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Mr. Funny Pants
A Memoir of False Starts
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I was at my wit's end. I'd had enough of this job, this life, and my relationship had broken up. Should I eat chocolate, or go to India, or fall in love? Then I had a revelation: Why not do all three, in that order? And so it was that I embarked on a journey that was segmented into three parts and was then made into a major motion picture. Later, I woke up on an airplane with a hole in my face and a really bad hangover. I was ushered brusquely off the plane by my parents who took me to a rehab where I tested positive for coke, classic coke, special k (the drug), Special K (the cereal), mushrooms, pepperoni, and Restless Leg Syndrome. It was there that I first began painting with my feet.
But rewind…the year was 1914. I was just a young German soldier serving in the trenches while simultaneously trying to destroy an evil ring with some help from an elf, a troll, and a giant sorcerer, all while cooking every recipe out of a Julia Child cookbook. What I'm trying to say is that there was a secret code hidden in a painting and I was looking for it with this girl who had a tattoo of a dragon! Let me clarify, it was the 1930s and a bunch of us were migrating out of Oklahoma, and I was this teenage wizard/CIA operative, okay? And, um then I floated off into the meta-verse as a ball of invisible energy that had no outer edge…
Ugh, okay. None of this is true. I'm just kind of a normal guy from New Jersey who moved to New York, got into comedy, wrote this book about trying to write this book, and then moved to Alaska, became the mayor of a small town, spent $30,000 on underwear, and now I'm going to rule the world!!!
Table of Contents
About the Author
• Hometown: Princeton, New Jersey (for more, see "About New Jersey," here)
• Currently Resides: Brooklyn, New York (for more, see "About Brooklyn," here)
• Age: In years, 40; emotional maturity, 17; physical maturity, 92; spiritual maturity, "Monk-like"
• Marital Status: Hitched
• Occupation: Comedian (oy)
• Favorite Color: Magenta—it's like magic + polenta
• Favorite Word: Twine—it's like magic + twine − magic
• Least Favorite Word: Juices (Juice singular I have no problem with)
• Second Least Favorite Word: Sauce
• Third Least Favorite Word: Broth
• Fourth Least Favorite Word: Marinate
• Fifth Least Favorite Word: Gravy
• All-Time Least Favorite Couplet of Words: Sex juices (see also Sex gravy or Sex broth)
• Favorite Saying: "I'm plumb tuckered out."
• Favorite Phrase: "Apropos of nothing"
• Favorite Proverb: "The early bird gets the worm."
• First Least Favorite Oft-Heard Saying: "For shits and giggles."
• Second Least Favorite Oft-Heard Saying: "I wake up at the butt-crack of dawn."
• Third Least Favorite Oft-Heard Saying: "That's ridonkulous!"
• Favorite Food: Stuffing
• Least Favorite Food: Lard
• Favorite Type of Pen: Felt-tip
• Least Favorite Type of Pen: Quill (gets ink all over my hands, plus feather breaks easily)
• Favorite Article of Clothing: Sweater
• Least Favorite Article of Clothing: Sweaty sweater
• Favorite Movie: Anything with zombies
• Favorite TV Show: Anything with the words Project or Top in the title
• Least Favorite TV Show: Dog Whisperer (he does NO whispering! WTF!?)
• Biggest Fear: Penis falls off
• Second-Biggest Fear: Gets stuck in Ikea and can't get out
• Greatest Dream: I become a ball of light and float off into orbit.
• Favorite Cities: Paris, Istanbul, and Prague
• Actual Favorite Cities: New York, Boston, and Philly
• Favorite Band: The Velvet Underground
• Actual Favorite Band: The Police
• Biggest Planet: Neptune (not sure if this is true)
• Smallest Planet: Io, Jupiter's largest moon (prob not even a planet)
• Favorite Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
• Actual Favorite Author: John Grisham
• Truthful Actual Favorite Author: Sports section
Aboot the Author
(For Canadian Edition)
• Favorite Color: Whatever the color of maple syrup is
• Favorite Word: Aboot (it's about but said differently)
• Least Favorite Word: About
• Favorite Prime Minister of Canada: Garry Trudeau
• Favorite Comedy Duo from Canada: Bob and Doug McKenzie
• Second-Favorite Comedy Duo from Canada: N/A
• Third-Favorite Comedy Duo from Canada: N/A
• Most Successful Band from Canada: Nickelback
• Favorite Nickelback Song: N/A
• Favorite Canadian Food: Peameal bacon (back bacon rolled in cornmeal!)
