The runners-up were Patricia Marx for Him Her Him Again the End of Him and Simon Rich for Ant Farm.
And don’t forget to check out the movie version of ILYBC, coming out this December with Hayden Panettiere! We’re also releasing a new edition of the book around the same time with new art and some expanded scenes.
Harper Perennial brings people together. As you’ll see in the interview below, Jessica Anya Blau (author of Summer of Naked Swim Parties) and Larry Doyle (author of I Love You, Beth Cooper) would never have become friends were their books not published by Harper Perennial. Well, maybe they would have, but it would have been less likely. So here’s part 1 of Jessica’s interview with Larry; part 2 will appear tomorrow.
(Larry Doyle hates having his picture taken)
Harper Perennial sent my book, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, to Larry Doyle to see if he’d blurb it. He did and it was surely one of my favorite blurbs, and the one that ultimately ended up on the front cover. When I first read his blurb, I said to my editor something like, “Who is this guy? I love him!” She told me two things: he wrote and produced The Simpsons, and he lives in Baltimore. She also sent me his novel, I Love You Beth Cooper. I looked Larry up on myspace. Turns out he’s done much more than produce and write The Simpsons (as if that isn’t enough for one life). In addition to his hilarious novel, he writes regular pieces for The New Yorker, he’s written many screenplays, and he’s been a staff writer at several magazines. I sent Larry a note thanking him for the great blurb, telling him that I, too, live in Baltimore and asking him if he’d be my friend. Well, maybe I didn’t say, “Will you be my friend?” But what I did say was something like, “Will you have coffee with me?” We set a date for coffee after the holidays and then I read his book. It couldn’t have taken me more than two sittings to read I Love You Beth Cooper—it’s a wildly funny, sharply written romp of a story that mostly takes place in the night following the high school graduation of a slightly neurotic, utterly charming boy named Denis Cooverman.
By the time I met Larry for coffee, I already liked him. It’s now a year later and not only is Larry my friend, but so is his wife Becky, a charming woman who’s a mean Scrabble player and whom Larry calls his “foxy wife.”
On December 15th, Larry and I met up at The Evergreen Café in Baltimore where he answered the following questions:
You’re a very funny person. Everything you write is hilarious. Do you try to be funny? Do you realize you’re funny or are you surprised that people think you’re funny?
What a sad life you would have if you were funny but you weren’t trying to be funny. You’d be really pathetic. I imagine there are some people like that, Crispin Glover perhaps. I try to be funny. Part of it’s craft and part of it’s a certain sensibility. People ask that question a lot, are you naturally funny. You can be naturally funny and not write funny stuff. And you can certainly have all the tools of being funny and what you write won’t be funny. At least it won’t be original or interesting. It seems to me like eighty percent of newspaper humor columnists aren’t funny. Maybe that’s because they have to do it so much, they write on fumes on something. You know how people have that fear of being a fraud? My big fear is that my writing’s all craft and not inspired.
So you don’t fear not being funny?
I know how to make things funny. I worry about there being an art to what I’m doing as opposed to craftsmanship. And I hope that there would be some genuine sensibility and genuine feeling behind that stuff. But I am confident that I can manufacture a joke.
Your piece in the December 15th New Yorker is very funny (I laughed out loud when I read it) and terribly depressing. Is the dark point-of-view of the piece yours, or is it simply the point-of-view for the purpose of humor?
People often say I have a dark sense of humor. [Larry assumes Dude voice] It was just a joke, man.
The idea [behind the piece] was that a lot of people are complaining about how horrible everything is. So it was just a kind of exaggerated “things could be worse.” There could be zombies.
Do people always try to crack you up—do they want to prove to you that they’re funny, too?
Since you know my general demeanor you know that people don’t really warm up to me very much. [This cracks me up!] That happens occasionally at a party, but not anyone who really knows me. I have to constantly explain to people how and why I’m not very funny. You know most funny people aren’t very funny so . . . I can be funny when I want to. Certainly when I hang out with a bunch of comedy writers I can be funny. But I’m not a performer. So.
You seem to have a tremendous scope when it comes to what you know. I think we can be pretty sure that you know more than I about politics, world history, pop culture, movies, books, television, cartoons, and maybe even medicine. Did you spend your adolescence reading?
No. It’s a cool trick to make it look like you know more than other people. You don’t necessarily have to know more, you just need to be able to steer the conversation to things you do know. Of that list, the only thing I thought I know more than you is medicine. I got my undergraduate degree, in premed. And I was a medical reporter for four or five years.
You write for The New Yorker, you write screenplays, novels, you’ve produced and written The Simpsons, Looney Tunes, and you’ve been a staff writer at several magazines. Which of these jobs has been the most gratifying for you?
