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I Funny TV
A Middle School Story
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Laura Park
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Jamie Grimm has finally accomplished his dream of proving himself the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic, and the sky’s the limit from there. Enter a couple of TV executives with a huge plan for Jamie: a new show about Jamie and his oddball friends! But when Jamie struggles to learn the acting ropes, will it be an early curtain call for the biggest show of the decade?
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek At Jacky Ha-Ha
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TV OR NOT TV?
Hi, I'm Jamie Grimm, and I really hope you watch my brand-new TV show if I ever actually do one.
See, when I won the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest out in Hollywood, one of the prizes was the chance to star in my own television show on the BNC network.
But I may never really get that chance, because, let's face it, there are so many TV-type things I can't do very well. A cop show is definitely out, because I wouldn't be very good at chasing the bad guys down dark alleys.
I'd be no good on a Survivor-type show, either. Especially if it was on a desert island with lots of sand.
Yep, I liked visiting Hollywood, but Long Beach on Long Island is my real home. So, basically, I'm back at the funniest place on earth: middle school.
Luckily, I have some pretty awesome friends. For instance, Jimmy Pierce and Joey Gaynor. They both walk with me to school most mornings.
Well, they walk. I roll.
But what's supercool about Gaynor and Pierce is that they never treat me like I'm different or handicapped (I hate that word—it makes me sound like a racehorse). As Gaynor put it once, "You'll just always be shorter than us, dude."
Whenever we come to a major uphill, Gaynor and Pierce don't hurry behind me to push me like I'm an overgrown baby in a stroller. But they might casually grab hold of a handle and give me a gentle assist without ever mentioning it.
Jimmy Pierce, by the way, is a certifiable genius. He's so smart, he once told me that elephants are the only mammals that can't jump. "Elephants and me," I reminded him.
Joey Gaynor? He's just certifiable. Lives on the edge of the edge. He has tattoos, nose rings, and those little metal studs that look like steel zits. Recently, he had a metal spike pierced through his ear. Made his lobes look like barbecued shrimp on a skewer.
Every morning on our way to Long Beach Middle School, we pass an elementary school.
When the kids see us coming, they crowd around the edges of the playground and start shouting jokes at me through the chain-link fence. Most of the punch lines are pretty corny, but the kids are cute.
Plus, they're the ones who voted for me when I did the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic finals.
So, of course, we always stop and listen.
Even when it turns out to be a big mistake.
LAUGHING MY BUTT OFF
We're running a little late, but the kids keep cracking jokes at us.
"One more," I tell them.
"Hey, Jamie?" says this redheaded girl with freckles. "Why do golfers wear two pairs of pants?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"In case they get a hole in one."
Hey, they're fourth and fifth graders telling the same jokes fourth and fifth graders have told since forever. Sometimes I pretend they're so hilarious that I have to let out a big belly laugh and pop a wheelie.
Today, I make a mistake. I do my wheelie-popping a little too close to the curb.
Gaynor and Pierce haul me up and casually slide me back into my chair. This is another reason I love going to school with my wingmen.
Our friend Gilda Gold happens to be coming up the street with her video camera when I do my backflip dive into the gutter. Gilda's always making funny movies. I sometimes star in them—even when I don't know her camera is rolling.
"Hilarious reverse somersault, Jamie," she tells me when I'm back in my seat. "If your head ever gets too big from being a major celebrity, I'll post that backward butt flop on the Internet. Maybe send it to TMZ."
"Thanks," I say with a smile.
Of course, I'm not worried about Gilda posting her video clip online.
Nobody would watch it. I'm not really a celebrity anymore. I'm just a kid who, once upon a time, won a joke-telling contest on TV.
A kid who should know not to pop wheelies too close to the curb. Especially near a puddle.
My soggy underwear stays squishy all day.
MY BULLY-PROOF VEST
Gilda, Gaynor, Pierce, and I are yukking it up as we head down the hall to our lockers.
All the WELCOME HOME and JAMIE = FUNNY banners have been taken down. There are no more balloons or streamers. There's one congratulations card still stuck to my locker door, but it's barely hanging on to its double-stick tape.
I guess you could call this part of my life I Just Jamie.
I mean, what are you supposed to do after your wildest dream comes true? Did I hit my peak in middle school when I won the comedy contest? What if BNC never wants to do a TV show starring a funny kid in a wheelchair? Is it all downhill from here?
If it is, at least I can coast.
Especially if my cousin, Stevie Kosgrov, the school's meanest bully, gives me a shove. Which, incidentally, he does right now.
But I'm not really afraid of Stevie anymore, because I've discovered a very powerful secret weapon to defeat him: comedy. A few well-aimed zingers are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to burst a bully's bubble.
So when he threatens to give me a wedgie, I say, "You're really good at giving wedgies, Stevie. Do you practice yanking up your own underwear at home? Is that why you always walk so weirdly?"
As I'm giving Stevie Kosgrov a taste of his own medicine, a new kid lumbers up the hallway. This guy is a giant with more blond hair than the entire cheerleading squad. He sort of shoves Stevie aside and glares down at me.
"You're Jamie Grimm, right?"
I smile. "What'd you recognize first? My face or my wheelchair?"
"Your big, fat mouth."
O-kay. So much for bonding with the giant who woke up on the wrong side of the beanstalk this morning.
"I'm Lars Johannsen," he says. "My family just moved here from Minnesota."
I think Johannsen (who, by the way, is the size of Minnesota) is Scandinavian. I wouldn't be surprised if he were half Viking. The plundering-and-pillaging half.
"I was rooting for Chatty Patty," he says. "Voted for her fifteen times. I punched in her eight-hundred number so hard, I broke my phone."
Quick backstory: Patricia Dombrowski, who calls herself Chatty Patty, is one of the comedians I defeated out in Hollywood when America cast its votes via telephone and text message, just like they do on America's Got Talent and that other show, America's Got Telephones.
Patricia Dombrowski lives in Moose Lake, Minnesota. I have a funny feeling this new kid, Lars (which, I'm guessing, is Swedish for large), is the moose they named the lake after.
Johannsen bends down so we can go nose to nose and I can smell the pickled herring he ate for breakfast.
"Patty should've beaten you."
I just gulp.
"But that's okay. I'll beat you for her."
"Whoa," says Stevie Kosgrov. "Hold up, newbie. Jamie Grimm is mine."
"Who are you?" Johannsen says to Stevie.
"The name's Kosgrov. Top bully at this school, three years running. If you want to take a shot at the crip, get in line. Behind me."
"Fine. If I'm behind you, it'll be easier to kick your butt."
Two seconds later, Stevie is sprawled out on the floor.
Then it's my turn. One shove and I'm flat on my back, staring up at fluorescent-light fixtures. Again.
Yep. It's just like old times. Only now I have a new bully to worry about.
But guess what? So does Stevie Kosgrov!
DOWN AT THE DINER
After Lars Johannsen destroys what I thought was my indestructible joke-based Anti-Bully Defense System, I know exactly where I need to go after school: my uncle's diner, Frankie's Good Eats by the Sea.
I need to make sure I've still got it.
It being the ability to make people laugh, not the newest bruise on my butt.
As you can probably tell, Uncle Frankie's diner has been totally rebuilt, refurbished, and remodeled. That's because Good Eats by the Sea became Good Eats Under the Sea when Hurricane Sam came ashore a few months back.
Uncle Frankie is, hands down, my favorite relative.
That's why I gave him so much of my prize money. Yep, my one million dollars is basically gone. The government took out a big chunk in taxes right away. Then I helped my other aunt and uncle buy a new house, and I put some money away for college or a future medical miracle. The rest paid for rebuilding the diner.
And Uncle Frankie deserved every penny. After all, he was the first person who thought I might have some kind of comedic talent.