• Second-Favorite Canadian Food: Poutine (French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy!)
• Third-Favorite Canadian Food: Pemmican (According to Wikipedia: prepared from the lean meat of buffalo, elk, or deer. The meat is cut in thin slices and dried over a slow fire until it is hard and brittle. Then it is pounded into very small pieces using stones. The pounded meat is mixed with melted fat. In some cases, dried fruits such as saskatoon berries, cranberries, blueberries, or chokecherries are pounded into powder and then added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture is then packed into "green" rawhide pouches for storage.)
Notably Unappetizing Excerpts from the Above Recipe: 1) "until hard and brittle"; 2) "pounded into small pieces"; 3) "melted fat"; 4) "pounded meat"; 5) "saskatoon berries"; 6) "chokecherries"; 7) "rawhide pouches." Or, to put it another way, "most of it."
About Bea Arthur
Beatrice "Bea" Arthur (1922–2009) was a Tony Award–winning and two-time Emmy Award–winning American comedian, actress, and singer. With a career spanning seven decades, Arthur is perhaps best remembered for her trademark role as the title character, Maude Findlay, on the 1970s sitcom Maude and for playing Dorothy Zbornak, the divorced substitute teacher on The Golden Girls.
About New Jersey
Let's start with the basics:
Bruce Springsteen is from there and Bon Jovi is too.
It's got lots of malls and factories in it.
Typical response to telling someone you're from New Jersey is "Really? What exit?"
Now let's get into the nitty-gritty:
• New Jersey was the eighth state of the Union. This happened all the way back in the 1700s. The 1700s were when George Washington and those guys were doing their thing. For the real history buffs—the first seven states in the Union were (in no particular order):
• Virginia again
• Burlington, Vermont
• The New Jersey State Flower is the hibiscus. (The hibiscus is the first flower I thought of after writing the first part of the sentence "The New Jersey State Flower is…" Truth be told, I am not 100 percent sure that a hibiscus is even a flower. My spell-check didn't correct the spelling, though, so I know it is, at very least, a real word.)
• The New Jersey State Motto is "You gotta be kiddin' me, bro!" This is said with a thick Jersey accent and is often followed by a flurry of fisticuffs, the sound of cop cars heading to the scene, girlfriends screaming, "No, Danny! We wuz just talkin'! Don't hit him! It ain't worth it!"
• New Jersey is known as the Garden State. This is because gardens are mandatory in New Jersey. If you don't have a garden, you get a $1,500 fine. And if you don't have a garden after already not having a garden, then you will go to jail for a long, long time.
I am from Princeton, New Jersey. Here's a little more about that:
• Princeton is the name of an Ivy League university but also the name of the town that the Ivy League university is in. Princeton is the only Ivy League school named after the town that it is in (with the exception of Yale). Many people don't know about Yale, Connecticut. And there's a reason for that. I lied. It doesn't exist. Princeton's the only one.
• Aaron Burr is buried in Princeton. Aaron Burr was either killed by Alexander Hamilton in a duel or he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. I can't remember which one and I promised myself I wouldn't do much research in this section of the book.
• The band Blues Traveler is from Princeton. I was in choir with John Popper and one time he picked me up and dropped me on my head and I had a sore neck after that.
• Brooklyn is home to many famous authors, dead and alive. The author of this book considers himself totally equal to, if not way better than, the other famous authors who live here, have lived here, have ever even heard of it. Here is a short list of authors living in Brooklyn who I think that I am equal to or better than:
Jonathan Safran Foer
In particular, I feel like I'm equal to or better than Walt Whitman.
