Where memoir meets funny

Most people know Michael Showalter from MTV’s “The State” or the 2001 summer camp parody “Wet Hot American Summer” or various other comedy collaborations with David Wain and Michael Ian Black, et al.

Most people know Michael Showalter from MTV’s “The State” or the 2001 summer camp parody “Wet Hot American Summer” or various other comedy collaborations with David Wain and Michael Ian Black, et al. While Showalter has both writing and acting credits for most of his projects, “Mr. Funny Pants” is his first attempt at writing a book. As a reader, I immediately attach this book to an irrational fear that it won’t be as funny Showalter’s performances. Thankfully, that anxiety is quelled before you even arrive at the book’s opening acknowledgements.

“Mr. Funny Pants” is marketed as a “comedy memoir,” following the leads of other recent projects like Sarah Silverman’s “The Bedwetter,” and any of Chelsea Handler’s autobiographical ventures. While it lately seems like everyone and their dog is jumping on the memoir bandwagon, comedians prove to be especially adept at the form. In a recent interview with Salon.com, Showalter commented, “Comedians are proven commodities with built-in audiences. They may not have the writing chops of a Dave Eggers, but they’re salacious and funny and self-reflective”—all pretty vital qualities for the genre.

Showalter’s book is essentially a self-reflective memoir about the process of writing a memoir. While his narrative rips every piece of this book-writing process apart, Showalter reflects, digresses, rants and humbles himself in countless hilarious ways.

His preface opens with, “I know that if I am going to write a book, the first thing I’ll need to write is a preface. I don’t really understand what purpose this preface will serve, but I know that lots of books start with them, so mine will too.” The preface is then followed by a post-preface, a post-post-preface, a pre-post-post-preface, and an end of pre- and post-prefaces preface.

Showalter structures the book into short chapters about his book-writing attempts, interspersed with various embarrassing recollections of unlucky love (“Dos and Don’ts for Girls with Boyfriends Who Go Out on Dates with Guys Who Aren’t Their Boyfriends”), humbling experiences in the acting industry (“Close-up Photographs of Your Face”) and touching idiosyncrasies (“1 1/2 Pages on I Hate Jogging Because…”).

The Showalter we know and love comes out best in the many “My Morning Routine” chapters where he shares excerpts from his “Morning Joke Journal.”

“Let’s say I ask you, ‘On a scale from 1 to 10 how much do I love this song?’ And you know I really love the song and you say, ‘Eleven.’ The reality is that, even though your intention was correct, it’s actually as wrong as if you’d said ‘one.’ Because, while in theory you were right, technically it’s incorrect.”

One theme of this memoir—beyond its surface level hilarity—is Showalter’s self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, which reveals itself in the many rants and digressions that dig their way out of his seemingly genuine over-analytic nature. While there is a playful randomness to these anecdotes, strung together they illuminate a plight that is the foundation of Showalter’s comedy: the very real and often very hilarious predicament of neuroses. It’s obvious he has learned to wield his erratic fixations for the greater good of his comedy.

Overall, this book implicitly traces the makings of a comedian as well as the efforts to reconstruct those makings. Most of the time I felt as though I was sitting right next to Michael in his Brooklyn apartment while he obsessively saved and re-saved his book document after every sentence he wrote.

“I can’t write the memoir I want to write if I stick to the facts. My life simply isn’t eventful enough for an accurate portrait. So instead of telling the truth, I will write whatever comes to mind and if I’m asked about it I will just say that memory is subjective.”

Fair enough. The reader still gets a fulfilling portrait of an honestly hilarious person. ?