In my last post, when I recapped the books I read in 2015, I griped a bit about the lack of titles I was really excited about. So far, 2016 is taking a different path: I absolutely loved the first two books I’ve finished this year.
Both are by famous people. Both are about creative passion. Both are about fandom. Both are incredibly inspiring.
The first is Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by writer, director andcomedian, Judd Apatow. As suggested in the title, the book is a collection of conversations between Judd and a few dozen comedy legends – everyone from Steve Martin, Louis C.K. and Jon Stewart to Amy Schumer, Roseanne Barr and Sarah Silverman.
When Judd was a kid, he was a huge comedy nerd, recording Saturday Night Live on an audio cassette so he could listen to it over and over. He listened to comedy records, went to stand up shows way too young, and studied every comedian to ever appear on The Tonight Show. So when he was in high school, he volunteered to do a show for his school’s radio, interviewing comedians. He’d call up publicists and land interviews, never bothering to tell them that he was 14 years old. As such, he ended up interviewing comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Steve Allen in the early 1980s, when they were all starting out in their careers. These interview transcripts are all included in the book, as are follow up interviews with Seinfeld and Leno in the last few years.
What I love about these interviews – both the older ones and the newer ones – is the underlying passion that every single person reveals. There’s a need – a deep desire – for comedy. To write the perfect bit. To tell the perfect story. To do better. To refine. To keep going up to the microphone even when you bombed the last time. It’s torture and it’s joy and a laugh makes it all worthwhile.
Some of the chapters, which are ordered alphabetically by the interviewee’s first name, are better than others, but they’re all worthwhile. If you’re a fan of comedy you need to read this book.
The second book I’ve read so far this year is Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. I’m a big fan of Carrie Brownstein. I love Portlandia, and I just finished watching the second season of Transparent – she’s brilliant. This book, however, barely touches her acting career. It focuses on her childhood in Redmond, Washington with her anorexic mother and in-the-closet father, her obsession with music in the early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest, and her journey as a musician in Sleater-Kinney.
I don’t always love “rock memoir” books, but Carrie Brownstein can write. She is extremely open and candid about the highs and lows of being in a band, the sexism they encountered on the road, the shifting dynamics between bandmates, and the love of playing and writing music.
What struck me about Brownstein’s book, like Apatow’s, is her drive to follow her passion, even to the point of sacrifice. She endures emotional and even physical pain in her musical career, but finds that those moments on stage make it worthwhile – until they don’t.
Next up: After You by JoJo Moyes (a sequel to Me Before You, which I quite liked a few years back).