• Brooklyn is well known as the place where the Brooklyn Dodgers started. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles (like everybody else), sold out, and became the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers were called the Dodgers because they "dodged" things.
• Brooklyn is considered the "New Manhattan." The "Old Manhattan" ironically isn't Manhattan. The "Old Manhattan" is Tucson, Arizona. (For more facts on "Tucson, Arizona," google "Tucson + Arizona + Facts.")
There are many neighborhoods to Brooklyn. Here is a guide:
Brooklyn Heights: This is where I live. Brooklyn Heights is by far the coolest neighborhood in Brooklyn. Really, really cool people live here. Brooklyn Heights is very quiet and very cool.
Park Slope: Park Slope looks a lot like Brooklyn Heights but tilted, and it's near Prospect Park. That's why it's called Park Slope. It's near a park and it's on a slope. Ironically, there's never anywhere to park your car in Park Slope. For that reason it should really be called "Nowhere to Park Slope."
Fort Greene: Fort Greene is very cool. Lots of really cool black people live in Fort Greene. That's probably a racist thing to say but it's true.
Cobble Hill: Cobble Hill also looks like Brooklyn Heights. The problem with Cobble Hill is that there are too many young parents pushing babies around in prams. They think they're better than everybody just because they are participants in the miracle of life.
Williamsburg: This is where all the hipsters and all the bands are. Williamsburg is in a totally different part of Brooklyn. Williamsburg is pretty run-down. It's got lots of warehouses and loft buildings. It's very industrial. It's kind of like going to Disneyland but instead of cartoon animals it's lots of girls with bangs and bearded young men, all wearing really tight jeans and uncomfortable shoes.
I know that if I am going to write a book, the first thing I'll need to write is a preface. I don't really understand what purpose this preface will serve, but I know that lots of books start with them, so mine will too.
With that, I opened a new document on my desktop, titled it "Preface," and started writing my book:
When I look back on the experience of writing this book, I am amazed by how different the end product is from what I originally intended. I am so grateful that four years and five continents later I'm still in one piece to write this preface. I couldn't have done it without all of my graduate students, who stayed up late with me so many nights eating bad Chinese takeout on the floor of my new condo in Boston, surrounded by unpacked boxes. My travels through the Middle East were brutal.…
At this point, I stopped writing my preface and took a step back. How could I possibly write a preface to a book that wasn't written yet? Who were these "graduate students"? I have no condo in Boston. And why was I saying that I'd traveled through the Middle East? I asked a writer friend of mine (Malcolm Gladwell, if you must know), "What's a preface?" Malcolm said, "Use the preface to explain to your readers how you see your book." Thanks, Malcolm!1
HOW I SEE THIS BOOK
How do I see this book? Well, let's start with the obvious:
I see it with my eyes.
I also "see" it with my hands but if and only if I'm blind and read Braille.
I take that back. I could also see it with my hands if I knew how to read Braille but wasn't blind.
To Conclude: Reading Braille is one very good way to "see" it with my hands (and by hands, I really mean fingers).
Another way to "see" the book with my hands would be to have eyes on my hands. If this were true, then I wouldn't need the quotation marks around the word see because I'd literally see the words with my hands-eyes. Okay, full disclosure: I don't have eyes on my hands.
More than anything, I see this book as a "quilt." It's a patchwork quilt of memories, thoughts, observations, and recollections from my life, imagined or otherwise. To the extent that this last sentence made sense, I thought it was a really well-written line. I especially liked the part where I used the word patchwork.
Before committing to the "patchwork quilt" template, I considered many other "blanket templates." For weeks I saw the book as something of a "duvet." This worked for some time, but ultimately I realized that a duvet has certain limitations when used as a framework for writing a full-length book—primary among them the two do not, in any way, relate to each other. (See "book/duvet" comparison that follows.)
|DUVET VS. BOOK COMPARISON|
• Duvet keeps you warm.
