I'm a comedian and I write things. Some of those things appear here. I hope you like them.
If you could write a letter to yourself at ten years old, what would you say?
- Northwestern University College Application, 2009
Dear 10-year old me,
Things are going great. And I’d say this letter is a big part of it. 9/11 didn’t happen, because I told you about it here. Also, the Red Sox win the World Series! I know. It’s incredible, and the feeling that you get when they beat the Yankees will be, surely, one of the most incredible moments of our life. But I’ll get to that.
No. It’s my favorite color. Especially like a lighter shade. Know what I mean? Sort of like a mauve.
In 2003, he mugged me outside a Whole Foods. He held me at guitar-point for almost 10 minutes before taking my wallet.
Abercrombie & Fitch Interoffice Memo: 6/3/2013
From: Mike Jeffries, CEO
Subject: Changes in Office Policy
‘Sup, you sons of Fitches?
As you bros and chicks have probably figured out, it’s been a tough week here at the old A&F. Stock prices taking a dive, dudes getting axed, and fatties all over the nation boycotting our stores. It’s been rocky.
I’m just sending this memo out because I want to announce a few changes in policy.
Apparently, we’ve been running the office wrong, and some fine-ass lawyer chick in a black suit yelled at me about it. It was actually totally hot. She said a couple of things have to change, so I’ll go through ‘em.
I. Sexual Harassment Policy
It’s no longer mandatory to sexually harass your co-workers.
In fact, I’m told by Fine-Ass Lawyer Chick that we’re actually supposed to discourage sexual harassment, and that she’s totally serious and I’m not even allowed to put a winky-face here to let you know I’m kidding.
I’m also supposed to provide an example so ya’ll know what’s changed.
If you see a foxy half-Asian lady in the hall, you can’t say:
“Hey foxy half-Asian, I’m Mike and I’m ‘Crombie’s head dawg. Wanna bone?” Instead, you have to say “Good morning,” or some such shit.
Also, we can’t call “Slutty Kelly” by the name “Slutty Kelly” anymore. I have no idea what we’re going to call her now, but whatever.
II. Dress Code
· Chicks: You’re all now allowed to wear shirts and you no longer have to toss your head backwards and smile before addressing men in the office. No more string bikinis on Casual Fridays.
· Duders: The chicks have been allowed to wear shirts, but you guys now HAVE to wear them. Even on Casual Fridays. I know. I fought as hard as I could, but apparently, some ladies in this office got all Abercrombie and Bitch so we all have to suffer.
The following t-shirts will be phased out.
IV. Employment Policy
The company is now an equal-opportunity employer, which means we’re lifting our “Bros Before Hos” policy. Also, we’re not allowed to call ho’s “ho’s.” Even Slutty Kelly.
V. Staff Memos
Lastly, this memo is printed on something called “paper.” Up until this point, all the company memos had been written in whipped cream on the back of a seventeen year-old quarterback, but apparently, that has to stop too. I guess tradition means nothing around here.
I know that all this shifting of our office culture is tough to handle, but we really have no other choice than to take these measures. Average Americans have spoken, and they’ve made it pretty clear they can’t handle the heat, so we have to turn it down.
The times are changing, and so will Abercrombie and Fitch.
Mike Jeffries, Top Fucking Dawg
Wait, wait. Nick? Nick. Hey. I know we’re all impatient to get going, but before we pair up and start beating the hell out of each other as per usual, I was hoping it would be OK if I took a few quick seconds to make a few brief comments and offer some feedback.
Let me preface all this by saying that I like coming to the Fight Club a whole heckuva lot. I work weird hours—I’m a freelance copywriter-slash-social-media expert and a whole bunch of my clients are in different time zones—so I really appreciate the club’s 3 A.M. start time and that I’ve gotten the chance to meet new people. I’ve found myself, as I’m sure many of you have, really burning substantial calories in a way that’s both active and fun. I can’t recall getting a workout this intense since they stopped putting out those TaeBo tapes.
Given all that, it obviously pains me big-time to take up a few minutes right now to offer anything but the most glowing of comments, especially as we all appear to be eager to commence punching each other in the face. But, if I’m being honest, Nick, there really isn’t a forum for us guys to give suggestions to you and that Tyler fella you always talk about, so I just feel compelled—by the way, we should create such a forum, you can file that as my first suggestion—I just feel compelled to share some constructive criticism before we pair off and start whacking at kidneys and cheekbones.
Guys, this is my first Tumblr post where I’m actually speaking directly to you, the people. Hello, people.
I’m doing that because I’m answering some questions about David Foster Wallace.
Someone named James Cardis, a very nice guy, heard from Jackie Kashian’s twitter feed that I was doing an episode of her Podcast, The Dork Forest (where comedians talk for an hour about their more nerdy obsessions), on the subject of DFW, who is my favorite writer and apparently his. He had some questions, which he sent to Jackie, and even though a few are addressed on the Podcast, which you can listen to here, I wanted to provide answers as well thought-out and complete as the questions he took the time to ask.
How long did it take him/her to read Infinite Jest? This is one of the questions that always comes up around the book, in large part - I think - due to the fact that Dave Eggers included his own timeline (four weeks) in a foreword to the paperback edition
This was my second attempt to summit Infinite Jest. It’s a real bear of a book, and I started on it in December of 2011, but stalled out about two months later about ten percent of the way through and put it away. When my friend Gary Gulman, himself a great comedian and voracious reader, decided to start in – he was prompted to do so by one of his West Coast opening acts, not my countless entreaties to read DFW – I figured I had to pick it back up. After that, it took me about three months.
