Menand. Reviewing the anglocentric new Oxford Book of Parodies, Menand cites Bret Easton Ellis and continues: “Many other Americans could receive nominations: Framk Cammuso for ‘Glengarry Glen Plaid’; Michael Gerber and Jonathan Schwarz, for ‘What We Talk About When We Talk about Doughnuts’…”

What a great piece that was! It appeared in The New Yorker‘s pages; here is the “abstract” from the magazine’s archives. It is pretty hilarious even in this abbreviated form—a must for all readers of Raymond Carver and Michael Gerber!

ABSTRACT: SHOUTS & MURMURS parody of Raymond Carver (title refers to Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”)… Narrator describes sitting in a kitchen talking with Jim Forrer, a professional fish measurer… The two couples were pointedly drinking and smoking… Their main discussion point was doughnuts. Jim thought that real doughnuts were nothing less than spiritual doughnuts… Describes a fight between Jim and Lisa about whether he ate doughnuts at lunch. When I met Jim he was still married to Nancy, his forty-fifth wife. They had been very much in love, but one day she inhaled too much helium and just floated away… “Hold on a second, hon,” Carol said to Lisa. She turned to me. “Do you want to get divorced?” “O.K.,” I said. Carol and I left and got divorced. Then we cam back with our new spouses, Dave and Terri. We all sat there talking, the six of us in the dark. We went on talking and talking, even after the gin ran out. Talking about doughnuts. Talking about doughnuts in the dark.

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  1. Maybe this is just the librarian in me speaking (sadly, the paunchy, middle-aged male kind; not the hawt, young, short-skirted female kind we’ve come to expect from advertisements, Halloween costumes, and made-for-TV movies), but I also found the keywords the archivist used to describe this article to be pretty funny:

    Carver, Raymond; “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”; Writers; Doughnuts; Food; Love Affairs; Marriage

    Or maybe I just think more articles should be filed under Keyword: Doughnuts.

    But that’s the glutton in me talking now, not the librarian.

    Incidentally, both the librarian and the glutton are slightly outraged that “Doughnuts” got such low billing.

    At least they beat out “Love Affairs” and “Marriage”.

  2. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Aw, thanks, Ed! I plan to send Louis Menand a copy of Life After Death as a thank you.

    But the humorist’s code compels me to admit something: that piece was entirely my writing partner, Jonathan Schwarz. He wrote it between his sophomore and junior years at Yale, and had tried (unsuccessfully) to sell it for ten years, first on his own, and then as our work when we became a team. The New Yorker wouldn’t even send us a rejection slip, although Jon got something terribly funny (and disturbing) from Carver’s old editor Gordon Lish. (I’ll see if he’ll tell the story.)

    Finally, in 1997 or whenever it was, Jon’s longtime pal Ian Frazier offered to vouch for us with David Remnick. We sent over our best three pieces, and as I recall, all three were immediately accepted–Jon’s wonderful Carver, a mock crossword by me, and a piece about Larry Summers that was 50/50.

    The good news was that the Carver piece got into the NYer’s pantheon of best humor 1925-2000; the bad news was that our Summers spoof so angered the once-and-future Treasury Secretary that he stopped talking to TNY for three years–and we were unceremoniously shunted to the same editor who’d been ignoring our stuff for five years. She continued to ignore it until Jon moved into politics and I wrote Barry Trotter. We put together a collection of the best of our stuff called “Our Kampf,” and bid short humor adieu.

    The lesson? There’s no James Thurbers without Harold Rosses–or, in the idiom of this blog, Lennon and McCartneys without Epsteins, Martins, and maybe even Ed Sullivans. I work very hard to give young humorists a leg up, but unfortunately I’ve never been in a position to buy their stuff. Ed has, and his commissions from the Village Voice kept Jon and I writing for years. So you deserve some of the kudos for that piece, too, Ed!

  3. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    That mock crossword is probably my favorite “Shouts & Murmurs” ever. I still giggle over “Yoko ___ (not Ono).”

  4. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Thanks, Mollie! I always put Beatles references in my stuff, for people like yourself (and myself).

  5. Avatar Wolynski wrote:

    Nothing about the Lennon movie “Naked” on PBS?

    Well, it was bloody awful psychobabble – couldn’t stay with it to the end – unwatchable.

    At least it didn’t stick to the myth that Yoko had no idea who Lennon was when he walked into the art gallery. Please. She stalked him for months.

  6. Avatar Michael wrote:

    I haven’t gotten to it yet, Woly. It’s on my TiVo, though.

    As Dullblog’s resident psychobabbler, I apologize for my comments in advance–what were your primary beefs? Were the performances sound?

  7. Avatar Wolynski wrote:

    Performances… not great. Couldn’t figure out the point of the movie and why Lennon was so angry and why he kept jumping into the pool fully clothed – all these prolonged underwater shots – too much symbolism and hidden meaning.

  8. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Your anecdote about the new yawker confirms my suspicion that it’s a rigged game.
    If you send stuff in, it gets dumped in the slush pile and ignored. If someone puts in a good word for you, suddenly your stuff is good enough for publication.
    I don’t have any friends at the new yawker, so my stuff will never make it out of the slush pile.

  9. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Anon, the good news is that, unlike the past, places like TNY are no longer the royal (or only) road to success. If you can gather an audience–and it doesn’t even have to be a huge one–there are ways to make a living. So I’m told. I’m beginning to write Barry Trotter: The Final Chapter, and if I can’t get the publishers to bite, I’ll try to crowdfund it and see what happens.

    The New Yorker used to be a weekly magazine; now it’s the house journal of a certain very narrow kind of success. Or even notoriety, if it’s the right kind. Knowing that’s what it is, don’t be too hard on your stuff if they don’t print it. Places like The New Yorker can’t really help you anymore, but they can really hurt you if you let them into your heart.

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