• Book doesn't keep you warm. (If you light it on fire, book can keep you warm, but then technically it's not a book anymore; it's kindling.2)
• Duvet is soft.
• Book is hard… until it comes out in paperback. Even when it comes out in paperback, it's still not exactly "soft." It's just less hard than it was before.
• Duvet helps you fall asleep.
• Book also helps you fall asleep. There is, however, one major addendum to this point: Book does not help you fall asleep if book is a "page-turner." Then it actually prevents you from sleeping. The next day you complain to your coworkers that you're "so tired" because you were up all night "engrossed" in a "total" page-turner.
Other blanket templates that I tried were:
Area rug (not technically a blanket)
None of these quite worked, so I spoke to my editor, Ben, who had two suggestions for me. One suggestion was excellent: "Try patchwork quilt as a template." The other was unbelievably stupid. He said, "Consider the possibility that your book doesn't need to be modeled after a genre of blanket," adding, "There are many other templates for a book besides 'Patchwork quilt.' " I said, "Name one!" He rattled off ten, and, to his credit, none of them were blanket related.
Malcolm's suggestion was only getting me so far, so I decided to take a new approach. Instead of using the preface to tell the reader how I see the book, I decided to tell them how I don't see the book. I'm kind of an out-of-the-box thinker. Not to toot my own horn but I am. Apropos of nothing, my own horn is a flugelhorn. The flugelhorn is a distant cousin of the bugle.
HOW DON'T I SEE THIS BOOK?
Again, let's begin with the obvious. I don't see this book when I am not looking at it. I repeat: I do not see this book at any moment when I am not looking at it. Furthermore, sometimes I am looking at it, but I'm not really "seeing" it because I'm thinking about something else. Like just the other day, I was looking at the book but thinking about something else. In truth, I was thinking about sex. I don't feel the need to go into gory detail, but it involved blowjobs. You know, inserting your penis into a woman's mouth, at which point your penis becomes engorged with blood or, more colloquially, "hard," as said woman slobbers on it. I mean, I suppose slobber isn't the right word. That makes it sound dirty. It wasn't dirty. It was exotic. It was mutual. I chomped her box. We were young, barely in our twenties. And we were in Corsica and we barely knew each other. I mean, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. It wasn't a random thing, but in the bigger scope of "knowing someone" we barely knew each other; let's be honest, we barely knew ourselves. And either way, that's what you do when you're in Corsica. You make love. I mean, sure there's the Napoleon Bonaparte museum and windsurfing. And we did those things, but mostly we stayed in the hotel room because we were shrooming and we were too afraid to go out onto the street, and… anyway. Like I said, I don't want to go into gory detail.
In conclusion, being that I haven't started to write this book yet, I think it's irresponsible of me to write the preface first. So it is with great regret that I ask you to unread this chapter. The best way to unread this would be to have your memory erased.
The post-preface is a brand-new book feature that is getting a lot of "play" these days. All the big authors are doing it: Stephen King, Mike Chabon, Anne Rice. They all do it.
I am hoping that fifty years from now, when all writers employ an "author's post-preface," they will say, "Michael Showalter was a part of that vanguard." Just like when Thomas Edison's name is mentioned, people say, "He invented English muffins. Thomas's English Muffins."
I considered doing a "pre-post-preface" because I'm told that's all the rage with "up-and-comers." This would have come after the preface and before the post-preface, but then I realized that this was still just the preface. Still, I think that the pre-post-preface has potential, so I'm going to stick with it.
At my editor's behest (is behest a word?), I also tried to do armnotes instead of footnotes. The idea was to have my footnotes on the left and right margins of the page, just like arms are on the right and left sides of the body. I tried it—even added little "fingernotes" to it. This proved cumbersome and difficult to format.
