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I Totally Funniest
A Middle School Story
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Laura Park
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of House of Robots
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Finally, the Finals!
START THE COUNTDOWN CLOCK
Hi! I'm Jamie Grimm, and it's great to be back in front of an audience. This way, when I die in three days, at least I won't be alone.
Let me explain.
I've won a few rounds in something called the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest—the local, state, regional, and semifinal competitions. Now, in three days, I'll be in THE FINALS out in Hollywood.
I'm trying my best not to freak out.
Unfortunately, everybody keeps reminding me of my impending doom.
My friends at school.
The cafeteria lady.
Teachers, strangers—even the billboards in Times Square!
My whole life has become this wild NCAA tournament of comedy. I've made it past the Sweet Sixteen all the way to the Elite Eight, where I'm hoping for a shot at the Final Four.
Oh, in case you haven't heard, that shot comes in THREE DAYS.
But don't worry—even if you don't live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch me die. Live. On cable TV's YUX channel.
By the way, dying onstage is what comedians call it when they flop, tank, or bomb so badly they're blasted with boos and pelted with week-old produce. It's what I'll probably be doing in, oh, maybe THREE DAYS!
So cue the Olympic fanfare music.
It all comes down to this, like they say on ESPN. It's now or never. Do or die. This is for all the marbles, even though nobody actually plays marbles anymore. In three days, there will be no tomorrow, so who cares about the four-day forecast?
Yep. This comedy gig is about to get super-serious. And, like I said, for this final Hollywood round, there are only eight of us still standing.
Actually, the seven other kids will be doing all the standing. Me? Not so much.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a stand-up comedian who doesn't exactly fit the job description.
SMILEYVILLE: THE TOWN WITH THE FROWN
Meet the Smileys.
That's what I call my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I've been living with them in Long Beach, a suburb of New York City, ever since I left the rehab hospital I went to after the horrible car accident. The crash where I lost my parents and sister, not to mention the use of my legs, feet, and toes.
See how excited the Smileys are about the big comedy contest coming in three days? Believe me, for them, this is excited.
"Be sure you pack an extra pair of clean underwear for Hollywood," says Mrs. Smiley.
"And a toothbrush," adds Mr. Smiley. "But don't roll it up in your extra pair of underwear. I did that once and regretted my decision later."
Have you noticed that the Smileys don't smile very much? That's why I call them that. Even their dog, Ol' Smiler, is gloomy. The last time he wagged his tail, it was to swat a fly.
I roll out of my bedroom in the Smileys' garage (it's where they park all the stuff with wheels—lawn mower, wheelbarrow, snowblower, me) and head off to school. Since it's pretty early in the morning, the sidewalks are full of dogs walking their people.
Oh, sure—you might think the people are walking the dogs, but that's not the way I see it.
Come on, if two creatures are walking side by side and one is picking up the other's poop, who do you think is in charge?
The leash? That's how dogs make sure their humans don't wander away.
I'm actually thinking about getting some dogs. Alaskan Malamutes. Six of 'em. They make such excellent sled dogs, I figure I could get to school a whole lot faster if I hooked up a sled team and yelled, "Mush!" Of course, with six dogs I'd probably need to carry a jumbo-sized pooper scooper.
A couple of the dogs give me a sniff when I roll by, but most of the people are so well trained, they don't even notice me.
I'm sort of the Invisible Kid on the streets of Long Beach, where no one seems to be all that excited about the big comedy contest on cable TV in less than THREE DAYS!
But at school, things are different.
MIDDLE SCHOOL COOL? ME?
OMG!" screeches this very cute girl who I think is (or should be) a cheerleader. "It's Jamie Grimm!"
Now all her friends start squealing, shrieking, and screaking. I half-expect the glass in the trophy case to shatter when one of their wails hits a note so high even Ol' Smiler couldn't hear it.
"Have you really met Judy Nazemetz?" asks a swooning fan.
Not one of my fans. This girl is crazy about Judy Nazemetz, another of the eight kid comics competing in the finals. Judy's very nice and incredibly funny and already stars in her own Disney Channel sitcom called Judy, Judy, Judy!
"Yeah," I say. "We've been friends since the New York round of the competition."
"Do you know Ben, too?" gushes another girl, batting her eyes.
Ben Baccaro is another comic in the Elite Eight. Maybe sixteen years old, Ben calls himself the Italian Scallion and always wears a tight white tee that shows off his bulging chest muscles, which, by the way, he wiggles badda-bing style every time he cracks a joke.
"I haven't met Ben," I say. "Not yet. But he'll be out in Hollywood with me."
And then I go deaf. Because two dozen girls scream in my ears.
Even my old comic nemesis Vincent O'Neil, who used to tell everybody he was "a bazillion times funnier than Jamie Grimm," is now a fan.
"Here's a joke you can borrow for Hollywood," he says when we bump into each other in the hall.
"Thanks, Vincent, but—"
"So, how do you make a tissue dance?"
I cringe a bit. "Put a little boogey in it?"
"Oh, you already have that one. Excellent. Here's another."
