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I Funny: School of Laughs
With Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Jomike Tejido
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- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 3, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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DEAD MAN ROLLING
Hi, everybody, I'm Jamie Grimm and here are a couple of things you should know about me right away, since these will probably be my last days on Earth.
One, I'm a comedian.
Two, my cousin Stevie Kosgrov is going to kill me this coming Friday night at eight o'clock Eastern (seven o'clock Central).
Yep. I'm like a carton of milk. I have an expiration date. Because Friday nights at eight is when my new TV show, Jamie Funnie, airs on BNC-TV.
And, this time, Stevie might actually have a pretty good reason to destroy me. You see, just for yuks, we're shooting an episode making fun of Long Beach Middle School's longest-running bully. We're halfway through the first season of Jamie Funnie, which tapes in New York, and guess what? My sitcom is a huge hit. Almost as big as the fist Stevie Kosgrov is going to hit me with when he sees this Friday's episode about Skeevy Musgrove! Guess we should've disguised his name better, huh?
My good friend Gilda Gold is directing the Skeevy episode. Our best buds Joey Gaynor and Jimmy Pierce are playing my best buds Joey and Jimmy. Yeah. The TV show is kind of based on my life. It makes things easier.
And much more dangerous.
"Quiet on the set!" calls Gilda. "Aaaaaand, action!"
We start the scene.
"Congratulations, Jamie," says Gaynor, sitting in the front row. "You won the Teacher for a Day Contest!"
Turns out, Gaynor is actually a pretty decent actor—way better than me.
Jimmy Pierce? Well, he's a brainiac. He more or less mumbles most of his lines.
"Yeah, Jamie," Pierce mumbles. "Congratulations, man." (Actually, it sounds more like, "Yuh, Mamie. Math calculations, ham," which is sort of funny, so Gilda doesn't call "Cut" and the scene keeps going.)
"Class," I say, popping a wheelie, "as teacher for the day, I hereby outlaw homework for the rest of the year!"
"Whoa!" says Gaynor, totally in character. "Can you do that?"
"Today I am a teacher. Today I can do anything!"
"Even if it's about tomorrow?" asks the actress playing Jillda Jewel, who's sort of my love interest on the show (not that I have all that much interest in the mushy junk the writers keep coming up with). And, yes, she's kind-of-sort-of based on Gilda Gold.
"Teachers are like Roman emperors," I say.
"You mean they're all dead?" snarls the burly kid playing Skeevy Musgrove. "Just like you!"
Gilda gives the Skeevy actor a cue to raise his gigantic peashooter, which is about the size of an Amazonian blowgun.
"It's time to play dodgeball with spitballs!" he shouts as the prop guys use an off-camera air cannon to blast wet paper wads at me.
I duck, dart, dodge, rock, and roll to avoid all the incoming projectiles. They splat on the wall behind me and sort of ooze their way down. It's gross, which means it's funny.
Skeevy goes to reload.
"As teacher for the day," I say as fast as I can, "I hereby declare that it's time for dessert!"
All the kids on the set pop open their lunch boxes and pull out cream pies. Then everyone hurls them at Skeevy!
He is creamed. By eighteen different pies, all of them made out of 100 percent whipped cream. Gloppy, foamy goop covers his head and dribbles down to plop into his lap. He looks like a whipped-cream abominable snowman.
"And that, class," I pronounce, "is another way to silence a bully. Fill his piehole with pie!"
THAT'S NOT A SANDWICH, THAT'S A WRAP!
Okay, everybody," says Gilda. "That's a cut and a wrap. Episode number eleven is in the can! We'll edit it, sweeten the sound track, and air it on Friday. After that, Jamie Funnie is officially on a five-week hiatus!"
The studio audience cheers. The cast and crew cheer, too. We've been working pretty hard on the show for three months straight. Now we all get to take a well-earned vacation. Instead of being tutored on the set, next week Gilda, Gaynor, Pierce, and I will be heading back to Long Beach Middle School, where the real Skeevy Musgrove still reigns supreme. But these days, Stevie Kosgrov shares his head bully duties with Lars Johannsen, an eighth-grade giant who moved to Long Island from Minnesota. Lars is so big, I think he used to be Minneapolis.
It'll be weird going back to a real middle school instead of the fake one on the Jamie Funnie set. But I'm kind of looking forward to it. Middle school is where I've always found my best material. It's also where I first ate mystery meat, had my head stuffed into a toilet, and learned that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who aren't. But, hey, it all turned into pretty good punch lines.
Life has really changed for my friends Gaynor, Pierce, and Gilda, too.
