Have you ever sat at a bar, and overheard a breakup story that was so intimate you knew you shouldn’t listen, but so compelling you couldn’t turn away? Imagine that conversation turned into an entire book. Every story in this book tells of heartbreak, some old, some new, and some even involving pets and daughters. Some stories, like “I Am A Gay Man” by Dan Savage, made me laugh out loud, and “Don’t Come On Your Cat” by Neil Pollock has made me cry both times I’ve read it (and yes, it was so good I had to read it twice). “Don’t Leave Too Much Room for the Holy Spirit” by Tom McCarthy relives a moment from church camp and brought me back to my own thoughts and memories of my 8th grade crush as he tells of the the whole day where he and his first love were together, and the disastrous results that tore their young love asunder. Other stories, such as “Things More Majestic and Terrible Than You Could Ever Imagine” by Todd Hansen truly are lessons, which will make you appreciate all the failed relationships that you’ve had that have help mold you into the person you are today. My heart broke along with the author’s in many of the stories, and I know I’ll be reading this book again.
And I would also highly, and seriously recommend the audiobook as well, because if you think that Stephen’s chapter is funny in print, you haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard the audio version. Plus there’s a bit from John Oliver in the intro that is quite amusing. You can really hear the angst come to life as the authors reread their moments of pain and learning throughout the book. I loved Larry Wilmore’s chapter in the audiobook, as you can hear in his voice the roller coaster he went through during his daughter’s first year.
So without further ado, here is the No Fact Zone interview with Ben Karlin!
(Disclaimer: Please be aware that the language with this interview is not as family-friendly as we normally have for this blog. But I’d rather present his interview with Ben’s intended verbiage, unedited.)
Describe some of the influences that helped you to form your highly developed sense of humor as a child. Who were your favorite comedians?
I watched the same crappy television that everyone watched growing up in the 1980s. That meant Dukes of Hazard and Dallas on Fridays, Love Boat and Fantasy Island on Saturdays, and the Six Million Dollar Fucking Man on Sundays. So, it wasn’t what I was watching that gave me my sense of humor – all due respect to Bernie Koppel. As for comedians, I was partial to Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright and Sam Kinison but as a casual fan, not someone who listened to it and plotted how I was going to do that too. I was a very general consumer of popular culture with little by way of interests or enthusiasms that would in any way suggest the pure greatness to come. (Though now that I think of it, I may have been arrogant with a deeply inflated sense of self.)
Who had the biggest influence on you?
In no particular order:
- David Letterman – because it took me a while to understand that comedy could be many things and I first understood that by watching him
- Woody Allen – because he made me realize that no matter how Jewy I am, I will never be THAT Jewy.
- Early SNL Cast – more than anything it made me look forward to watching comedy on television
What inspired you to move from traditional journalism to working with The Onion while you were at UW – Madison?
I think just growing up and refining my tastes. I was never committed to the idea of being a journalist – it was just what I did because there was opportunity and I always loved to write. But from my first day in Madison I looked at The Onion as this magical thing. First, I was in awe of how funny it was. Then, as something I wanted to be a part of and help make even better. Once I developed the competence as a writer and the common sense on how to approach them and submit material, that’s what I did. It took me until my senior year to do that, so, it was basically then or never.
What was your favorite story/headline that you ever wrote for The Onion?
Christ Returns to the NBA
It was right after Michael Jordan came back after trying to play baseball and the media hype surrounding his return was insane. My favorite thing about this story is that the article itself was actually funny and surprising, too. It wasn’t just about the headline. Like, I remember we decided that when Christ was a college basketball player, he was 2nd or 3rd team All-American and only averaged 14 points a game. I think we really relished the idea of the Son of God being just a very good, not great basketball player. As if his omnipotence somehow ended at the edges of a basketball court.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor from the Babcock Hall Dairy Store?
They have a flavor that is made out of pure rBGH. It tastes like a combination of butter pecan and compromised values. It’s highly seasonal.
I’d love to hear more about your start with The Daily Show. How does someone nail such an amazing writing gig?
I was in LA (short for Los Angeles) working with a bunch of guys from The Onion. Jon had just taken over the show and was looking to bring in a new head writer. He liked The Onion and heard that there was a group of us out in LA. Basically, my agent told me about the job – which is very unromantic but kind of how the business is supposed to work. I was a huge fan of Jon’s, but not really of the show. I decided that I would fly to New York and meet with him and the executive producer and see what would happen.
What was that interview like?
It was a little secretive, since the head writer at the time did not know Jon was looking to replace him. So we met at a shitty Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. It was myself, Jon, Madeleine Smithberg (the EP at the time) and the president of Comedy Central. I had the stuffed artichoke, which in retrospect was a mistake because there is no elegant way to eat one of those. We all got along fine and afterwards Jon and I went out for a beer. We had one of those general comedy philosophy kind of conversations and the whole evening felt a little like a first date. I desperately wanted him to like me – not so much because I wanted the job, but because I really was a huge fan of his. I flew back to LA not knowing if they wanted to hire me, but suspecting that he may have gotten me pregnant. They offered me the job a few days later. The rest of the details I am saving for celebrity hatchet man Andrew Morton.
Your departure as full-time Executive Producer for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report happened over a year ago. What have you been doing to fill the time since then, other than your new book?
I spend a lot of time – some might say an unhealthy amount – plotting elaborate acts of revenge against those who have done me wrong. Sometimes it is psychological, some times physical. The best ones combine the two in a manner Torquemada would blush at. I also made a deal with HBO to start a production company called Superego Industries. We sold a bunch of ideas then the writer’s strike happened, so it’s really more the revenge thing than anything else right now.
Do you still do consulting with the shows?
No. For a little bit after I was going into The Colbert Report offices and helping out, but by the time summer rolled around I was pretty much done. The thing about that show – and The Daily Show – is that it is very hard to be a part-time player in a meaningful way. So much happens every day, that to just come in on occasion, you just miss too much. It’s not like being a parent, where you can hang out for a couple hours then disappear for a month and not really miss anything. I’ve said too much.
Your book is titled Things I’ve Learned from Women Who’ve Dumped Me. Is this an ode to one particular woman, or are there multiple women out there who damaged you enough to write a book about it?
I’d like to think that most of the damage I have incurred in my life has been of the self-inflicted variety. The story I wrote for the book, however, was about one particular relationship I had some time ago. I knew that I couldn’t legitimately write a whole book about that one relationship – or even my own personal experiences with being dumped. I mean, I could, but I would have to make a lot of stuff up and that’s not the kind of book I wanted to do on this subject. I think it being real is part of what makes it relatable. Also, the fact that I list names, addresses and phone numbers of all the women who ever hurt me. That makes it real too.
Was there a personal dumping experience that, while memorable, was not appropriate for the book that you would you like to share?
Are you suggesting that I held back? That I have another story…that perhaps there was another person in the car with Di and Dodi that fateful night, one who slipped away before the authorities showed up, taking with him a secret that would change the way we forever think about the People’s Princess? No.
Which is your favorite chapter in the book, and why?
I am legally required to say they are all my favorite chapters. Though I think Dan Vebber’s essay, “Sex is the Most Stressful Thing in the History of the Universe” is my favorite favorite.
How did you recruit so many popular (and funny) comedians to contribute to your book?
Most of them I either:
1. work with
2. have worked with
3. know personally
4. or know people who know them personally
That’s like 90% of the book. The others came recommended from someone like that. I tried to do very little cold soliciting because your odds kind of suck at getting someone good to do something when there is no personal connection. If all else failed, and I really wanted someone, I was not afraid to use blackmail. I am in possession of information that could destroy most of the careers of the people in my book – with the possible exception of Andy Richter. That guy is pure Teflon.
What was that pitch like?
Mostly I said, “I’m doing a book, do you want to do something for it?” (That’s what we call an “unpolished” pitch in the business.) To some people, I had a letter or email that I sent out that basically explained the book. Again, if I was at the point where I had to pitch it to strangers, or worse, their representatives, it’s pretty much a lost cause.
Were there any women who wanted to share their stories when they heard about this book?
Well, I really wanted a funny lesbian but I only knew of a couple and they said no. There was one woman who I thought was a lesbian, so I asked her, but it turns out her lesbianism was just a fantasy of mine.
Do you have any fears of women out there who might see this book and be inspired to tell a tale or two of their own?
My fears are generally centered around bats, and to a lesser extent, mutant ants.
Early publicity for this book indicated that Jon Stewart would be writing the introduction, but I see that Nick Hornby took over that task. Would you mind telling us how Nick got involved?
From the moment I had this idea, the ghost of Nick Hornby was always hovering – though I am fully aware that ghosts are not real and that Nick Hornby is very much alive. But I felt he was the Godfather of this genre and that the voice of a book like “High Fidelity” would probably be my literary voice, if I were a good enough writer to have one. Fortunately, I am not. Still, it didn’t feel right to ask Nick to contribute an essay. So the introduction made the most sense.
Without giving away what makes Lesson 5 unique, what was going through your mind as you decided to format Stephen Colbert’s chapter in your book?
Mr. Colbert, through his usual retinue of legal proxies, informed me of the formatting. It was purely his choice.
Is the chapter intended to be frustrating, funny, or merely – as the text states – “edited for content”?
Without coming off like an equivocating a-hole, all of them. That’s the truth, but mostly the second one.
How are you expecting readers to react to the chapter?
I expect mirth with a dollop of titillation.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share to help persuade the readers of No Fact Zone to purchase your book?
I think what will be most interesting about this book, is what happens if you buy five copies. They are actually designed to fit together like Voltron – and form a book far greater and more powerful than anything I could ever conceive. I wasn’t supposed to share that because technically it’s not true.
One other thing – we will be posting an audio file of all the bleeped out words from Stephen’s piece on the book’s website, WomenWhoDumpedMe.com. People can download it and then piece back together Stephen’s actual story – or simply play the most fucked up game of madlibs ever.