"Um, I'm really not doing joke book jokes anymore, Vincent. I'm trying to stick with observational—"
"What did Winnie-the-Pooh say to his agent?"
Okay. This one I don't know. So I shrug.
"Show me the honey!" booms Vincent. Now I wish I could un-know it. "Get it? 'Show me the honey!' Because usually movie stars say 'Show me the money' to their agent, but since Pooh is a bear…"
"Right. Got it. Thanks."
"Feel free to use it. You don't even have to split the one hundred thousand dollars with me when you win."
Did I forget to mention that?
The grand-prize winner of the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest will take home a check for one hundred thousand dollars.
In less than three days!
MY BESTIES (FRIENDS, NOT JOKES)
Now, if you ever hung out with me at school, you'd know my best friends are Gilda Gold, Joey Gaynor, and Jimmy Pierce.
Gilda's gutsy, smart, and funny. Knows more about classic comedians than even I do.
Gaynor? He's a little edgier than most middle school kids—even the other ones with nose rings.
And Pierce is a total brainiac. He knows everything, including the fact that it's physically impossible for pigs to look up at the sky, so they'll never know when one of their pals is flying.
These three have been my buds through thick and thin and then thick again and then some more thin and then extra-thick. It's kind of like we're a pack of bacon.
Well, I haven't really had all that much time to hang with my friends. I've been, you know, busy. Working on new material. Packing all that clean underwear for the trip out to California. Wincing at cute cheerleaders squealing in my ears.
Basically being a big shot.
But for all the attention it's gotten me, I've been thinking that this comedy gig was a lot more fun back when I was just cracking up Gilda, Gaynor, and Pierce around the losers' table in the school cafeteria.
Back then there weren't any contests or ginormous cardboard checks to cash.
Back then it was just fun being funny.
Is it weird to miss the "good old days" when they were only, like, a couple of weeks ago?
Maybe there is such a thing as too much fun. It's kind of like too much ice cream. It feels great when you're scarfing it down. Later, you feel kind of queasy.
That's what this is like.
Kind of queasy.
But I keep scarfing it down.
CRAMMING FOR THE FINALS
But, like I said, I don't really have time to worry about missing my friends.
That countdown clock keeps on ticking.
After school, I zip down the boardwalk to my uncle Frankie's diner to do my homework. Not for algebra or science—for Comedy 101.
I'm cramming for The Finals the way most kids cram for finals.
Uncle Frankie was the one who first suggested that I sign up for the comedy contest. He saw me cracking up his customers when I worked the cash register after school and on weekends. Back then I had a lot of jokes rattling around inside my head, because when I was in the rehab hospital after the accident, the doctors and nurses lent me all sorts of joke books and comedy videos. They all told me "Laughter is the best medicine." Unless you have toe fungus. Then you should really ask for an ointment.
Anyway, I think I memorized every classic comedy bit ever done. So, if a customer had a special request, I was always happy to oblige.
By the way, my uncle Frankie is an excellent comedy coach. After all, he knows a thing or two about competitions. He used to be the yo-yo champion of Brooklyn and made it all the way to the World Yo-Yo Olympics, where he won a gold medal. It was on a string so he could twirl it.
To help me get into "the zone," Uncle Frankie—who has finals fever even worse than I do—has totally redecorated the interior of his restaurant. The walls are covered with photographs of famous comics and comedy album covers.
"This is like the Comedians' Hall of Fame," says Uncle Frankie. "And we're gonna leave a space right here in the middle for you, Jamie."
Uncle Frankie has even added some new sandwiches to the diner's menu—all of them are named for famous comedians. The Lucille Ball is a meatball sub. The Jon Stewart comes with chunks of stew beef and a schmear of cream cheese. The Jerry Lewis? Lots of ham.
"Hollywood, here we come!" says Uncle Frankie before we get down to practicing.
Did I mention that Uncle Frankie is flying out to California with me?
And while he's out there, he'll still be my comedy coach.
Not to mention my best friend in the whole entire world.
RINGING UP THE LAUGHS
The intense cramming continues as Uncle Frankie, once again, puts me in the hot spot—behind the cash register.
"Okay, folks," he announces. "There are only two and nineteen-thirty-sixths days left till the first round of the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest finals. Everybody in line, pick a comic. Jamie? Ring 'em up and make 'em laugh."
I feel like a boxer working the speed bag. A football player running wind sprints. A guy playing croquet on horseback. No. Wait. That's polo.
"Rodney Dangerfield," says the first customer in line.
I tug at my collar, like Rodney would.
"What a dog I got. His favorite bone is in my arm. I worked in a pet store and people kept asking how big I'd get."
KA-CHING! The cash register bell gives me a rim shot.
"Zach Galifianakis," says Mr. Cheeseburger with Fries.
"At what age do you think it's appropriate to tell a highway it's adopted?"
And so it goes—straight through the dinner rush.
Also in the line is one of my biggest fans, Mr. Burdzecki. He moved to America from Russia, so I always try to give him a classic Yakov Smirnoff joke.