Gaynor has earned enough money to help out his mom, who is still recuperating from a bout with cancer. He's also bought himself a couple of new nose studs. One sparkles so much, it looks like an electronic zit.
Pierce, our resident genius, is saving his Jamie Funnie paychecks to bankroll his college education. At Harvard. And MIT. He wants to go to both at the same time.
"They are, actually, quite close to each other," he tells me. "I, of course, may need to purchase a hoverboard for the commute between campuses. Or a drone. I need to crunch some numbers to determine which one would be most efficient."
Gilda? Well, she's already won a full scholarship to study filmmaking at UCLA. She's going to use the money she's made directing episodes of Jamie Funnie to finance her first independent feature film.
As for me, I'm putting away a big chunk of money in what I call my Medical Miracle Fund. I've gotten pretty good with my wheelchair, but who knows? Maybe someday there will actually be a cure for what ails the bottom half of me. Maybe aliens will land and their doctors will have a way to zap my spinal cord to make it work again. If they do, I want to be financially ready, just in case alien doctors don't accept most forms of major medical insurance.
I'm also doing everything I can to help my uncle Frankie keep his diner running, because, well, he always does everything he can to help me. I even offered to buy him a new jukebox. A deluxe digital-music dealio, with flashing LEDs and surround-sound speakers, that can stream the latest radio hits.
"Thanks but no thanks, kiddo," Uncle Frankie told me. "I only like vinyl doo-wop records. Doo-wop is like rap. But with a melody. And lyrics. And music. And harmonies. And…"
Yep. Uncle Frankie hates rap. "You can't yo-yo to it," he says.
I've also been helping out at Smileyville, which is what I call my aunt and uncle Smiley's house. That's where I live. In the garage. Actually, it's more like my personal Jamie cave, with remote-control gliding doors, a jumbo flat-screen TV, my red Mustang convertible roommate, a fridge and microwave for late-night nachos or s'mores, and all kinds of gardening gear. Need a weed whacked? I'm your guy.
Smiley isn't my aunt and uncle's real last name. I just call them that because they seldom smile. They're missing the grin and chuckle genes, too.
Their real name is Kosgrov.
As in Stevie Kosgrov.
Yep. Long Beach Middle School's meanest bully is their son, making him my cousin.
Which will make it super easy for him to cream me on Friday night when his character gets creamed on Jamie Funnie!
Since I can't stop the earth's rotation (hey, I can't even walk), Friday night rolls around right on schedule.
We order pizza for dinner, which means I have to answer the door because the pizza delivery guy, Tony, is a budding stand-up comic. He likes to try out his jokes on me. I don't mind. Every comic needs a chance to work on his material. When I was starting out, I used to recite my routines to seagulls and pigeons. And, yes, if birds don't like your jokes, they will poop on your shoes.
"Hiya, Jamie," Tony says when he comes to the door with three pepperoni pies. "Good to be here. You know, when Mrs. Smiley called in the pizza order, she wondered if it would be long. I told her, 'No. It'll be round.'"
Tony looks around behind me nervously. "So is your cousin Stevie home?"
"Not yet. I think he's still shaking down a few sixth graders behind the 7-Eleven."
"Good. I'm not saying Stevie's dumb, but one time, I asked him if he wanted his pizza cut into six slices or twelve. He said, 'Six. I'm not hungry enough to eat twelve.'"
I laugh. Tony smiles.
"You like my new material?"
"Keep working on it," I say, because I remember some of my early jokes. They came right out of books for first graders, too. The only way to get better at anything is to practice, practice, practice.
Tony takes off. I wheel the pizzas into the dining room, where we wolf down dinner, then settle into our usual spots in the living room for Jamie Funnie. Mrs. Smiley cozies up on the couch with Mr. Smiley. Stevie's little brother and sister perch on ottomans. I just sit where I park.
Good news: Stevie still isn't home. I may live to laugh another day.
"You know," says Mrs. Smiley, who's just read the show's plot synopsis in TV Guide, "I think it's wonderful that you're playing a teacher in this episode, Jamie. Your grandmother would've been so proud."
She, of course, is talking about my mom's mom, who was also her mom. That's, basically, how you become an aunt.
"Your grandmother was a teacher," Mrs. Smiley says. "Third through fifth grades."
I nod because I remember my grandma, even though she passed away two years before my mom and dad and baby sister did, too.
"Yep, she was definitely a teacher," grumbles Mr. Smiley. "That's why she never had any money."
"Well," says Mrs. Smiley with, believe it or not, the hint of a smile. "That didn't matter to her. Mom always said, 'Instead of making money, I'm trying to make a difference.' And that's what Jamie's doing, too. With his TV show. He's teaching kids all kinds of important lessons."