He saw me working behind the counter, where I had fun cracking up his customers with nonstop one-liners. I'd memorized them out of joke books when I was in a hospital, where my doctors truly believed that laughter is the best medicine. It also tastes better than most cough syrups.
Uncle Frankie's also the one who first pointed me in the direction of the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest, and then stood by me for the whole ride, even the bumpy parts. And the scary parts. And the sad parts between the bumpy and scary parts.
More than anybody else, Uncle Frankie helped me put my life back together. I wanted to return the favor.
Now the diner looks great. Very sparkly and shiny. One whole wall is filled with classic yo-yos. Once upon a time, when Uncle Frankie was just a little older than me, he was the yo-yo champ of all of Brooklyn, a place where everybody's first name is Yo. As in: "Yo, Ashley! Yo, Tommy! Yo, Adrienne!"
Uncle Frankie also put in a brand-new, state-of-the-art digital jukebox. It only plays golden oldie doo-wop music, because that's the only music Uncle Frankie likes. "It has a good beat," he says. "You can yo-yo to it."
When I roll into the diner, Uncle Frankie is all smiles.
"Yo, Jamie. How was school?"
"Great," I say, because even though Uncle Frankie is awesome, he's still an adult. And sometimes you just don't want any adult, even your favorite one, to know you're being bullied. Again. "Need any help behind the counter?"
"Does the pope wear a pointy hat?"
I ring up my first customer and, since he had the spaghetti, I try some George Carlin on him.
"If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?"
Blank stare from him. Flop sweat from me.
I try another one-liner on him: "When cheese has its picture taken, what does it say?"
I get zilch.
Finally, I give up.
And that's when he recognizes me.
"Oh, right," he says. "You used to be Jamie Grimm. That kid on TV. You used to be funny."
Yep. I used to be me.
Somebody once said, "If you fall off a horse, you need to get back on."
I think it might've been Paul Revere, after he shouted, "The redcoats are coming!" He spooked his horse so badly, it turned into a bucking bronco and tossed him out of the saddle. Anyway, that's what I need to do. Only without the horse.
I need to get back onstage and make some people laugh again.
I have a feeling my comedy muscles have gotten a little soft since the final round of the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest. I haven't been in front of an audience in weeks.
Then, just like Lars Johannsen, it hits me.
I should hold my own comedy contest, for elementary-school kids, like the ones who shout jokes at me every morning.
I could call it Jamie Grimm's Funniest Little Kids in the Whole Wide Universe Competition.
The competition would be open to kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. That way I wouldn't be showcasing the same bunch of comics who were in my bracket. We could do the show at the diner. Uncle Frankie could clear out a space in the main room, rig up a microphone, maybe rent a spotlight. I would be the master of ceremonies, rolling out between comics to entertain the crowd.
It would give me something to work for. I'd need all-new material, because everybody's already seen most of my old stuff on TV. Uncle Frankie could give the winner a lifetime supply of chili fries. The local newspaper could put their picture in the paper. The winner, not the chili fries.
I head home to Smileyville to bounce this brainstorm off my uncle and aunt Smiley.
I call the Kosgrovs' house "Smileyville" because they (and their dog) never look like they're having a very good time.
I've had better luck making lawn gnomes laugh. But, all in all, the Smileys have been extremely good to me. They took me in when I got out of the hospital and did everything they could to make their home wheelchair accessible.
They became my new family right after I'd lost my old one.
They also gave me Stevie for a housemate, but, hey, nobody's perfect.
Smileyville has moved a little closer to the shore because I used some of my prize money to help make the down payment on a bigger, nicer house after their old one got wrecked by Hurricane Sam. The Smileys, of course, are still the Smileys. They just have more room to frown in.
And I still live in the garage. Only now it's a two-car garage. What can I say? I love rolling up my bedroom doors with a flick of the remote control.
I also love my new roommate.