BTW, three months is a long time for me. The longest. I’m not a slow reader. Usually, I can put away brick-like novels like Snickers bars, but Infinite Jest is a dense book. It didn’t help that I read it with a dictionary in the other hand, stopping EVERY TIME I saw a word I wasn’t sure I knew. Sometimes it was a delightful experience. Othertimes, it was excruciating.
Upon completing Infinite Jest, did your guest go right back to the beginning again?
I did. I started over. And I got bogged down in the same Boston prostitute stream-of-consciousness chapter that sank me on my first go. I highlighted sections that I loved every time I came across them and annotated heavily, and I’m now in the process of checking those annotations and calling friends on the phone to badger them with lengthy quotes from those sections.
I’m really not sure how to proceed next. Ian Hogarth, a music entrepreneur from the UK, recommended that I start “The Pale King.” I went out and bought it that afternoon. I’m staring at it right now, but too terrified to start it.
Is Infinite Jest itself an “Entertainment?”
In the sense that I.J. is a book that evokes a reaction in every sentence, it’s definitely an “entertainment.” Some quick-moving parts of I.J. are as energetic as anything I’ve ever read, and there were countless moments where I found myself laughing out loud on the 6 train, in Central Park, or alone in my apartment. Sometimes the reaction he evokes is obviously “foot-tapping annoyance,” but most of the time it’s a delightful sort of horror that’s super-unique. It’s a kind of horror that’s scary but hilarious, real but cartoonish.
What is his favorite entry from the James O. Incandenza filmography?
Hard question. I like the one detailed near the end of the novel, where a bureaucrat desperately trying to make his train comes barreling down a set of stairs onto the platform and smashes into a young person, knocking him over and causing him to drop his stuff. The bureaucrat has been told that if he’s late to work again, he’ll lose his job, and in the film he has to make a split-second decision—get on the train and save his job v. miss the train, help the boy, and face the consequences. In a book that, at times, seemed pretty cold-eyed/cynical, the choice the guy made made me smile.
If I could have lunch with only one person, living or dead, I’m pretty sure it’d be DFW, living (although I’d have to think about “Rush Limbaugh, dead” as well), and I’d really like to ask him why he made some of the decisions he did in I.J.
What is his opinion on Jon Krasinski’s adaptation of “Brief Interviews” and would/could/should anyone (successfully, meaning awesomely) adapt any of DFW’s other work?
Haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s not bad, but probably not terrific. I don’t know if DFW’s stuff is adaptable, because I think a big part of his uniqueness lay in his ability to read a tremendous amount into ordinary rituals, and I don’t know how an adaptor could convey that in a more visual medium.
Although, there’s a not-bad Decemberists music video that depicts Eschaton, the invented tennis mini-game that takes place in I.J. It’s directed by the tremendously talented Michael Schur from Parks and Recreation. Perhaps he wants to take a crack at one of DFW’s pieces. I’d buy a ticket.
What did he think of the Pale King? There are passages that will stick with me longer than probably anything else he’s written, but I’m not sure if that’s due to the fact that it’s his last or if it’s Just That Good.
As I said, I haven’t read it, but when it was published after DFW’s death, I remember walking around Brooklyn Book Festival and asking various sellers if they had any signed copies. Which isn’t funny. Sorry.
(I’d say about 75% said “they’d check,” which is an appalling percentage.)
Has being a DFW fan changed his views on or attitudes toward mental illness at all? Thoughts on “The Depressed Person” or other stories in re: DFW’s personal battles or, perhaps, their own?
It has changed my views, but perhaps because I’ve done that thing that you’re not supposed to do and read a tremendous amount into DFW’s writing about suicide as it relates to his own. All of the friends I confide this to, Gulman included, are correct in telling me that it’s not entirely fair to do that. But I found I.J. to be a brilliant, but tremendously troubled novel from a brilliant, but tremendously troubled man, so how am I to separate the two?
I don’t suspect that I myself am depressed or suicidal, but I think, probably twice a week for about fifteen minutes, about what it must be like to be stuck in this whirlpool/dark cloud of despair that you can’t write your way out of, no matter how acclaimed or intelligent you are. It makes me sad and hopefully a little more empathetic.
The thing that puzzles me the most is that, if you had asked, “what’s the number one thing you’ve taken away from DFW’s writing?” I would’ve answered “the idea that life is a gift. That art, when you approach it the right way is a gift, and that the most important thing is to use that gift in the right way.” So I don’t understand how someone with those gifts, and the ability to use them, and the knowledge of how precious and vital those gifts were could kill himself.
How has being a DFW fan influenced his comedy (assuming he/she is a standup)? I’m a lapsed open mic’er and I find that when I write long-form (e.g. an overly wordy email, like this), I tend only to amuse myself, but I wonder if there are any practical lessons he’s gleaned from having read DFW.
Great question. I don’t know. Yes. No.
I talked about this on the Podcast, I actually talked too much about it. But the short answer is ‘yes. It’s changed my worldview. So I guess as soon as I get around to writing that entirely new act I’ve always wanted to write, I’ll have been totally transformed and be like him exactly.’ I’m half-kidding obviously.
I don’t know. Stand-up is such a beautiful and complicated amalgamation of so many qualities and artistic practices. There’s writing (DFW has always been a major influence). Performance (IDK where he fits in). Presence. But it has so much to do with an attitude of self-awareness, which is what really sets DFW apart from other writers in so many ways. It’s what makes his very-constructed stories and novels seem so natural, because that self-awareness is so identifiable.
So I guess, what I’m trying to say is, it’s made me self-aware of many more things. That’s helped a lot with stand-up, I think. It’s also let me know that sometimes people write for too long in pursuit of that self-awareness. So I’ll end this here.
Thanks for the lovely questions, James.