It's hard to argue that Michael Showalter hasn't had an interesting career. From The State to Wet Hot American Summer, Stella to The Baxter, he's been a fixture on the comedy scene for nearly two decades. And now he's got a book.
In Mr. Funny Pants, Showalter takes the reader through his writing process as he tries to create a lasting work of literature. To avoid actually writing said work, Showalter tries everything. There is "An About the Author" page and an "About Bea Arthur" page, a series of book proposals for the book you are reading, a chapter on the joys of streaking, a chapter on Showalter's adolescent poetry ("Next door to me a young man is writing pamphlets/ They are anti-Semitic./ But for Chrissakes that man is a JEW!"), a chapter of games and puzzles, and a number of pre-and-post prefaces. At one point, Showalter is so excited to someday hold his sure-to-be-genius work that he goes out, buys 1800 sheets of paper (the length he's aiming for) and counts them. The cumulative result is a book that is unsurprisingly very funny but also sweet and at a few points poignant.
Yesterday we chatted with Showalter about his book, places to streak in Brooklyn, bad penis smells, David Foster Wallace, cats, and what he would do if he won an Academy Award.
How does it feel to be a published author? It feels so good, it feels so good. It’s like everything changed over night.
Even if you didn’t make it to 1800 pages? Oh no, I did make it to 1800 pages! But the editors edited it down... I’m like what’s his face?
Walt Whitman? [Ed. Page xvi of Mr. Funny Pants: "In particular, I feel like I'm equal to or better than Walt Whitman."] No. He wrote Infinite Jest.
David Foster Wallace. Yes, I’m like him but different in every way.
So you have Kevin Kline reading excerpts on Youtube to promote the book? Kevin Kline and I are two peas in a pod and he was kind enough to help me get the word out about the book. He is one of my total idols—both as a comedic movie actor but also as a thespian. And we’ve become friends over the last few years.
It made me chuckle, I was just sad that you didn’t read them yourself. Maybe I’ll put out a compendium that goes with it of me reading it. The audio book is actually available on iTunes for the low-low price of whatever it costs on iTunes.
So if you actually hit 1800 pages I guess you printed out your book... No, I actually barely made it to 250. I was doing like middle school, triple spacing, and fucking with the margins and long quotes.
I noticed a lot of indenting in the memoir bits. And you talk a lot in the book about smells, but from the “bumming smokes” bit I assume you smoke. I've always found smoking makes me less aware of them... Did you say I talk a lot about smell?!
Constantly! You’re talking about things smelling. Ha! Um..
You’ve got like two pages about "penis smell" and "good smells" and "bad smells." Oh that’s true.. You’re right, you’re right. “It smells like bad penis in here.” You’re right... Well, when you have a protuberance like mine, you can be a chain smoker and still smell pretty good.
Good to know, I take it you have three cats? Yes I do, I have three cats and I have a gaggle of stray cats that live in my back yard, who I take care of.
They help out besides looking really cute? They sit on whatever you’re doing. So if you’re working at a computer they sit on the computer. If you’re writing at a notebook they’ll sit on the notebook. Whatever you’re doing they’ll do anything they can to stop you from doing it.
They all use one litter box? They do. They are all in one litter box, we scoop it regularly.
Better for the smell. So, did you really get rejected when you tried to adopt a pair of cats from the Union Square PetCo? Yes that’s all true. That story is barely exaggerated.
So they really called you in for two interviews? Yes. Two interviews, one phone call and a rejection letter.
Yeah, you'll have a much easier time at an ASPCA or the like. Well, that’s what I ended up doing. I just went somewhere else and they were like, “Here you go.” I mean, it was genuinely one of the most preposterous experiences I’ve ever had. Like, I’ve never considered being a terrorist until that happened.
So you live in Brooklyn, right? And you like it? I love Brooklyn.
And it was the borough you chose, not the one you ended up in? I chose Brooklyn. In 2000, I was living in the Village and I was ready to move into a new apartment and I couldn’t think of a single neighborhood in Manhattan that I wanted to move to and I went out to visit some friends in Brooklyn and I saw the neighborhood and I thought, “Oh my God this is amazing.” One of my friends who was living there said something to me that has stuck with me ever since and it’s true which is, “The great thing about living in Brooklyn if you spend a lot of time in the city is at the end of the day you get to leave it behind you. You know, you get to get on the subway, or your car, or however you get back from the city to Brooklyn and you get to watch Manhattan disappear, behind you, you get to live in some form of peace.”
Do you have any particular neighborhoods in Brooklyn that you recommend for streaking, you make it sound like fun. [Ed. There is a chapter called "The Joy of Streaking"] Um, well it has to be populated enough that people will see you. You want it to be a neighborhood where there’s people living on the ground floor, if they’re too high up they’re not gonna see you.
