Apr 092014
 



Josh Getzler

I's Tuesday night, and I'm waiting for my 10 year old daughter to finish her homework so we can watch the NCAA women's basketball championship game between UConn and Notre Dame. Both teams are undefeated, having gone a combined 68-0 this year. Neither team has lost in more a calendar year--and each team's last loss was to the other.  The players don't like each other much. The coaches don't either. It stands to be a brilliant game.

So as I was sitting around waiting to start watching, I decided to check my Twitter feed.

And now I'm depressed. Here's what the responses are to ESPN's tweet of

SportsCenterVerified account‏@SportsCenter

Both UConn and Notre Dame have not lost in more than a calendar year (!!). And each team's last loss was to the other. Talk about a RIVALRY.

 

 Here are the respoonses:

  1. Zack ‏@ZTennenhouse  33m

@SportsCenter lebrons a pussy tho.

  1. Stefani Ciccone ‏@c0ckeater  33m

@SportsCenter i send NUDES to my new FOLLOWERS FAV if you want them

Details

  1. Connor ‏@McCartyConnor  33m

@SportsCenter who cares honestly?

  1. FrenchFry ‏@TweetGamePretty  32m

@SportsCenter nobody cares about womens basketball

  1. iHu$$le ‏@iTrue_6lu3  32m

@SportsCenter Sound fraud but it's not

  1. ⚾️ Tanner ⚾️ ‏@TannerMoore30  32m

@SportsCenter yet again, a cooking and cleaning national championship needs to be on HGTV, not ESPN

  1. Amr Korayem ‏@amr_korayem  32m

@SportsCenter no one gives a fuk

  1. Bastel Nooristany ‏@NBastel  32m

@SportsCenter just stop

Details

  1. Jakobee ‏@UojiKehara  32m

@SportsCenter Too bad IDGAF

  1. Bigg Poppa ‏@TheRealBIGBrown  32m

@SportsCenter that's crazy shit

  1. Kyle Levier ‏@OneManArmy_10  32m

@SportsCenter It's women's basketball. #Joke

  1. Jordan Handy ‏@kidd_culi  32m

@SportsCenter Who watches women's basketball? 100 people?

  1. Matt Ashton ‏@MbAshton  32m

@SportsCenter ya you would think, but it's not cuz it's women's basketball

 

That’s the first THIRTEEN responses. And it starts young (my daughter’s friends scorn her Liberty tickets from FIFTH grade, even though she can take most of them in a game of 1 on 1.) Just pathetic.

 

And then I think about the terrific lunch I had today with a young editor—a guy—who’s building a list. He was talking about the frustration he feels when he receives “guy books” because he’s the new young male editor, despite the fact that he is uninterested in pigeonholing himself as the bro-diter (not his term, but it works). I talked about the fact that I say over and over that I am looking for badass women and strong girls and historical fiction, but it’s taken a long time for that to stick.

 

Fundamentally, we live in a gendered society with particular expectations and assumptions about us. That’s nothing new. But there are times that I sit in my apartment in Manhattan, with my highly empowered daughters and my son who’s as likely to wear his Liberty shirt to school as his Punisher hoodie, and I forget what a long, long way we have to go. And unfortunately, all I need to do is look at Twitter before arguably the best athletic contest—men or women—of the year, and I’m reminded of the distance we need to bridge before we can just look at each other as people, with talent and skill and game. I think the game is about to start. And I hope Jakobee and Bigg Poppa give it a try. 

Mar 032014
 

Jeff Cohen

You never know who may be listening to you--Paul McCartney, "Take It Away"

How about those Academy Awards, huh? Were you shocked? I was stunned.

I'm lying. I wrote this a week before the Oscars. Hey. Life gets in the way sometimes.

Still, thinking about the glamor and silliness of Hollywood--and the best thing about the Academy Awards is how silly they are--got me to wondering. My writing has certainly not made me a household name, and I'm perfectly fine with that. But if I'm being accurate (to the best of my knowledge), my books have, in the past few years especially, sold conservatively in the tens of thousands, and that's probably an underestimate. 

So after a while you start thinking that maybe one or two of those mass market paperbacks has made it into the hands of a famous person. 