And then she pops up off the couch and kisses me on the cheek! "We're all so proud of you!" gushes Mrs. Smiley.
I blush. All this praise might've gone to my head.
Except that's when Stevie comes in the front door.
"Where's my pie?" he hollers.
"In the pizza box!" his little brother shouts back.
"I don't want pizza," says Stevie as he stomps into the kitchen. I hear the refrigerator door jiggle open.
Stevie marches into the living room with a frozen Mrs. Jane's apple pie he must've yanked out of the freezer. "I want this kind of pie. Just in case anything bad happens to a certain character on Jamie Not So Funnie tonight."
I think Stevie saw the sneak preview of tonight's episode on YouTube.
He tosses the frozen pie up and down in his hand like he's weighing a cinder block.
I have a funny feeling this one apple pie is going to hurt a lot worse than all the cream pies in Boston.
Fortunately, Aunt Smiley saved me from Stevie's frozen discus to the face.
"You put that pie back in the freezer this instant, young man!" she told him. "I'm saving it for Thanksgiving."
Yes, if I'm still alive, I'm going to be extremely thankful when that holiday rolls around.
Unfortunately, Aunt Smiley can't protect me from her son (and his buddy Lars) at school.
But that's okay. If Stevie and Lars try to bully me, I'll hit them with a punch line. I figure it's called that because making a bully double over with laughter means he'll have a harder time punching you.
When I roll through the front doors of Long Beach Middle School for the first time in months, I notice that things have definitely changed. Not the smell. It still reeks of antiseptic hand soap mixed with dirty mop water and taco fixings. No, the first thing that strikes me as different is the vice principal—a.k.a. the school's head disciplinarian—standing guard at the door. It's not Mr. Sour Patch, the old guy who used to glare at every kid first thing every morning. It's Ms. Somebody I've Never Met.
"Let's hustle, children," she barks. "Put some pep in your step. Except you, kid in the wheelchair. Pump some rubber! We need to improve our hallway traffic flow rating!"
All of a sudden, Stevie Kosgrov and Lars Johannsen chase a skinny sixth grader down the hall—right in front of the new vice principal.
"Um," I say to the new vice principal, "aren't you going to give those two eighth-grade bullies a detention for picking on that sixth grader?"
"Negative. I have my orders. I'm just a vice principal. Gotta do what the big man tells me to do." She gives me a look. "Wait a second. You're Jamie Grimm. The funny boy from TV."
I smile because, hey, it's always cool to be recognized. "Yeah," I say as modestly as I can. "Would you like an autograph?"
"No. I would like for you to quickly and efficiently make your way to your first-period class. You are blocking my avenue of ingress. This is a hallway, not a stall way! Move it, Mr. Grimm. Hustle! I want to see skid marks!"
"Yes, ma'am!" I say. I even salute.
I pump my arms furiously and zoom around the corner, then hit a roadblock.
Two of them, actually.
Stevie and Lars.
My worst nightmares are standing in the hallway with their hands on their hips, glaring at me the way hungry lions glare at gazelles.
The two of them, side by side, are so wide, there's no way I'm getting around them.
"Welcome back to our world, Crip," says Stevie.
"We missed you, Joke Boy," adds Lars.
"Really?" I squeak. "I missed you guys, too. Hey, I have an idea. Let's keep on missing each other. Just pretend I'm not here."
"Oh, you won't be here," says Lars. "Not when we're through with you."
"Yeah," says Stevie. "You'll be in the emergency room."
"No, thanks," I say. "Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt and the hospital gown."
"Is he making a joke?" Lars whispers to Stevie.
"No," snarls Stevie. "He is a joke. And I'm about to give him his punch line!"
He balls up his fist.
"Thank you, guys," I say with a smile. "You've been a great crowd. But I've got to go."
I pivot backward, tip up on my rear wheels, spin around, and race down the hall as fast as my arms can push me. Stevie and Lars lumber after me.
"Come back here, Lamie Jamie!" shouts Stevie.
"We're going to break your face!" adds Lars.
I zip past the office, hoping that the principal will see what's going on and stop it.
But the only one behind the counter is the school secretary. She smiles and waves at me with her flower-topped pen.
"Hiya, Jamie. Good to have you back, hon."
I jab a thumb over my shoulder. "Bullies!"
The secretary laughs and keeps waving. "Oh, you're such a joker, Jamie. Have a nice day, hon."
I pump harder.
Stevie and Lars start flinging their textbooks at me. Two whiz past my ears like very thick Frisbees. One lands with a thud on the floor. The other veers left and bangs into a locker.
But the books give me an idea.
