I don’t care if you dislike memoirs. I don’t care if you aren’t a fan of hip hop, stand up comedy, deaf people, or Jews (Actually, I do care about those last two, a lot actually). But you should be reading Kasher In The Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16.
Yeah, interested now, right?
Kasher In The Rye is one of my favorite books. Ever. It’s not even just my favorite memoir, it is in my top ten favorite books. Ever. I highly recommend this book as a fan of reading, and writing. Here is why: I love stand up comedy, it is my most favorite thing in the world and I would never have had the skillset necessary to write coherent, readable novels without stand up comedy being such a massive part of my life and who I am. If you are a writer, I highly recommend watching stand up from people like Mike Birbiglia, Todd Glass, John Mulaney, Pete Holmes, Marc Maron, and of course Moshe Kasher. The storytelling in their acts is completely unreal. I watched Mike Birbiglia’s “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” everyday for a month, but I completed a full manuscript in that time because it completely fueled me. If you are a writer, looking for inspiration, you should be watching stand up online, on TV, or better yet, in person. Hell, if you’ve got the time (and the guts), and you’ve written a passage or short, short story that you could see a crowd really, really, laughing at, read it at an open mic, I’m serious, it is worth at least trying. And if you are a LGBTQIA+ writer then I emphasize this even more: Watch. Stand. Up. Comedy.
Just a few nights ago, I came home from The Meltdown (A weekly comedy show in a comic book store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles—Best room in LA) and I was thinking about how I needed to write this blog post, and to my surprise as fate would have it, Andrew Michaan had a joke exactly about what I had been planning to write about.
If you are a writer, namely an LGBTQIA+ writer, you are in luck to be writing today when there are so many great comedians with great voices detailing the complete normalcy of being not a straight person today. Andrew Michaan’s bit on this subject went along the premise of his mother detailing to him how imperative it was that he be honest and open with her about anything, no matter what—she would love him always. So he worked up the courage to come out to her, as straight. And she supported him saying, “You’ll figure it out eventually.” And to my surprise, I found out talking to him after the show, he was new to LA (It was his first night at The Meltdown show) and this particular bit killed the audience, being so relevant to the area, as Andrew… I’ll say it… looked like he could have been gay. All I mean by that is he had clean white jeans and a haircut that didn’t part in the middle. But he looked very “LA”, and the locals of course were rolling at his jokes, him denying being gay when he could have so easily tricked us into believing he really was—But he was not offended by the audience’s opinion of him and his sexuality at all. That was the point.
In Kasher In The Rye, author Moshe Kasher details his mother who raised him on her own in Oakland, California as a very liberal, hippy, feminist, activist. She often begged and pleaded with him and his brother to please, please, let her know if either was gay.
“Being gay isn’t funny. It’s not a joke. It’s just like me being deaf. Would you like it if people laughed at me for being deaf?” He quotes her saying in part one “Genesis”. And each time she asked this they would let her know that they understood, but they still weren’t gay, however they “wish they were.”
This was when Kasher was nine years old. Now, more than twenty years later, this is still a part of his act (which can be watched on Netflix). Kasher calls the moment halfway through his show when he reveals to the crowd that he is a heterosexual as “The Big Reveal” because up until that point, Kasher drops unconfirmed hints and references to the possibility of him being gay, be it verbal or with his subtle mannerisms, and of course, his taste in clothing and usage of jazz hands. After the big reveal, Kasher still says, “I wish I were gay. It sounds great.”
In a world where people seem so guarded around their sexuality, so quick to refute and deny any mention of being non-straight, this is why current stand up is so refreshing. You can’t be narrow minded to hit wide audiences these days and this is how we get diverse acts like Moshe Kasher, Bo Burnham, and Pete Holmes. They are by far the best stand ups I have seen that turn sexuality on its head and make the joke on the straight people, not the LGBTQIA+ community, like so many other comics are quick to do. It’s the kind of comedy that makes you go, “Oh, you got me!” only better because the “me” who said that was possible a homophobe and by “got” they mean “made me rethink what I thought the definition of gay was.”
John Mulaney, a comedy hero of mine, has a line in his special “New In Town” where he says, “I have a girlfriend, which is weird because I’m probably gay based on the way I’ve acted and behaved for the last twenty eight years.”
Myq Kaplan, who is a genius and hilarious, says in his special “Small, Dork, and Handsome” about the same subject, “I’m not gay, people don’t believe me. Can you? I’m not gay. I’m vegan. That’s the confusion… For all you know I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.”
Pete Holmes is one of my comedy idols and in his special “Nice Try, The Devil” he has a joke wherein he recalls being yelled at as a small boy for standing in a way that made him look gay (One hand on his tilted hip, with his leg extended outward. Like a teapot, or a very pregnant lady). And he never understood how that made him look gay, claiming, “I like sex with women. And standing like this. …About the same.”
These lines may sound like your typical gay stereotypes, but they aren’t if you listen closely. It’s mocking what people are so quick to ignorantly label gay, and showing people that what most narrow minds think is gay is really just people being themselves, being comfortable, it’s normal.
Bo Burnham and Pete Holmes talk about this exact subject on an episode of Pete’s podcast “You Made It Weird” and Bo recalls a time when he was a young kid in school and rumors of him being gay went around when he was in the play Honk, where he played a turkey. Moments before going on stage for his song in the play, Bo was asked by a fellow cast member if he was gay. He reacted through fed up anger and pent up tears, turning to the accuser and saying, “No. I’m not a fucking faggot,” then going right on stage to sing a song about being a turkey. Now, you can watch Bo’s full special “what.” on YouTube and Netflix and see where he is at now: Completely comfortable with people assuming whatever they want about his sexuality. He’s even said that he likes when people think he is gay, he thinks “It’s a lovely thing”. He has multiple jokes about showering with other men, God approving of homosexuality, even him enjoying anal sex, and he says all of them comfortably, confidently, and to the point where you don’t even truly know if he is joking. At the end of the special, he even brilliantly remixes a message of someone who once knew him calling him a fag, and makes it his own, his art.
Even if you don’t agree with a comedian’s views in their stand up or in their memoirs, there is something magical about hearing/reading a point of view being articulated in a thoughtful way, it opens a discussion to the listener. And a great reaction could be writing your own version or your own response. It is the greatest writing prompt. It can help you to learn about other people’s minds, and teach you how to craftily sneak your unique perspective into other’s thoughts.
Comedy is so much more than just jokes. It’s brilliant storytelling. It’s taking your thoughts, life experiences, opinions, and artfully twisting them in such away that people can’t help but laugh at them. And once you are laughing and enjoying something, you’re taking the time to think about and to ultimately accept it for what it is. This is why books like Kasher In The Rye are so crucial to literature, they can actually change how people look at things by making them find humor in it. A little nine year old Jewish boy in Oakland, telling his deaf liberal mother that he wishes he were gay is funny. And it’s true. It’s funny because it’s true, that’s the point of stand up, and good writing in general! This is why I can’t emphasize this enough, read memoirs by comedians, read Kasher In The Rye, go see stand up comedy on a Wednesday night and listen to the new guys who know what it is like to be a young person growing up in a new era for LGBTQIA+ members. Your writing and your world views will thank you.
Karina Rose and her ya/gay/nerdpunk novels are currently trying their luck in the publishing world. In the meantime, she hopes she is funny on twitter as @karinarosewhite, creepy on Tumblr as TheNightValePost, and as cool as she thinks in real life (Where, let’s be honest, she’s really not and probably just writing some more). She’s from a small beach town in Orange County, California which is why she’s so liberal and so broke.