It's sort of a cool thought. Who might be a fan of the Haunted Guesthouse series? There's no way of knowing, really, unless said celebrity were to reach out and communicate with the author (that's me). And so far, they haven't, with one exception, who was a friend before the series started and has blurbed a couple of the books.

Erin posted a while back about the impression an author leaves when making public his/her thoughts about politics or some other sensitive topic. The flip side of that is wondering whether someone whose positions I support might be reading my work.

Or what if it's someone with whom I disagree vehemently? What would that say about my novel?

So in order to prevent myself considerable embarrassment (after this display of undigestible hubris), I've decided to provide a list of celebrities whom I hope are or will be fans of my work. Because you never know.

My Hoped-For Famous Fans

  • Mel Brooks: Always at the top of my list, unless Harpo Marx is resurrected. If someone knows how I can get Mel a copy of any of my books, don't hesitate to get in touch;
  • Jon Stewart: The smartest comedian at work for the past 15 years. Can take an incredibly obvious joke and still make it hilarious. I don't even care if he likes the book; I just want him to read one;
  • Queen Latifah: Hey, a fellow alum of 8096523-standardFrank H. Morrell High School and multitalented performer. Jersey girl with attitude, someone I'd be proud to have as a reader;
  • Ringo Starr: The People's Beatle and funniest of the bunch;
  • Steven Spielberg: Let's face it--if he were a loyal reader, Josh and I would have heard from him by now;
  • Derek Jeter: Not only an unparalleled athlete entering his final campaign, but an aspiring publisher--someone get this man a book!
  • Bette Midler: Because she's damn funny;
  • Craig Ferguson: Doing the funniest, most subversive talk show on the air, and a fan of crime fiction who books authors on his show. Yeah, you could do worse;
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Simply the coolest guy in any room he enters. A superstar astrophysicist? You know if Dr. T. likes your work, you must be smart;
  • Bill Murray: I'm not sure why, because I don't think he'd like my work, but I want to hope he would;
  • George Clooney: This generation's attempt at Cary Grant, falling a little short but way closer than most of us get. Smart, talented, committed; what's not to like?
  • Tina Fey: She's really funny, and if she publicly said she liked my books, my wife would be impressed with me for the first time this millennium;
  • Gene Wilder: The best comic actor of the past 50 years, and an author in his own write.

To be fair, of course (or even not to be fair), it's probably right to list a few celebs who, if they are fans of my work, I'd appreciate keeping it to themselves:

Thanks-But-No-Thanks List

  • Ted Nugent: Yeah, and his music is lousy, too:
  • Mel Gibson: I hold a grudge. Move on;
  • Rush Limbaugh: You shouldn't have to ask why;
  • The Duck Dynasty Guy: I'm almost ashamed to have a beard because of you;
  • The Boston Red Sox: Nothing personal. It's a religious thing;
  • Alec Baldwin: Luckily, he's getting out of public life, so that will never become an issue;
  • Vladimir Putin: Keep your shirt on, Vlad. I didn't watch your Olympics, either, so we're even;
  • John Travolta: If he can't get my name right, he's not going to be much help anyway; *
  • Justin Bieber: Get help, man--or just get better advice, and listen to it;
  • Isabel Allende: You know why.

For the record: I doubt any of these people has ever been in the same room with one of my books, but this is a fantasy league sort of thing, where you get to choose the names and assume they'll go along with you--or not. So that's my list. What's yours?

 

P.S. Recently the world of comedy has lost its grandfather and its funny uncle. Rest in peace, Sid Caesar and Harold Ramis. It doesn't matter how old you were; either way, it was much too soon. This is a world that can't afford to lose the laughs.

*Added after the Oscars

Feb 052014
 

Josh Getzler

 

I was talking with my fabulous assistant Danielle this afternoon (it’s her one-year anniversary today, so congratulate her on social media!), and we were discussing the way we negotiate contracts. It came up that often, particularly when only one publisher has been looking at a book, we negotiate from a position of weakness, and often can’t retain rights or control the level of the advance we get for the particular project. I decided to tell her my favorite negotiation story, which would have been genius if it hadn’t happened to me, and it explains the value of leverage.