Writing The New Yorker pieces are very gratifying. But would be more gratifying if . . I always wanted to be one of those regular New Yorker writers, with a little cubby hole. And I’ve never been accepted there that way. I don’t know how much of that is because they don’t do that anymore, or I haven’t gotten to that level. I always feel apart from that. Writing the book [I Love You Beth Cooper] was almost all pleasant. At least my memory of it. And the process of turning it into the movie [Larry also wrote the screenplay for I Love You Beth Cooper] was only half-aggravating, which makes it a thousand times better than anything else I’ve done with movies. The making of the movie went very well, compared to what one normally expects to happen. I’m most gratified when I’m actually writing and most unhappy when I’m not writing. As you know, the last six months I’ve had a difficult time making myself write.
What are you doing when you’re not writing?
Reading. Looking for anything on the internet to distract me momentarily. Being surly around the house.
Is the internet good or bad for you?
I don’t know if it’s net positive or negative in terms of productivity. I use it for a tremendous amount for research. And just for memory, trying to find out why the moon looks larger on the horizon. As I’ve gotten older my ability to conjure up my vocabulary has diminished. So I’ll often go hunting for words on the internet.
So you use it to avoid writing?
Are you in that relaxed place where you can assume that anything you work on will be bought, or picked-up, or optioned? Or do you still worry? Or maybe you never worried?
I still worry about it. I’ve got a number of years left that I have to make a living and I’ve been technically dead in Hollywood for almost a decade. I’m well past the age range of employability in Hollywood. So it’s only through sheer luck that I continue to get work in Hollywood.
It’s time for part 2 of the olive interview between Jessica Anya Blau, author of Summer of Naked Swim Parties, and Larry Doyle, author of I Love You, Beth Cooper. Let the shenanigans begin! (Jessica’s questions in bold, see yesterday’s post for part 1 and a cute photo of the two of them.)
Tell me about what you’re working on now?
I’m working on an unnecessarily complicated second novel, which has also been sold to the movies. So I’m doing the screenplay and the book simultaneously. [The novel/film is called Go, Mutants! and already has an A-list director attached to it.]
Do you enjoy working on several things at once, or if you could control everything in your world would you pare it down a bit?
If I didn’t have to make money, I would never write another screenplay again.
Because when you write for the movies, you’re not the author of the movie.
Director or studio. Even these days a lot of directors can’t put their stamp on it they way they want. But the director is considered the author of the movie.
In the next few months see how many times you see the phrase, “Chris Columbus’ I Love You Beth Cooper.”
That must be strange.
It’s a little odd. Especially odd because I wrote the book first. But that can be good and bad. I Love Your Beth Cooper looks to be a good movie, so his getting authorship is a little strange. On the other hand, I really don’t mind that they call it “Danny DeVito’s Duplex” [referring to the movie Duplex, written by Larry and directed by Danny DeVito.] ‘cause in a lot of ways it is his Duplex and certainly not what I had in mind for that movie.
If I were in a position to write and direct, that might be something I’d want to do. But I’m not sure I would. It’s really hard to make a movie. I like movies, I like watching them. Maybe if I had absolute freedom to do what I wanted, I would. But it’s not an easy way to make a living. It’s a hard way to make a great living. Virtually none of the people who try to do it manage to make a living out of it. The percentage of people who want to write and direct movies versus the people who do it, it has to be smaller than any other profession. Unless you count little girls who say they want to be a veterinarian. There might be more people becoming princesses than being working writer-directors.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have a particular thing you wear, or eat, while you’re writing?
Eat coffee. I wear same thing every day. Jeans, tee shirt. And in colder months, a button down over the tee shirt. I change my underpants every day.
Is there anything in the writing process that you don’t like? Anything you’d hire out if you could?
The writing. No. I like the writing part. All of the publicity stuff that comes afterward. It would be dishonest I know, but I sure wouldn’t mind having an assistant who blogged for me. You know you’re supposed to blog every day and I just don’t do that and won’t ever do that. [Larry’s referring to the common wisdom handed down to writers who are promoting a book that you should blog every day to keep people interested in your work.]
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written?
I’ve written so much it would be really had to pick out one thing as terrible. I can think of whole eras that were terrible. I wrote the Pogo comic strip for a couple years when it came back in late 80s. I wrote and Neal Sternecky drew it, and I’d say on the whole I really botched it. It wasn’t good. That’d be two years of work, all terrible.
What do you think is the best thing you’ve ever written?
I like the way I Love You Beth Cooper turned out. Although when I reread it for the paperback, I ended up changing it a lot. I removed stuff I didn’t like and added a bunch of new stuff. In the movies, the thing I like best is a screenplay based on a New Yorker piece I wrote called “Life Without Leanne.” Miramax bought it but then it died. I handed it in a week after Duplex, which was a huge bomb. I’d like to get it back. That would be the kind of thing that, if I could, I would direct.
Who’s the most interesting person named Beth Cooper to have contacted you since the publication of I Love You Beth Cooper?