These were good ideas but as they say, "The best intentions of mice and men." And when I say "they" I don't know who I'm referring to, nor do I know how the quote applies in this situation, but I'm certain it does.3
After much deliberation, I have decided to write a post-post-preface. What's scary about this is that I've written a post-post-preface without also creating its logical corollary, a pre-post-preface. I'm not sure if I did the right thing here, and I'm worried that history will judge me poorly for it. Still, this is a risk that I am willing to take because I believe in the concept of a post-post-preface, and while I fear that I have opened a Pandora's box, I also feel like I'm doing what is right.
A Pandora's box is a box (presumably belonging to someone named Pandora) that, when opened, creates unwarranted complications, due to the fact that her box should never have been opened in the first place. Basically, don't mess with her box. Leave her box alone.
The questions that I am struggling with here are:
Does this now mean that I need to do a post-post-post-preface?
Or, even worse, do I need to write a pre-post-post-preface? (And if this is the case, then that means there's a section of my book missing.)
In the interest of being thorough, I will do the pre-post-post-preface next, even though I should have done it before the post-post-preface.
I take a medication that helps me with my OCD. It's a generic form of the brand-name prescription drug Zoloft, and I take a very low daily dose of it. That said, sometimes I feel like I should take a higher dose, because if I don't, then I get stuck in a spiral of obsession/compulsion that leads me to do unnecessary and foolish things like writing a "pre-post-post-preface." I still stand by the post-preface, though. The post-preface is revolutionary and will become standard for all books. Still, the bigger issue for me right now is how to wriggle free of the spiral I'm in. In other words, how do I end the pre-post-post-preface? Furthermore, am I now required to return to my post-post-preface and finish that too? I think that the only way to end this is to create a new section altogether.
End of Pre-and Post-Prefaces Preface
Thus concludes the pre-and post-prefaces section of this book. On the following page, you will find page one of the book proper. If you have any questions about the book that weren't adequately addressed in the pre-and post-prefaces, please refer to the "FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)" on here.
My parents got married a year after they met. It would have been very strange had they been married the year before they met. My dad taught French at Princeton and then Rutgers and my mom taught English at Rutgers and then Princeton. Strangely enough, my father's first name is English but he teaches French. My mom teaches English but her first name is Elaine, not French. Apropos of nothing, Rutgers, like the word orange, does not rhyme with anything.
My sister was born in 1965. Her name is Vinca, as in the French flower le vinca.
I was born in 1970. My name is Michael, as in boring first name that every other guy with a penis has. Of course, all guys have a penis, so what I said is redundant. It's just that a penis is sort of that thing that makes a guy a guy. Right? Like, if he had a vagina he'd be a she. And if he didn't have a penis or a vagina, he'd either be a mannequin or a robot. Then again, I'm sure there's a robot with a working penis out there somewhere. Either way, Michael isn't a very original name—which leads me to believe I was named on a lark.
Here is a short scene of what I imagine it was like when my parents named me.
"What should we call it?" says my dad.
"Uh, I dunno. How about call it… uh… Mike?" says my mom.
"Call it Michael?" asks Dad.
"Mike. Michael. Whichever," says Mom.
"Sure," says Dad.
"Great. Let's go get lunch," says Mom.
"Cool. Sandwiches?" asks Dad.
"Sandwiches. Yes," says Mom.
Cut to thirty-seven years later: One morning, while checking my email, listening to Vespertine by Bjork on constant repeat, sipping a mug of coffee, and reading up on the latest news regarding the upcoming presidential election, I received an email from Ben Greenberg, a book editor. He mentioned as a way of breaking the ice that we had some mutual friends, and asked if I had any interest in writing a book.
This raised my hackles.4 He said he was familiar with my TV and film work and had read some of my writing. In particular, he referenced something I had written about taking ecstasy in my mid-twenties and peeing on myself.
I responded to Ben that I was flattered that he would think of me for such a project. I told him that it was an "intriguing" offer and that I would like a few days to "mull it over." I told him that I was very busy with my "studies" and that after my "mulling it over" period, if I accepted his offer, we'd have to discuss money immediately. I wasn't actually studying anything but it seemed like the right thing to say. I told him that I didn't work cheap and that I expected an unusually high advance for a first-time author, the kind of advance that would make headlines in book industry trade magazines.