 

The story has to do with when, in my Past Life, I was working on moving the minor league baseball team I’d owned from upstate New York down to Staten Island. We had to make a deal with the Yankees in order for them to approve the move, and the cost to us was almost half the franchise. We talked with Hal Steinbrenner, then not quite 30 and still learning the trade from his still-very-active father, The Boss, and he asked my father and me to come up with a price that would be fair, but, as he put it “not market value.” (There was no way to negotiate with anyone else, as the Yankees controlled the territory of Staten Island exclusively. And they didn’t really care whether they moved our team to Staten Island or some other, which they could potentially control as well. So they held all the cards in the negotiation, and knew it.)

 

My father and I worked for two weeks on an appropriate number to ask for, running every number we could think of. Then cutting it in half. Finally, the day arrived for the phone call.

 

Understand, the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown, New York, does not contain luxurious Executive Offices. Our space was a cinderblock room near the parking lot, approximately eight feet wide by 15 feet long. Our general manager and I each had a desk in it, and he chain-smoked. It was a pleasure, particularly in the middle of winter, when opening a door for ventilation would result in immediate frostbite. That day, however, it was approximately a million degrees, with my wife and both parents cramming into the office with the GM and me. A swarm of flies left over from the previous week’s Jefferson County Fair joined us, still hanging out because it wasn’t crowded enough. The phone rang and it was Hal.

 

There were no pleasantries.

 

“So, what’s the word?”

 

I took a breath, gave a short explanation, and named the number my father and I had massaged for two weeks. There wasn’t even a pause.

 

“You don’t want me to take that number to George.”

 

It was masterful. I could have said a million dollars or a buck and a half, and the answer would have been the same: “You don’t want me to take that to George.” Apparently, I turned extremely white. I asked him to hold, put my hand over the phone, and said “He says we don’t want to him to take that to George.”

 

As my father said “Ask him what he wants,” our GM spoke for the only time during the meeting.

 

“Get Yankee tickets. Behind the dugout.”

 

Which is how I sold half my team for a fraction of its value, but watched the New York Yankees win three World Series from two rows behind Mayor Giuliani.

 

Leverage.

Oct 092013
 

Josh Getzler

 

 

Over the last several weeks, I've felt like I've been on some kind of nostalgia tour. I went to Mariano Rivera's retirement game at Yankee Stadium, where all the of players I lived and died with (and some of whom played for me in my Previous Life in Baseball) came on the field and honored Mo. The next week we went to see Mike Piazza inducted into the Mets' hall of fame (where among the old-timers honoring Piazza was Bud Harrelson, the shortstop from 40 years ago whose replica jersey was the first I ever wore--and which I got in exchange for giving up my Blanket...). This evening my wife and I saw Steely Dan play songs from junior high; tomorrow we're seeing Sting; and Thursday, Rodriguez (from Searching for Sugar Man), whose 1970 album became a thoroughly improbable hit in South Africa and whose career was resurrected in 2011.

 

Besides being our entire entertainment budget for the second six months of 2013, these events tell me something I think of when I hear of a new gimmick in books or music or art. Ultimately, and overwhelmingly often, talent will out. Mariano's cutter was his one pitch (basically--don't quibble, Cohen), which he threw over and over. Steely Dan played 40 year old songs and messed with them enough that they were fresh but still recognizable. They were jazz; ephemeral and improvisational, where Mo was relentless and repetitive.

 

And they were both brilliant.  

Sep 162013
 

Jeff Cohen

When next you hear from me (that's a week from today), I will be just back from delightful (for all I know) Albany, NY, where the traveling roadshow known as Bouchercon is stopping this year. 

B'con, as the insiders call it, is a jumble, a blur, a drive-by of a convention, hard to take in all at once. It gathers about sixteen billion people (eight billion of them authors) in one place, adds a bar, and lets things fall where they may. It's always a good time, we get to see many friends we otherwise wouldn't get to spend time with, and the panels are usually a hoot.

It is also physically exhausting, mentally overwhelming, intellectually taxing and worst of all, occurs every year as the pennant races in Mlb-logobaseball are in full swing and every game seems absolutely essential. The one thing I always know I can talk to Lee Child about at Bouchercon is the previous night's Yankee game.

Every year I start the baseball season (I don't play; I'm a short, out-of-shape middle aged man who was never much of an athlete) thinking that I won't get that invested. By Bouchercon, I'm a rabid, mouth-breathing, obsessed lunatic who is smiling and nodding at you, laughing at your jokes, and wondering if tonight's starting pitcher can go more than five innings.

For the record, this year I will participate on a panel at 3:10 on Friday afternoon. It's called "Light as a Breeze--How Far Can You Go and Still Be a Cozy," and luckily will include Laura Bradford, Liz Mugavero, Katherine Hall Page, Rebecca Tope and our indispensible moderator Donna Andrews in addition to me (under the Copperman banner). I say "luckily" because I haven't a clue how far you can go and still be a cozy. I've never actually been a cozy. I'm more of a rumpled.

I really do hope you'll drop by to see the panel (if you're in Albany at Bouchercon--just flying in for that one panel would be a grand gesture, but a little odd). The best part of any convention is meeting readers and seeing other authors. If you see me and I looked overwhelmed, please come over and say hello. In a gathering that big, it's nice to be recognized. If I look distracted, it's because I'm not sure who's starting at third base tonight.

A couple of quick commercial announcements: First, October 1 is a mere 15 days away. On that date, Spook coverAN OPEN SPOOK, the latest eSpecial novella in the Haunted Guesthouse series, will become available to your Nook, your Kindle, and your whatever the heck else you read books on that doesn't require paper. It's a fun story--I rush to point out that it's a NOVELLA (because some reviewers seemed upset the last one was not novel-length)--told from the point of view of Alison Kerby's mother Loretta and involving a missing POW bracelet and the POW, now a ghost, who wants it back. During Hurricane Sandy.

And only 36 days after that (November 5, for you calendar fans) will come the next honest-to-goodness Haunted Guesthouse novel, THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT, in which Alison has to investigate the murder of a local homeless man and a man who may be cheating on his wife (who wants to use the evidence as leverage for the rest of their lives). By the way, AN OPEN SPOOK includes a sneak preview of THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT.

But we had another piece of news to announce a few days ago: Thanks to Josh G's herculean efforts, COOLER HEADS, the first in the Questions Answered mystery series, about a man with Asperger's Syndrome who starts a business answering people's questions, is coming from me and my CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND E.J. Copperman (both our names will be on the cover) from Midnight Ink! It'll be the first of at least three books involving Samuel Hoenig and his associate Janet Washburn and believe me, you'll be getting more information as it develops. 

Whew! That was a lot of self-promotion all for one week. And I've got to drive to Albany on Thursday! See you on the other side!

Aug 122013
 

Jeff Cohen

Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Vanished Forever

  1. Alex AP_arod_alex_rodriguez_tk_130805_16x9_992Rodriguez
  2. The words "yummy" and "hubby"
  3. "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch
  4. Under the Dome
  5. Every reality show ever
  6. Frozen yogurt (yeah, it's real healthy)
  7. "Stronger Than the Storm" and its star
  8. Michael Kay
  9. Snow
  10. Alex Rodriguez

Things I Miss Terribly When They're Away for a Day

  1. My wife, son, and/or daughter
  2. The 2013-08-09 14.49.31Daily Show
  3. My car (I live in New Jersey)
  4. The sun
  5. My guitar
  6. Diet Coke
  7. Baseball
  8. My reading glasses
  9. Writing
  10. Derek Jeter (that's just to make Alex Rodriguez mad)

                    Things I'm Glad Haven't Gone Away Forever

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Man Man-from-uncle-united-network-command-for-law-enforcementFrom U.N.C.L.E. (I own it on DVD)
  3. Bill Cosby
  4. Jeopardy! (although I haven't actually watched it in years)
  5. The Marx Brothers
  6. Mariano Rivera (I can say that for another month and a half)
  7. Star Trek (the new movies don't count)
  8. Readers
  9. Libraries
  10. Books