It's Uncle Frankie's classic 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, parked right next to my bed. It's here because the car will be mine the minute I turn sixteen and get my driver's license. We're going to outfit it with hand controls for the brakes and gas pedal—and then I can hit the highway.
I'll be able to go wherever I want to go.
I like seeing Uncle Frankie's cherry-red Mustang every night right before I fall asleep.
Sometimes, I even dream about my new set of wheels.
And all the freedom they'll bring me.
DOWN IN FROWN TOWN
That night, over dinner, the Smileys react to my new comedy contest idea the same way they react to everything.
Yep. They're frowning. Except Ol' Smiler, the dog. He's groaning and covering his eyes with his paws.
"You've already won one contest," says my aunt, Mrs. Smiley. "Why do you need another trophy?"
"I wouldn't be competing," I try to explain. "I'd just be the host. This is for all the kids in elementary school who want to be comedians."
"Why?" asks Mr. Smiley.
"Why would these kids want to be comedians? You already won all the prize money. Do they get a chance to star in their own TV show, too?"
I decide to let the subject drop.
The dinner table is already tense enough. Stevie's hand is shaking so badly, peas are bouncing off his spoon like Mexican jumping beans.
"Are you all right, Stephen?" asks Mr. Smiley.
"Fine," he squeaks.
"How was school?" asks his mom.
"Fine." His voice is so high-pitched, it makes Ol' Smiler yelp.
"Well, son," says Stevie's father, "you know what they say about eighth grade: The third time's the charm."
And then, when everybody is concentrating on chewing Mrs. Smiley's meat loaf (it's like gnawing on a steel-toed work boot), Stevie glares at me. This is all your fault! he silently mouths.
Sorry, I mouth back. But now you know how it feels to be bullied.
"Mommy?" says Mary, Stevie's little sister. "Stevie and Jamie are talking with their mouths full of food, but no words are coming out."
"I'm working on my ventriloquist act," I joke. And then the kicker slips out before I can stop it: "Stevie's going to be my dummy."
I hunch my shoulders up to my ears, bracing for the punch I know Stevie should be throwing my way as payment for that crack.
But he doesn't budge. His spoon hand just trembles some more. Pinging peas dance across his plate like popcorn in the popper. Ol' Smiler quickly vacuums up the ones that fall on the floor. At least someone's happy.
"Stevie?" says Mrs. Smiley. "Why are you so shaky? Did you eat candy bars for lunch again?"
"I'm fine. May I please be excused from the table?"
Wow. Stevie has never, ever asked to be excused from the table. Usually, he sits there until everybody else is gone so he can lick their plates clean.
Thinking about Lars Johannsen intimidating Stevie, I'm reminded of a corny joke:
What do you call a kid who's being threatened by the meanest bully in school?
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
The next morning, I head off to school, eager to share my kids' comedy contest idea with Pierce, Gaynor, and especially Gilda.
But I have to be careful. Zombies shuffle down the sidewalks of Long Beach every morning.
They lurch along, dragging their feet. These guys are dropping body parts all over the place.
"Hey, kid!" one of the zombies groans at me. "Did you hear about the zombie who was expelled from school?"
"Um, no. What'd he do wrong?"
"He kept buttering up his teacher!"
Do the undead really swarm the streets outside Smileyville?
Well, that's what I see, in my imagination.
Mostly, the people I roll past are just sleepy-eyed commuters dragging their feet as they trudge off to work. They usually come back to life after a second cup of coffee and a doughnut. First thing in the morning, I guess they're just dead tired.
I cruise up to the middle school and I'm struck with a couple of surprises:
First, Stevie Kosgrov isn't in the parking lot, shaking down kids for their lunch money.
Second, Uncle Frankie is there, waiting for me.
Uncle Frankie looks extremely serious.
It's funny how, sometimes, this whole comedy thing will do that to people.
Praise 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
- "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
- "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. "—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Dec 14, 2015
- Hachette Audio