Do you recommend doing it with mittens on? Shoes? Fully naked? Yeah, oh yeah. It depends on what the weather is like outside, obviously the colder the better. If it’s cold outside, you can wear mittens, you can wear a hat, you can wear boots, you can wear earmuffs, you can wear a scarf (as long as it’s not too big).
Is a trench coat okay? No, absolutely not. You can hold it... You know what you can do? You can have the trench coat and you can hold it over your shoulder—you know like where you put the one finger in it? And you throw it over your shoulder? That would actually be pretty good. But you can’t have the trench coat on. No, you have to be fully exposed. The only parts of your body covered are your extremities, not including your dick or your boobs. I don’t know if those are extremities. I know a penis is an extremity, I don’t know if a boob is an extremity. *asks someone in the background* Is a boob an extremity? It’s not an extremity. It’s a nub.
Michael Showalter reads from his book (David Andrako).
Since we're a New York blog, one more New York question. Thoughts on Michael Bloomberg? I have no problem with Michael Bloomberg.
Ever think about moving back to New Jersey? Yeah, Mercer County’s beautiful, that’s where Princeton is. It’s all very, kind of, woody and quaint.
Even if you don’t like the woods? Well that’s true I don’t like the woods. If I were ever to leave New York I would like to move to the Hamptons. I make no sense there and I don’t fit in at all but I love it. I spent the last four summers there and it’s as if I don’t exist and that’s just how I like it. I don’t fit in at all and I love it.
Where out in the Hamptons do you stay? East Hampton, the Springs. East Hampton has a kind of a town, obviously they all do, but I like going into the town, I like window shopping, I know a lot of people like going "upstate," that’s what it’s called, you go "upstate." But that doesn’t appeal to me because of the ticks and the mosquitoes and stuff. And like candles, you know the drip candles or whatever. I like going into a town that has a J. Crew! Maybe I’ll buy a pair of pants. There’s a Starbucks, I’ll bring my computer, go online.
So you list a whole lot of things that are impossible to look cool doing. How come there wasn’t a section on things that are easy to look cool doing? That’ll be in the next book, thank you I’m writing that down as we speak. Do you have any suggestions for it? I don’t know... The minute you're conscious of looking cool you’re not cool anymore. Oh, wait. I have an answer: sleeping. It is easy to look cool if you are sleeping because you are totally unselfconscious.
A lot of this book was about procrastinating and I have to admit that I procrastinated leading up to this interview. Instead of coming up with questions last night I ended up watching the Oscars. Did you watch the Oscars? [Ed. Sigh, my bad. Of course he wasn't watching, he was at a sold out show at the Bell House] No. I don’t think there can be such a thing as “the best something” in that genre. You know like, I think all these awards where they pick a “best something”... it feels intrinsically not what the whole point is. They don’t give an award for the best painting of the year.
I’m sure somebody does? I’m sure you’re right and it’s stupid! It’s stupid! It’s antithetical to the creative process and the whole idea of making things to then turn it into a big competition where people actually want to win “the best something”. Total fucking bullshit. I actually believe, and it’s easy for me to say this because it will never actually happen, that if I were nominated for an Oscar or any form of big award, that I would attend and do all of the necessary stuff but that in my heart I would be totally ambivalent. I would show up for it, I wouldn’t be a dick about it. If I needed to do press, if I wrote a screenplay that got nominated for some big award I would be a company man in the interviews or whatever. But in my heart of hearts, if I won or didn’t win... it would be meaningless to me. If I won it I wouldn’t be like “wow! I really did write the best screenplay!” but I think there’s a lot of people who think that. They win whatever award they win and they go “wow! I really was the best director this year, I am the best director this year,” It’s preposterous! The only award that’s legitimate is a sporting event. They are competing. They are competing for one team to win and the other to lose. Unless it’s chess in which case they will agree to tie. They will agree amongst themselves for there not to be a winner.
You can probably tie in Scrabble too. There’s no ties in Scrabble! Actually there are. I’ve had that happened to me once. [Ed. The book includes a chapter called "Scrabble" in which Showalter gives a play by play of a great Scrabble game that includes the words "penissocks" and "preshat"]
Read any good books lately? I’m reading a book right now, that I just started reading, I’m about 100 pages in, that I’m loving. It’s called The Passage. Which, as far as I can tell, is about Vampires. They’re almost like Zombie Vampires, they’re like half-Zombie, half-Vampire. It’s a hardcover, it’s very long, it’s gotta be at least 1200 pages long, and so far so good.
Ok, last question. Can you persuade someone to buy your book in one sentence? It will make you feel... If... No I can’t do it. Wait. Let me try. Because it will put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your belly. Yes. It will put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your belly.
You can pick up Mr. Funny Pants most places books are sold. And if you want to see Showalter live, can be seen tonight at 7 PM at Book Court in Cobble Hill.