Things I'm Sorry Are Gone Forever

  1. John Lennon
  2. George Sleeping dad Harrison
  3. Phil Rizzuto
  4. Dad
  5. The real Yankee Stadium
  6. My hair's original color
  7. Newsweek
  8. The middle class
  9. Larry Gelbart
  10. Mr. Copper T. Dog

Things I'd Miss If They Left

  1. Newspapers
  2. Saturday mail delivery
  3. Landlines (cell phones Unknowndon't sound as good, and I don't care what you say)
  4. Saturday morning cartoons (I don't watch, but in principle)
  5. Birthday cards in the mail (not e-cards)
  6. Polar ice caps
  7. Movie theaters
  8. Sonny's Bagels in South Orange, NJ
  9. Vinyl records
  10. Paper books

Things I'm Glad Are Back

  1. Some Like It Hot-Buttered
  2. It Happened One Knife
  3. A Night at the Operation (coming this Thursday, August 15!)
  4. Jon Stewart (in 22 days and yes, John Oliver is doing a fine job) 
Nov 192012
 

Jeff Cohen

Abner-Doubleday-LrgAbner Doubleday did not invent the game of baseball. He also did not publish books. That was Frank Doubleday.

I know; you're surprised. But on a recent trip (immediately post-storm, when refugees were leaving New Jersey to find electrical power) to Gettysburg, PA, it was revealed to me that Doubleday was in fact at the battle of Gettysburg, but his only connection to America's budding national pastime was that he tried to requisition some baseball bats and other equipment for former slaves under his command, and was denied. Apparently even that far back, African Americans were being banned from playing baseball.

This comes as no shock. I knew Doubleday was only the mythical inventor of the game, that it was a sort of bastardization of a game called Rounders from England, mixed with Cricket, or something like that. But hey, America did what it does, which is to take stuff from other places and make it our own. 

So consider the differences in the English language (particularly American English) if the game of baseball had not been invented, by Doubleday or anybody else. We would have lost the expressions:

Throw a curve ball at you;

Out of left field;

Doubleheader;

Swing for the fences;

Go for the no-hitter;

Waiting on Imagesdeck;

Warming up in the bullpen;

Going, going, gone (with a possible exception for auctions);

Pinch hit for;

Take one for the team;

I could go on.

Then, there are the expressions that one hears during a baseball game and wishes would go away:

"He left his feet making that catch";

"First basemens";

"Tonight's starting lineups, brought to you by Lexus";

"Our good friends at the Fox News Channel";

What it really means when they say:

"He's struggling a little lately" (He couldn't hit a beach ball at this point);

"He had a really good swing at that one" (He missed);

"That was a great piece of hitting" (He accidentally hit one safely when he was trying to hit a home run);

"He's a veteran presence" (He's old);

"That got a piece of the catcher" (The catcher may never be able to have children now);

"The umpire has a wide strike zone tonight" (The umpire has early dinner reservations);

"The Lucy,_charlie_brown_baseball_Wallpaper_7c01fmanager is getting his money's worth in this argument" (He's trying to get thrown out of the game);

"The team is in rebuilding mode" (You're lucky if they stay out of last place);

"We'll be seeing you tomorrow night" (You'll be seeing us tomorrow night, if you choose to watch).

 

Can you tell I'm going through baseball withdrawal? 

Pitchers and catchers report in 88 days.

Oct 172012
 

Josh Getzler

So it's 11:34 and I'm in danger of missing another week's blog day. This time it was not a Jewish holiday and not a conference and not a literary reading, but a Crosby Stills and Nash concert. I was skeptical when we bought ticket--the last time we saw them was 10 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with child #3(who got a great in utero contact high), and they were OLD. But terrific. And we left happy and satisfied that we'd gotten to see them, kind of like when we saw Tony Gwynn in the last year he played for the Padres and we'd shlepped out to Shea to see him just so we could say we saw him. But I digress.

So CSN (without Young, or Tony Gwynn for that matter) was back, at the Beacon Theater (very appropriate now, and Winchester Cathedral was perfect there, just saying), and they are now at least seven years past OLD. And they were fabulous. OK, so after nine months of touring (this is the last set of shows) Stills is finished and could barely croak out Love the One You're With. But the surprise MVP was David Crosby, who could have been MVP for being able to stand at this point. But he has a voice like an angel (still), and was thin(ner) and fit(ter), and the group wisely centered the playlist around his proggy stuff. So we got Guinevere and Winchester and Deja Vu and Stills could play guitar and all the happy fogies like us got to sit back and relax.

As we were leaving we both realized that the upshot was this: We spend so much time listening to top 40 these days because of our kids, it was nice to go to an old school rock concert with black t-shirts and guitars and Hammond organs and singers who allowed themselves to be ragged.

Of course, we're also kind of excited that next week brings us Ke$ha's new album. (Don't be a hater, now!)

 

Sep 052012
 

Josh Getzler

One of my clients, thriller writer Eric Seder, came in to the HSG office today to say hi. Conversation, as it does, wandered to baseball.

Eric wanted to know if any of the players on the minor league teams I ran in Staten Island were obviously going to make it to the majors, even when they were newbies in single-A. I replied that there had been a couple on our teams—Chien-Ming Wang and Brett Gardner, for two who just seemed to have “it.”

“How about Melky Cabrera?” Eric asked, speaking of the former Yankee outfielder who was the MVP of the all star game this year, then a month later was suspended for the rest of the regular season when he tested positive for HGH.

I said that while he was the best player by far on a pretty much unwatchable Staten Island Yankees squad in 2003, we were all pretty surprised that he’d made it to the majors in a very quick two and a half years.

“Did you know he was juicing? Were you surprised?”

Those are actually very different questions, I said. I didn’t know he was taking HGH, that’s for sure. Yet, when he first made the Show as quickly as he did, then became a star (and seemingly quite a bit bigger, physically), it didn’t completely shock me that he had taken a shortcut.

The past couple of weeks has seen the uncovering of what seems to be an epidemic of literary “sock puppetting” and pay-per-review scandals, where authors are found to have created false identities on (mostly) Amazon in order to write glowing reviews of their own books to improve their rankings; or paid writers for hire to write raves for them (often without having read the book). John Locke, who’s sold more than a million books independently, was found to have paid for hundreds of reviews. While there was a certain amount of tsking and general outrage, it was nothing compared to this weekend. Then it came out that RJ Ellory, best-selling traditionally-published crime fiction writer and winner of best-book of the year in 2010 in the UK, not only created sock puppet IDs on Amazon to pump himself up, but also to slam and one-star books by many authors competing with him.

There was an avalanche of rebuke, and Ellory apologized for his “poor judgment.”It seems clear, however, that he’s just among the first to get caught, but certainly won’t be the last. It places into doubt the validity of reader reviews on Amazon etc, however, and it certainly feels like their records ought to have an asterisk next to them—kind of like Barry Bonds’s home run mark or Melky Cabrera’s all star game MVP award.

I think that much of the review-manipulation story relates pretty nicely to the Melky Cabrera juicing scandal—talented participants in a highly competitive field use dishonest methods to get ahead of their counterparts. But where the comparison breaks down, and where a lot of the outrage over Ellory in particular comes in, is in the fact that he used his false identities not just to build himself up, but very specifically to break his opponents down. So often when people talk about steroid users they say “well, he was dishonest, and what he did was dangerous—but only to himself. He’s not harming anyone else in the process.” (I know, that’s not really true, but the argument deals with future direct medical consequences of injecting yourself with hormones or rubbing on the Cream and the Clear.)

Ellroy, on the other hand, both raised himself up and brought down, say, Mark Billingham, and that goes over the line. I’m not saying he would have been excused. But the community would not have been so thoroughly angry with him for it had he “only” self-promoted. The author Keith Raffel posted the following on Facebook today, and I think it speaks for so many of us:

“I’m reluctant to pile on, but have you been following the scandal of authors anonymously praising their own books in reviews on Amazon, while savaging books by their colleagues? I can at least understand the impulse behind the former, but the latter seems particularly reprehensible. Sigh.”

Post script to the coda: I was just reading this to my wife, who said “Why are you being so even-handed? I just got back from my first day of school and all we heard about in the faculty meeting was how rigorous ethics must be. Why are you being so understanding of the people who do this, even when they are “merely” self-promoting. It messes it up for everyone and makes people who are working their butts off to make it think that the only way they can succeed is by cheating. It was true in baseball and it’s true here, and it’s true in high school. It’s just not OK.” 