Beginning with the sentence "I think there's been a misunderstanding," Ben promptly responded by email to say that no offer had been made yet. He used phrases like "absolutely no guarantees whatsoever," "long shot," and "very unlikely." He explained that I would have to come up with a well-thought-out book proposal that outlined what kind of book I would write and who would read it. I should also attach sample pages of writing (see here for "Book Proposal"). He said that he would then have to take the proposal to his higher-ups and then they would have to sign off on the project before any offer could be made. He also mentioned that I should have low expectations regarding the advance, should an offer even ever come.
Sensing a shift in the power dynamic, fearing that I'd mishandled things, I immediately responded that in the time between my first email and this one, I had had time to mull things over, that I had decided that I really wanted to pursue the project, and that I was desperate for work. I told him not to worry about money at all and that I would pretty much work for free.
He responded that he was "happy" that I was going to pursue the project and that hopefully it would "work out." I immediately responded that I hoped it would work out too, and then I reiterated that I was more or less desperate for the opportunity and that it really didn't matter what they paid me.
A few hours later he responded that I shouldn't obsess over the money part. He said that if they acquire the book they would definitely pay me but that the more important thing was to just put the proposal together. He encouraged me to just get to work, to please stop emailing him, and worry about the details later. In a postscript he reiterated that I please stop emailing. He almost seemed annoyed.
Ignoring his request, I immediately responded that I wasn't obsessing over the money part and that I would start working on the proposal that very instant and that I was incredibly "jazzed" about the whole venture.
After sending the email, I agonized over my use of the word jazzed and wished there was some way that I could take the email back, but I knew it was too late.
I considered sending him another email apologizing for having said the word jazzed but I knew that would only remind him that I'd said it in the first place. There was always a chance that he might have forgotten or not noticed.
"Showalter is a comic genius. This is, cover to cover, the funniest book I've ever read!"
(Dear Mike, Haven't had time to check it out yet. Do you want to just write a quote and put my name on it? Best, Ben) --Ben Stiller
- "Here's the deal: I think Michael Showalter is a genius. And I don't use that term lightly. This book is brave, merciless, and soulful and I think that by that I actually mean stupid, smart and very funny (I mostly just wanted to use the word "merciless" in a sentence.) If you see it on a friend's shelf do yourself a favor and just take it. Not the shelf. Just the book. Unless of course you need a shelf. Merciless!!!" --Paul Rudd
- "I read Michael's book on a train. It was funny and engaging. I also once took a train with Michael. I wish that Michael, as a passenger sitting next to me, was as funny and engaging as his book was." --Janeane Garofalo
- "Procrastination in written form. This book, like all great works, is honest, absurd and absolutely pointless." --Amy Poehler
- "With MR. FUNNY PANTS, Showalter deconstructs books down to their core, then builds them back up into a swirling core-nado. Which is a tornado made out of book cores. It's not a real thing. This book is funny." --Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone of SNL & The Lonely Island
- "Showalter, Michael has written a very clever book. And he has written about writing a book, cleverly. Showalter, Michael asked me to write a blurb. It was easy to do-here it is: 'I very much really really liked this Mr. Funny Pants-a book so enjoyable that blurbing about it is so very easy.'" --Zach Galifianakis
- "MR. FUNNY PANTS is unlike any book I've ever read. It's this weird, hilarious, choose-your-own-adventure inside Michael Showalter's brain-which is, of course, brilliant. I was at first skeptical of the premise of deconstructing the process of writing a book, but 10 pages in, I was literally crying with laughter and by the time he got to analyzing his own high school poetry, I could no longer read the book in public without embarrassing myself."--Mike Birbiglia, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepwalk With Me
- "Michael Showalter: amusing trousers, singular mind." --Sarah Vowell, New York Times bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates
- "With MR. FUNNY PANTS by Michael Showalter, the meta-enterprise of the [comedian memoir] genre achieves full wax-bouquet bloom." --James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
- On Sale
- Feb 10, 2012
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing