Feature: What’s this for? A terrifying and humourless journey into the pathologically guarded world of the independent author


What is this for?

A terrifying and humourless journey into the pathologically guarded world of the independent author

By Nathaniel G. Moore

“The formation of these kinds of questions tends to institutionalize the dynamic it addresses. The elitist construction of the “literary” immediately tries to immunize itself from the democratizing impulses of humor.” — David mcGimpsey answering questions from “Day 28” of my unfunny interrogation.

Hold on. I’m still on the phone with someone.

“Yes, it’s for the humour issue. You’re sort of funny.”

“But are the answers just being absorbed into an article?

“I don’t know…really.”

“Or is it being printed out verbatim,

like a vanity fair Q&A Proust thingie

at the tail end of the magazine.”

“I doubt that very much. Why?”

“Just curious, cause it’s mega information.”

“Okay I gotta go finish this thing.”

“Hold on a sec.”


“Who loves you?”


Who wants a lawsuit? Not me, I just ate. At the time it sounded like a great idea, the article that is. Interview some CanLit stars about humour. But I was three months younger then: I had no idea the voluminous pitfall about to form around my size ten feet at every step. So instead of butchering the interview tapes of CanLit’s funniest authors, [all names withheld until paragraph two under Section 152A of the LPG v. NGM act of 2005] I thought I would go through some of the signal post / landmine moments of creating this tome, a word I once mispronounced at a poorly lit reading and at which my license was revoked for well, what’s today’s date? See, we’re laughing already.

June 9, 2009: Day 1 of my journey into CanLit’s cerebral funny bone and my list of possible clowns has formed. The questions have also formed, as has a strange razor burn on my neck. No one has replied and it’s getting dark and Ontario Hydro is climbing up the side of my house with an army knife in between its teeth. Or is that Hamilton’s own Gary Barwin? I can never tell them apart.

July 30, 2009 9:49PM: While answering the question Do you think personal shortcomings or personal aliments are the new black? author Jon Paul Fiorentino replies, “You are a racist and a horrible person.” While poet Lynn Crosbie offers, “Soon to be on the Canadian runways, deerstalker caps, MC Hammer pants, burkhas, shirts made of squashed cans and Hooters tees. The message: Fibromyalgia is over. The look: fabulous.” While screenwriter and novelist Tony Burgess humbly confesses, “I think personal shortcomings really just hold people back in the end.”

August 10, 2009 (Day 34): I got the Assistant Editor job at this very magazine. I’ve been crying all morning. Now it’s like 5pm and I have, like, no idea what I’m going to do for this article when I see a golden orb pushing a stroller. As the figures comes into fruition, I realize it’s Toronto playwright and novelist Claudia Dey who promises to shed some much-needed sunshine into my CanLit humour intervention. A few days pass and I get a lovely letter and MSWORD attachment. Dey has refreshing insight, intelligence and most of all credibility. “To me, funny is crucial. It is an invitation. I especially like it–and tend toward it–in the context of grief. Grief leaves us in the most exhaustive and ridiculous circumstances (who has not found themselves screwing on a motel water slide after a funeral?) As such, it is a natural precursor to dark comedy. One begs for the other. Certainly, my tendency is toward this worldview than the Greek tragedy model of stabbing out your eyes and slaughtering your children. For instance, in Stunt, the scene of Eugenia, faint with grief, at a funeral staged by her mother includes her twin neighbours practicing a dance routine. This punctuates her sorrow rather than diminishes it. The world does not take notice of our losses–instead, it becomes more heightened and it asks us to do the same. Chekhov is one of my writing heroes. He called ‘The Seagull’ a comedy. It ends in a brutal suicide.”

August 22, 2009 (Day 49): After what feels like six months of questions and answers, I discover my research is inconclusive, making me wonder if perhaps it is true what they say at Indigo Home office, Will Ferguson is the only funny writer worth paying attention to in Canada. I was satisfied. Indie authors don’t want to be called funny; they don’t want to be called period. They just want to get paid. I went back to my tinted-windowed rental van and doused myself in soccer dad Joop, paraded around the photocopier I have sitting on an empty milk crate and remembered it was not plugged in. As I went to plug it into the generator, I noticed a stack of VHS tapes. The first two were episodes of Degrassi, the ubiquitous show about being Canadian and being disturbed in some way. Somehow it made me think about this article. It was time to harness my contemporaries to my brainstorm. I put on my best harassment sweater and got back online. I squeezed my thigh twice as if to say “we’re going home,” and proceeded with the mass-email countdown. Many people in the van with me–for whatever reason–wondered why I was talking to my thigh. Writing isn’t an exact science, I thought. So let it be said that perhaps the most defining moment of every indie Canadian author’s comedic fate, or fate in general, regardless of ties to some convoluted theme issue, lies in the answer to that eternal question of destiny, self-worth and social relevance. If given a character and some creative control, what would your major story-line problem be on Degrassi? The answers will shock you Canada. And thus concludes my research assignment for Broken Census Canada.

The Question: What would your recurring character on Degrassi be and what personal ailment and tragedy be on a weekly basis?

The Respondents: a) Lynn Crosbie b) Elyse Friedman c) Tony Burgess d) David McGimpsey e) Pasha Malla f) Mike Spry g) Daniel Allen Cox h) Jon Paul Fiorentino

The Answers:

1. “Probably be just a semi-stupid person who doesn’t know what’s going on in any given episode. Gonna graduate and do ok, but prettty stupid guy.”

2. “My weekly problem would be the slow movement in Beethoven’s violin concerto.”

3. “I’d be one of the teachers, brought back from Jr. High and grown up, who is constantly hitting on the flowering young girls in the new Degrassi. On a very special crossover episode with Corner Gas I’d beat the shit out of Brent, and Joey Jeremiah.”

4. “I would be Kevin Smith so I could fucking hang myself.”

5. “Testicular Rabies”

6. “Dude, this is the best question here. I wish that I had had recurring problems in high school–they would’ve been much easier to manage. What about stuffing my crotch with Kleenex and having it fall out my pant leg in the cafeteria every show? I’d hear taunts of “Stuff, Drop, and Roll” as I ran for the bathroom.”

7. “I’d be a painfully unpopular Greek girl whose Papa won’t let her go to the dance. But then I do anyway and Papa brings the smack down. On some future episode I get caught shoplifting and Papa brings the smackdown again. Basically it’s me vs. the old country, week in, week out, until we go to high school and I’m replaced inexplicably with a pretty much identical character named Diana.”

8. “Scabies. All incarnations.”

But who said what?