Jul 162012
 

Jeff Cohen

Under the "it's hot out" umbrella:

Believe it or not, I found a copy of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel I was discussing last week, on eBay of all places. It's called 19759028_1"The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur," and while my memory of the writing wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped, I can now quote the passages I was citing in the last post:

Page 31: (Taking place not in a cab but in a tobacco shop) "Hot," Waverly said grumpily. "Beastly hot, this town."

"Awfully hot, sir,This isn't our best season of the year in Washington, is it?"

"July--definitely not. Quite an inferno out there."

So not quite as long an exchange as I'd thought, but wait! Two pages later, Waverly DOES get into a cab, and the following action-packed exchange takes place:

"Hot," the cab driver said.

"Yes," Alexander_waverly-charWaverly said.

"July in Washington--but the hottest," the cab driver said.

"Hot," Waverly said, puffing contentedly.

(Do you get the feeling it was a little warm when the guy was writing this?)

I paid $8 including shipping. That's the kind of sacrifice I'll make for you, dear reader.

But that's not why I asked you here today:

A few days ago, the MLB Network (home for those of us who are obsessed with what once was our National Pastime, leading me to wonder if, say, Indonesia has a National Pastime?) aired a special in which CostelloBob Costas spent a half hour interviewing Jerry Seinfeld specifically on the Abbott & Costello classic "Who's On First?". If you haven't seen the special, I recommend it. Costas really isn't the guy for this interview, but he's the closest MLB has. But Seinfeld is EXACTLY the guy to talk to about this. He's a comedian who really studies the craft and can talk about it for hours.

It's rare that I feel a rush of ego--life is good at reminding you that you're not that big a deal--but every once in a while when I see really intelligent comedians discussing the craft, I think, "I could hang with those guys. I can speak that language. I understand funny, and how it works." All of which might be true, but there's one big difference that bursts my ego balloon before it really gets a chance to inflate.

There ain't no way I could ever do stand-up comedy.

Keep in mind, I write funny on purpose. I see how it works when someone truly gifted has an audience in the palm of his/her hand. I get the rhythm, and I know comedy is closer to music than literature. I even have a good deal of experience speaking in front of "crowds". I have no terror of public speaking.

But I couldn't begin to write myself more than twelve seconds of material, let alone the hour or more the really big comedians have to create on a regular basis. Build a joke and then build it more and then hope that after you build it even more than that, not only will you not forget what you have to say, but that you'll say it the right way, and the audience will be in the right mood to get it (and that no dishes will be dropped during a punchline or a heckler drowning out the necessary set-up)? Um... thanks, but no. I'll be here in the audience, trying to think of something to write in a book. 

I don't think there's a job as hard as being consistently funny armed with nothing but your mind and a microphone (sometimes just your mind). I really don't. President of the United States? Look at some of the dolts who've held that position, and you have to conclude that the world might be worse off for them, but it's still spinning. Nuclear physicist? Yeah, that's tough, but you know what? Those people are really well educated in their craft. A comedian has to be self-taught. How many genius comics can you name who came out of the odd Learning Annex course on stand-up?

Geniuses of comedy like Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams and the current rage Louis C.K. take the gifts they're given genetically and they figure out what to do with them. And do it better than everybody else. 

I was talking recently to a friend I had not seen in quite some time, and one of the things she said was, "You should do stand-up! You're funny, and you know how to talk in front of an audience." And I hope I'm not being obnoxious in saying that's not the first time it's been said to me.

Like the other times, I shook the suggestion off, perhaps more vehemently than was expected. "I'm not nearly brave enough," I said, which is true. Because I'm sure I couldn't do it well.

So I'll stand in the back, appreciate the art and the craft, and I'll write my books. And maybe some day I'll be in a room with one or more of those great comic minds, and we'll have a good talk about how it all works. 

That's really the most I could ever hope for, and I'm fine with that.

 

By the way, today is "Buy Books For Steve" day, trying to help an author without health insurance pay for his bone marrow transplant. Please take a look here and buy something if you can, or just donate.

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