I’ve heard from a bunch of Beth Coopers. There’s a page of their pictures on the book’s website. There’s a famous dollmaker, an architect, a painter, a couple of actresses and real estate agents, and a ghost tour guide. There’s even a Beth Cooper who is a high school varsity cheerleader, which sent a shiver down my attorney’s spine. Each and every one of them was the most interesting. I picked the name precisely because it was common, that she could be anyone. There are more than 1,600 Beth Coopers in the United States alone, according to some website [howmanyofme.com]. I recommend titling your book after a common name, by the way. I’m sure I sold a couple hundred just as gag gifts.
After all the interviews you’ve done over the years, what’s the one great question no one has ever asked you?
One of my most highly anticipated reads for winter 2011 is Jessica Anya Blau’s Drinking Closer to Home. I was a BIG fan of Jessica’s first book, Summer of Naked Swim Parties (nudity, drinking—gotta love a woman who tackles the important topics of life), and I know I’ll love this one. In the meantime, I’ll have to be satisfied with this interview she did with Larry Doyle, author of I Love You, Beth Cooper (also a fave) and the new Go, Mutants! (who clearly likes to put commas in his book titles.)
Six Questions for Larry Doyle
Larry Doyle is the author of the best-selling book, I LOVEYOUBETHCOOPER. He also produced and wrote The Simpsons for several years, wrote Beavis and Butthead, was the entertainment editor at New York Magazine and wrote a bunch of Hollywood movies. Oh, and he regularly writes very funny pieces for the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker.
I caught up with Larry at Evergreen Café in Baltimore, where we often sit together and work. Larry was working on the webpage for his amazing and hilarious new novel GO, MUTANTS! (HarperCollins, June 22th). I was working on this interview.
You know the last author I interviewed was Audrey Braun who hung up on me because she was in the middle of buying No. 7 Breast Cream at Target. You wouldn’t blow me off for breast cream, would you?
It would depend largely on why I needed the breast cream, and how urgently. As a former journalist I would also recognize the color value of having you, as the reporter, accompany me while I was buying the breast cream, though this might work better if I was Eva Green, or anybody whose breasts the reader would like to imagine being smeared with cream. I suppose the true corollary of this for a male author would be penis cream, in which case I change my answer to, “Where can I buy this penis cream, and what does it do?”
GO, MUTANTS! takes place in high school in what appears to be both the past and the future (at once). One of my favorite characters has breasts that become gigantic and a head that progressively shrinks. Was she based on anyone?
Every man’s ideal woman. My, that was glib, and sexist. And untrue, since the character, even after her head shrinks to the size of a baseball, still won’t shut up. I probably should have stopped with the first offensive remark. I would also like to change this answer, please, to: “The character is based on a dear friend of mine who bravely battled this condition for a number of years before discovering, to her horror, it was being caused by the increasingly large quantities of breast cream she was rubbing on herself every night. She’s all right now, thank God, but doesn’t date as much.”
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be you. I mean you have one character who is a drunkard—a detached head soaking in fluid who wouldn’t mind if her husband whacked their daughter so she could have a nice body to go with her head. When does this stuff come to you? In the middle of the night when you can’t sleep? While you’re at Whole Foods buying fruit?
I don’t see your point. Are you saying that other people’s families aren’t like that? I was simply working in the new realist school, like that guy who wrote that book but then wouldn’t go on Oprah, the tool. (Oprah: I would never do that to you.)
I read GO, MUTANTS! in one sitting while in bed one night. I was laughing out loud (waking up my husband who became rather irritated with me) and often re-read funny bits just to laugh again. Do you crack yourself up when you’re writing? Or are you your own wife who’s heard all her husband’s jokes?
I don’t laugh in bed. I consider it coarse. I’m surprised you’re not divorced.
The only time I laugh at my own stuff is when it’s been such a long time since I wrote it that I’ve forgotten . At my present rate of alcohol intake, this is approximately three days.
This is a two-part question: which character in GO, MUTANTS! most resembles you? And, if you were a character in the book, which other character would you want to have sex with? I’d want to do it with Johnny, the radio-active ape-boy, by the way. Jelly is too gelatinous. And J!m is way too longish a person for me (also, the shedding skin really doesn’t turn me on).
I’m the radioactive ape-boy, of course. (Note to readers: this is sadly untrue. I’m J!m, the sullen teen, only I’m not even long. Don’t tell Jessica.)
I would like to have sex with J!m’s mom, the platinum blonde catwoman. And yet, I don’t like cats. I like dogs, but wouldn’t want to have sex with a doglady. I can’t explain it, or rather, I shouldn’t.
Last question. If you could live in the GO, MUTANTS! world where there’s a sort of 1950’s rebellious innocence and a year 2040 mega-connected-cyber world, would you? Or do you like the here and now?
Well, obviously the world of Go, Mutants! is one that any reader will want to return to again and again. As a practical matter, one has to consider than in the book, five U.S. states are radioactive wastelands (and France is gone, for what that’s worth.) Assuming I didn’t have to live too near one of those, and was the rightful king of this world, I would choose fiction over reality any day, as my wife will attest.