"In America, you find where is Waldo," I say, putting on a Russian accent, so Waldo sounds like Valdo. "In Soviet Russia, Waldo finds where is YOU!"
Mr. Burdzecki cracks up and nearly laughs his furry hat off.
"Competition?" he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Pah! No contest. You funniest."
"Da. First you funny, then you funnier, now you funniest."
(I think they're studying comparatives and superlatives in his English as a Second Language class.)
When the dinner crunch is finally over, it's time for me to undertake the ultimate test of comedic endurance.
To push my training to the limit, I need to face the toughest crowd any comedian has ever dared to perform in front of.
That's right. I'm heading home.
It's time to make the Smileys laugh (or at least smile).
WANTED: FUNNY BONES, FAMILY-SIZED
The Smileys, unfortunately, suffer from a rare genetic disorder called Idontgetit-itis.
Okay. I made that up. But I kind of wish it did exist so I could host a telethon to cure it. No matter how hard I try, I just can't make my aunt, uncle, and cousins laugh, chuckle, or giggle—even though I'm giving them surefire, can't-miss stuff straight out of the Baby's First Jokes joke book.
These people don't even titter. Come on—little birdies know how to titter.
The Smileys? There's not a tee-hee in the house.
But I keep plowing ahead. I move into some of my own school-based material.
"Today in the cafeteria, they served bean and bacon soup. I think an eighth grader got the bean."
Mrs. Smiley raises her hand.
"Yes?" I say, hoping I'm not leaving flop-sweat stains all over her newly shampooed carpet.
"There was only one bean in the soup? That doesn't sound like a very good recipe, Jamie."
"Especially for a school," says Mr. Smiley. "You'd think they would have worked out a better bean-to-student ratio."
"Well," I say, "that's kind of the joke. See, the name of the soup is bean and bacon, so it sounds like there's only one bean. Tomorrow they're serving chicken noodle. I hope I get the noodle."
Wait. In the front yard. Yes. A bird just tittered.
"There's only one noodle in their chicken noodle soup?" says Mrs. Smiley. "My goodness, Jamie, what on earth is wrong with the cooks in that cafeteria?"
Here's a hint for all you budding comics: Telling the same joke twice with a slight revision seldom makes it any funnier.
Ol' Smiler grumbles and slumps to the floor. I think he's trying to cover his ears with his paws.
But I keep going, even though I'm dribbling sweat like Dwyane Wade dribbles a basketball—hard and fast.
Mrs. Smiley raises her hand yet again.
"I have an idea, Jamie," she says very politely.
"Great. What is it?"
"You should give us a signal. When you're actually telling a joke, raise one of your arms or wiggle your fingers."
I just nod.
And hope the judges out in Hollywood don't ask me to do the same thing.
LAUGH, TWO, THREE, FOUR
Okay. All this cramming for the finals is making me feel like my head might explode and spew setups and punch lines all over the walls.
I need a break—if only for ten minutes.
Plus, I sort of feel sorry for the Smileys.
They didn't ask to have their home invaded by me, a would-be comic in a wheelchair. Mrs. Smiley just happened to be my mom's baby sister. So, when Mom and Dad and my little sister, Jenny…
We'll skip that buzzkill. No need to bum us all out more than we're bummed out already.
Long story short, even though the Smileys don't laugh or smile, I've actually learned to love 'em. They're honest, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth-type people. Come to think of it, salt doesn't laugh much, either. Except maybe on movie popcorn. Especially if the movie is Despicable Me.
The Smileys were the first to lend a hand at the Good Eats by the Sea diner back when Uncle Frankie had a heart attack. Their older son, Stevie, actually pitched in and worked as a busboy, even though he would rather have been pitching me into a Dumpster.
Cousin Stevie Kosgrov and me? We have a few "issues." For instance, he's the middle school bully and I'm his favorite target.
That'll give you issues—not to mention a phobia about being near him and a toilet at the same time. Stevie gives a world-class swirly whirly.
But Stevie isn't home.
So I decide to quit telling jokes and give the Smileys something they can all really use.
Laughing lessons. They're kind of like dance lessons for the face.
We'll start with our ho ho hos and work up to the ha ha has. For beginner laughers, vowel consistency is crucial. Sure, with practice, you can mix up the consonants and go with a ba ha ha or a whoa ho ho. But jumbling up the vowels, like in ha ho ha, just sounds weird—and kind of creepy.
I tell the Smileys to feel the laugh in their bellies and let it ripple up to their lips. They look like they ate a sausage sandwich too fast and have gas.
I have them stand on their heads and hold up a mirror, just so they know what a smile is supposed to look like—an upside-down frown.
I just hope no Smiley ever lands a job as one of Santa's helpers at the mall. Instead of "Ho, ho, ho!" all that the kids will hear at the holidays is "Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph."
A NIGHTMARE BEFORE BEDTIME
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
- "The broad humor that runs throughout this heavily illustrated story... masks personal pain, demonstrating resiliency in the face of tragedy."—Publishers Weekly
- "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
- Jan 26, 2015
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- jimmy patterson