A Shakespearian Cockblock

June 13th, 2013

I’m reading King Richard III, and I had to laugh at this footnote in the intro to the New Cambridge Shakespeare.

“Probably the most famous story about Burbage [one of Shakespeare’s lead actors] also concerns “King Richard III.” On 13 March 1602, John Manningham wrote in his “Diary”: ‘Upon a tyme when Burbridge played Rich. 3 there was a citizen greue soe farr in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night unto hir by the name of Ri: the 3. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was intertained, and at his game ere Burbridge came. Then message being brought that Rich the 3.d was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conqueror was before Rich. the 3.’”

Review: J.D. Smith, “Notes of a Tourist on Planet Earth”

June 12th, 2013


J.D. Smith has a broad sense of humor. His new humor collection, “Notes of a Tourist on Planet Earth,” has something to draw a laugh out of any reader…and maybe something to bug their eyes out with a welcome bit of surprise as well.

The formats are diverse—poems, lists, short stories, even a bingo grid—but it’s all carefully constructed with a clever Hodgman/McSweeney’s vibe. That’s true whether he’s listing “Scat Masterson” as one of the “Least-Feared Gunfighters in the Old West” or doing a Scorcese/Shakespeare mash-up in “Goodsonnet,” which opens with the immortal line, “Would you compare me to some kind of clown?”

The poems and longer-form humor are subtler, taking time to offer a sly twist on the familiar. I really enjoyed following J.D. through his paces; at the same time, the lists offer more quick-hit humor. (There are also two stories exploring sexual themes that may not be for every reader, although the endings offer satisfying payoffs.)

Full disclosure: I first read J.D. work when he published The Great Tuvalu Liquidation Sale, My Fetishist Things and As a Matter of Fact, I Am the Person You Have to Blow to Get a Table Around Here in FLYMF, a humor magazine I used to edit. Those stories are collected here with plenty of great company. Recommended if you’re looking for a laugh.

Book Review: Wizzywig by Ed Piskor

June 5th, 2013


Wizzywig: Potrait of a Serial Hacker is compelling comics fiction from Ed Piskor, who tells the story of a hacker who moves from the early thrill of discovery to serious trouble with the law. Kevin Phenicle is a nerdy, picked-on kid who likes figuring out–and exploiting–systems, whether it’s buying the right punch to make his own bus-transfer passes or whistling the perfect tones for free long-distance calls.

His grandma gets him an early computer for his birthday one year, and he’s soon exploring BBSs and making money pirating games. Eventually he’s breaking into Ma Bell headquarters, inadvertently distributing massive worms and turning to life on the lam and eventually in prison.

Kevin’s an interesting character. He’s mistreated, sure, but he’s a schemer too, unafraid of boundaries he doesn’t respect, which is most of them. He’s not above working on the margins of the law, especially when he’s on the run, but he never seems eager to steal or hurt anyone who hasn’t hurt him first.

Piskor covers a lot of ground here, from teenage hijinks to the desperation of staying one step ahead of the feds and finally a brutal life in prison. He does it skillfully, with a cartoon-realism style. (He started by doing work with Harvey Pekar.) He likes big hair and weird faces and makes good use of single-shot “talking heads” to open chapters and offer commentary on the story.

Ultimately, the book suffers from a lack of subtlety. It’s openly on Kevin’s side, but it would benefit from giving more serious consideration to the people who are alarmed and afraid of what he’s doing. The media coverage is embodied in a cartoonishly monstrous buffoon of a local news anchor, and those scenes are the weakest in the book. You understand the author’s point with the character, but he could make it better with less, not more.

But Wizzywig is an imaginative exploration of a culture that pushed boundaries and broke the law. It also highlights the official overreaction to its existence, leading us to wonder what a just punishment, if any, would be for Kevin’s exploits.

Humor Collection from J.D. Smith

March 28th, 2013

Here’s a book I’m very much looking forward to reading–FLYMF alum J.D. Smith has published a humor compilation, “Notes of a Tourist on Planet Earth.” As his “alum” status attests, J.D. is a very funny writer…and a few of these stories may have even been published in FLYMF! I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

J.D.’s stories for FLYMF included The Great Tuvalu Liquidation SaleMy Fetishist Things and As a Matter of Fact, I Am the Person You Have to Blow to Get a Table Around Here. You can follow all of J.D.’s updates on his blog, Smitroverse.

A Shameful Saga

March 26th, 2013

A Jill Lepore article in the New Yorker reminds us that U.S. adoption of torture in the aftermath of September 11 was a reversion to a grim historical mean—and an ineffective one at that. It’s a message that needs to replicate and replicate until it’s once again part of our cultural DNA.

Made Me Laugh: Marv Albert Is My Therapist

March 25th, 2013

A simple concept executed with variety and commitment makes for great humor. Jesse Eisenberg (the actor?) had a fun little dialogue in the New Yorker recently that uses a Marv Albert catchphrase to respond to every bit of anguish coming from a therapist’s couch.

The Final Indignity of Richard III

March 10th, 2013

Every comedian took a poke at the subject matter, but Ian Frazier’s reimagining of the death of King Richard III as some medieval dispute over a parking spot was fun.

J.D. Smith in the Cresset

March 1st, 2013

FLYMF Alum J.D. Smith has a nice poem, “Answering Midas,” in the Cresset. It’s a satisfying riff on a earlier poem by Zbigniew Herbert.

J.D.’s stories for FLYMF included The Great Tuvalu Liquidation SaleMy Fetishist Things and As a Matter of Fact, I Am the Person You Have to Blow to Get a Table Around Here. You can follow all of J.D.’s updates on his blog, Smitroverse.

Ed Gavagan from the Gutter

February 21st, 2013

I’ve really been enjoying Paragraph Shorts lately. It’s an iPad app that packages existing free stories on the web, giving you a sampler of favorites from publications like the New Yorker, Paris Review, etc. They also have a selection of video essays, mostly from The Moth series. I haven’t enjoyed those as much, but I was just wowed by one from Ed Gavagan (an ND grad!), who tells the story of having it all fall apart in New York City, then slowly watching it all come together again. Great stuff.

Ralph Gamelli on Splitsider.com

February 19th, 2013

FLYMF Alum Ralph Gamelli gives us “The Retired Man’s Guide to Snow Removal” on Splitsider.com!

Ralph’s story, Rocky Balboa Launches Into Inspirational Speeches Too Frequently, was published in FLYMF’s Greatest Hits. He also contributed How Long Before I Use My Ejector Seat? and Twilight Zone Episodes For the Internet Age.