I need to seek sanctuary in the one place the two bullies would never think to look: the library. Lars and Stevie never use books for anything but weapons, so I'm guessing they don't even know the school has a library!
I round a corner, shove open a pair of glass doors, and slam on the brakes in the reference section, where I can hide behind a bookcase filled with encyclopedias.
I hear Stevie and Lars skid to a sneaker-squeaking halt in the hallway.
"Where'd he go?" says Stevie.
"I dunno," says Lars. "What's this room here?"
"I'm not sure. But it smells like books."
"Let's get out of here. I'm allergic to books."
The two giants clump down the hall.
For now, anyway.
To be honest, I don't really use the library all that much. Except for hiding. It really is a bully-free zone because no self-respecting bully would ever voluntarily enter a room with so many books on the shelves.
I decide to stay a little longer and search the stacks. I'm hoping I can find a good book. Something like Wheelchair Karate for Dummies.
SHOWTIME BY THE SEA
I manage to avoid Stevie and Lars for the rest of the day.
After school, I want to keep on avoiding Stevie, so I head down the boardwalk to Uncle Frankie's Good Eats by the Sea. As I'm rolling along, swerving through the flocks of squawking seagulls, I'm soaking up more than the sunshine. When you're a comic, you're always on the lookout for new material. Especially if you're starring in a sitcom that needs ideas for eleven more episodes!
For instance, there's this one guy I pass almost every day—Crazy Bob. That's what he calls himself. It's even printed on the sheet of cardboard he uses for a sign. Crazy Bob likes to stand on the boardwalk and warn everybody about the coming alien invasion.
I always toss a quarter into Crazy Bob's tin cup. Hey, if the Galaxatronians show up next week, I want to be in good with their earthly ambassador.
I roll into the diner, and Uncle Frankie greets me with a flick of his yo-yo and a big smile.
"Hiya, kiddo. How was school?"
"Weird," I say. "So much has changed since we've been in the studio doing the TV show."
"Really?" says Uncle Frankie with a sly grin. "Are you sure you're not the one who's changed?"
"Positive. I've been wearing this same puffy vest since forever. In fact, the 1980s called. Said they wanted it back."
"You ready to take the stage?" he asks.
I roll to my usual spot behind the cash register just as Mrs. Sowicky, one of our regulars, shuffles up to the counter.
"Hi, Mrs. S. Can I get you anything else?"
She knows I'm not talking about dessert or a cup of coffee to go. You see, after the horrible car crash that put me in my chair, I spent a lot of time at a hospital called the Hope Trust Rehabilitation Center. The doctors there really believed in laughter being the best medicine. So, after the surgeries and in between physical therapy sessions, I spent my days reading joke books, watching comedy videos, and memorizing the routines of the world's greatest comedians. At the diner, I've become our joke jukebox. A customer picks a comedian; I play some of their greatest hits.
"How about a little George Carlin?" says Mrs. Sowicky.
"No problem. 'Beethoven was so hard of hearing he thought he was a painter.'" I hit the cash register keys to give myself a bada-bing rim shot.
Mrs. Sowicky smiles, so I give her a second helping of Carlin. "When cheese has its picture taken, what does it say? Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do 'practice'?"
I hand Mrs. S. her change. She plunks the coins into the tip jar.
"Thanks, Jamie. Good to have you back. Love your show!"
I love it, too. But the show I do when I'm just horsing around at Uncle Frankie's? I love it even more!
As the tip jar fills up, the diner door swings open and in walks a lady with curly red hair.
Praise for I Funny: School of Laughs:A Barnes & Noble Best Book for Young Readers PickPraise for I Funny:A #1 New York Times Bestseller
- "....Poignant.... Readers learn about [Jamie's] devastating loss and recovery from a tragic event....The affecting ending, which reveals a more vulnerable Jamie behind the guise of his humor, celebrates Jamie's resilient spirit."—Kirkus Reviews, Kirkus Reviews
- "The broad humor that runs throughout this heavily illustrated story... masks personal pain, demonstrating resiliency in the face of tragedy."—Publisher's Weekly, Publishers Weekly
- "Play[s] readers' heartstrings like a banjo... In all, a brimming bucket of bada-bing!"
- Praise for I Even Funnier:A New York Times Bestseller
- "The wisecrack-laced narrative is enhanced by lots of pen-and-ink cartoons with added dialogue."—Booklist, Booklist
- "Patterson and Grabenstein pay homage to the timeless comedy of Abbott and Costello, Groucho Marx, and other greats, while introducing new jokes that speak directly to the middle school experience. "—SLJ, School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Apr 3, 2017
- Hachette Audio