I'm a comedian and I write things. Some of those things appear here. I hope you like them.
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.
00:21 - Pope arrives, greets gathered press w/ “Shalom aleichem.” Asks for everyone to be seated.
00:52 – Pope thanks everyone for coming. Makes announcement about a MacBook Pro laptop lost in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (“If anyone has seen it, please return to Cardinal Marcus. He’d make this announcement himself, but he’s taken that vow of silence, so it’s a no go.”)
01:21 – 02:25 – Pope does a little riff about giving up chocolate for lent to much laughter and applause.
03:42 – Pope says he has major announcement. Says there has been a lot of speculation about the cause of the press conference.
04:01 – “I know some of you here think maybe I’m holding this press conference to announce that I’m releasing another ‘Pope Loafer’ with Nike, but we’re proud of the line and we don’t want to over-do it.”
05:33 – Pope says he’s ready to make announcement.
05:41 – “I’m here to announce—and guys, I want everyone to be calm about this—that, at the age of 86, I’m retiring from the Papacy.”
05:58 – Nuns in front row fainting, press conference halted.
06:22 – Pope will retire in a few weeks. Says he will no longer be known as Benedict XVI anymore but Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (“’Joey the Ratz’ to my boys in the Swiss Guard”).
06:54 – Pope makes his first “Poping ain’t easy” joke of the press conference.
07:35 – “I’m an old dude, I’m an octogenarian. I can’t keep going with a full schedule. I’m not Larry King.”
08:11 – Pope says he has “nothing left to prove,” that he “gave 100 percent every day,” and that he just “doesn’t have love for the game anymore.”
08:42 – Thanks “confidantes” like “the Dalai Lama” and “Charles Barkley” for their support and advice.
09:00 – “I haven’t totally ruled out a return to the game. You know, never say never, right?”
09:21 – Pope says he’s not leaving over contract renegotiations with the church.
09:42 - “There’s no conspiracy here. Don’t give me any of that Dan Brown b***s**t.”
10:03 – Reporter who makes crack about the Pope retiring to “spend time with other peoples’ kids” booted from press conference.”
12:36 – Pope, responding to a question of “What’s next for you?” says that he really wants to focus on his music, and “various other entrepreneurialship (sic) endeavors.”
13:23 – Pope says he doesn’t know who the next Pope will be, but that he’s wishing everyone luck from the sidelines.
16:44 - “Five years down the line, if the urge comes back, if the Church will have me, if Jesus wants me to come back, I may come back.”
18:00 – Says he’ll miss the fans. (“I won’t miss the paparazzi, that’s for damn sure.”)
21:32 – Questions dying down. Pope gazes out over the now-silent room, says “If that’s all…” A few cameras click resignedly and il padrino takes a sip of water. Looks at his carlemango. In the corner, soft weeping from a few shocked clergymen. The Pope sighs. “Look, guys. I know this is difficult. It’s been a long time since someone did this, but I just think it’s better for the game if I walk away now. You’ve been fantastic, and I’ll miss you all. Thanks for everything.” He steps back from the podium and exits through the back door, trailed by his entourage.
22:01 – Rick Hahn, General Manager for the Chicago White Sox, takes the microphone, announces the Pope has signed a “two-year minor-league contract” with the team and that they’re “looking forward” to having the Pope report to Spring Training next week.
Washington, District of Columbia. Cold rain in DC, tears from Founders above. ‘America’ has run its course. Bill of Rights evolving and dissolving.
Boston, Massachusetts. Hail in MA, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton playing ping-pong, disapproving of Taxachusetts’ Senate appointments. ‘America’ has eaten a pizza. Bill of Rights created by God.
Tampa, Florida. Hot, possibly light drizzle in FL. Body heat of William Howard Taft shifting in that bathtub he’s stuck in. ‘America’ has gone for light jog in the heat before giving up and taking a taxi home. Bill of Rights going through photosynthesis.
Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota. Low visibility in SD. George Washington would not want to see the rest of this country. ‘America’ has bought an umbrella. Bill of Rights lost on the way here.
New York City, New York. It’s Always Bad Weather Because of The Gay Sex.
Chicago, Illinois. High winds in Corrupt Democrat Stronghold. Reagan breathing hard (needs a tic-tac). This is where welfare fraud happens. ‘America’ has to wait on line at the DMV. Ugh. Bill of Rights stabbed on South Side.
Houston, Texas. Sun in TEXAS because Founding Fathers smile on the only people who have it right. ‘America’ forgot to take his meds today. Bill of Rights urged by Doctor to take said medication or, “this kind of thing can happen, Matt.”
Des Moines, Iowa. Bitterly cold in the heartland. The icy glare of Truman. ‘America’ shivers. Bill of Rights wonders: where is Obama now?
Newtown, Connecticut. Cloudy with temperatures steady near the mid 30s. Winds light and variable. Nothing worth discussing or out of the ordinary.
Barbara Walters: You’re a little overweight.
Chris Christie: More than a little.
Barbara Walters: Why?
Chris Christie: If I could figure that out, I’d fix it.
Barbara Walters: There are people that say you’re too overweight to be president.
- Barbara Walters’ “Most Fascinating People of 2012,” Special, 12/11/2012
Barbara Walters: There are people saying you’re the size of a small house.
Chris Christie: That’s insane.
Barbara Walters: Well, it’s what people are saying. If your body was a residence, how many bedrooms would it have?
Chris Christie: Um, well, I think the quest— I guess it would be a studio?
Barbara Walters: It wouldn’t be a studio.
Barbara Walters: Is Chris Christie your real name?
Chris Christie: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Are you sure? Some people think it might be possible that originally you were just one Chris but when you ballooned to twice your normal size a second Chris was added.
Chris Christie: No. It’s my name.
Barbara Walters: Or maybe you won the extra Chris after some sort of eating competition.
Chris Christie: Can we please talk about my state?
Barbara Walters: Which one is that again?
Chris Christie: New Jersey. I’m the Governor.
Barbara Walters: Were you elected, or do you rule by fear?
Chris Christie: I was elected. New Jersey is a state in crisis, and I’m asking any of those watching to send relief to the state. Anything helps. Clothes, canned food—
Barbara Walters: You’re asking people to send you food? Do you really need more food?
Chris Christie: Oh, for the love of God.
Barbara Walters: Let’s talk presidency.
Chris Christie: Please. Let’s do that.
Barbara Walters: If you were to compare yourself to a president, would you compare yourself to (A.) William Howard Taft, (B.) William Howard Taft, or (C.) William Howard Taft…
Chris Christie: I wouldn’t com—
Barbara Walters: I’m not finished. Or, (D.) all of the above.
Chris Christie: … Well, Hurricane Sandy hit us hard and there was a tremendous amount of flooding in Trenton –
Barbara Walters: Do you float?
Chris Christie: No. I don’t.
Barbara Walters: Just checking. People think from looking at you that you might.
Chris Christie: When you say “people” do you really just mean yourself?
Barbara Walters: I count as people.
Barbara Walters: I hear you’re a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I was wonder—
Chris Christie: Before you say anything more, I just want to let you know that if you make a crack about how my favorite song of his clearly isn’t “Born to Run,” I’m going to crush your head like a soup nut.
Barbara Walters: …
Barbara Walters: How can you live with yourself?
Chris Christie: Look lady, I’m the Governor of one of the most essential, unique and fascinating states in the country. That state is in trouble, and, right now, I have to get Jersey back on its feet. I’m doing the best job I can, I don’t appreciate your asshole questions, and my weight, while a major concern for me personally, isn’t the most important thing right now.
Barbara Walters: Some people disagree.
Chris Christie: Fuck you.