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It’s Not So Much the Heat, It’s the Humanity

From funny writer Jason Roeder comes his debut book, Oh the Humanity: A Gentle Guide to Social Interaction for the Feeble Young Introvert. Roeder is a humor writer, which means he is unemployed. He writes a column for Writer's Digest … Read More

By / December 13, 2007

From funny writer Jason Roeder comes his debut book, Oh the Humanity: A Gentle Guide to Social Interaction for the Feeble Young Introvert. Roeder is a humor writer, which means he is unemployed. He writes a column for Writer's Digest called "Roeder Report" and has been published in such so-so publications as Salon, The New Yorker, and McSweeney's.

Here's a preview of what you'll encounter in Oh the Humanity.

One valuable section, "Obliterating Yourself With Alcohol-Responsibly," lends advice on how to use the "confidence tonic" to improve upon your usual stammering and awkward self. Another, "Humor: Harnessing Your Inner Wayans Brother," teaches you how to make jokes that don't suck. And, in "Can I Be Too Curious?" Roeder offers such sage advice as: "1. Avoid asking strangers where they like to be nibbled. 2. Avoid asking them to confirm their gender. 3. Avoid asking them to confirm your gender."

Jewcy: Humor writing is vacuous. Do you think so?

Jason Roeder: Spoken like someone who's never read a single word of a "You Might Be a Redneck" desk calendar.

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of publishers who will take a chance on a humor book that doesn't seem to have loud novelty value. The humor sections of most bookstores are clogged with books that are really more like extended greeting cards. If you've ever opened a Shoebox Greeting and thought, "Man, I wish that dismal punch line pertaining to how decrepit I am at age 40 could go on for a hundred more pages," I have some fantastic news for you, my friend.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't exactly written Crime and Punishment myself, but I don't think a humor book has to be literary fake vomit, either.

J: What's the funniest thing you've ever written?

JR: Honestly, I'd say my master's project from journalism school. It was slapdash and superficial and awful. It might have been 20 pages. My advisor said that it wasn't even journalism. I said, "Thank God."

My favorite intentionally funny piece is probably my first: "I Enjoy Taunting Insomniacs." Insomnia used to be a problem for me, a huge one. A few years ago, I was into my third day without sleep. I had either begun to hallucinate, or Technicolor amoebas had moved into my apartment. I sat down and typed out 500 words of verbal abuse from the perspective of someone who just enjoyed a full eight hours and decided to brag about it. It's the only piece I've ever written that provoked more than one email with "You Dick" typed into the subject field.

J: As your book tells us, it turns out that empathy helps in making friends. Here's what you have to say about it: "Sometimes we can draw on our life experiences to empathize with someone. For example, a friend of mine recently described how frustrating it was trying to get through to his uncle with Alzheimer's. Although no one in my family has that terrible disease, I remember an unproductive conversation I had with an L.L. Bean customer-service representative who insisted there were no hunter-green chamois pajamas in stock. On another occasion, I was unable to get a waitress's attention immediately. So, although I couldn't relate to the specifics of my friend's situation, I knew his emotional struggle all too well."

JR: We all have more in common with each other than we think, shared emotional, if not factual, histories. When a homeless person raises his Styrofoam cup, I know the only change he really wants is my two cents' worth! So, I tell him how down-and-out I was when my DSL wasn't operational for seven straight hours before it suddenly just started working again for some reason. The way he hurls garbage at me says, "I'm not so alone, after all."

J: The New Yorker published your writing in a Shouts & Murmurs column last fall. That must've been a shitty day in the life of Jason Roeder.

JR: Oh, certainly. You get the acceptance email, and you spend the rest of the day with a trembling shotgun against your chin, wondering if you're man enough to do what has to be done. Actually, a clip in The New Yorker is a good thing, though any time I hear someone say that the stuff in Shouts just isn't that funny or should be funnier, I realize that I'm now probably part of the complaint. And when critics point out how infrequently women appear in Shouts & Murmurs, I recognize that I contribute to the imbalance. The reason I say that is because I have a penis.

J: You recently moved from Boston to New York. Which is better?

JR: First of all, I have no allegiance to the Yankees or Red Sox. I think I'll side with whichever team switches to football first.

It's hard to choose a favorite because I've only been in New York a couple of months. I'm still contending with the transition and feel like a tourist in many ways. I was on a date a couple of weeks ago, and the woman chided me for not detesting "sanitized" Times Square quite as much as I'm apparently supposed to. I guess I see her point. It took me more than an hour to get a hand job at M&M's World.

J: In regards to gay marriage you write, "What could be more transgressive than wanting to participate, as billions of others have, in one of civilization's most ancient institutions?"

JR: Well, I hope in my lifetime that gay marriage will cease to be a social issue, and I think the longer it exists, the tougher it will be to argue that the institution of marriage is being contaminated by it. Then again, the most recent census reported that 74.3 percent of Americans are credulous dildos, so who can say?

I remember how there'd be some important gay-marriage-related vote at the statehouse in Boston, and you'd see a photo of a righteous busybody evidently not needed in the workforce holding up a sign that read something like, "God Made Adam And Eve, Not Adam And Steve." I would've loved to have held up my own sign that said, "God Didn't Make Adam And Eve, Either, Bitch." Why not bring up evolution while you've got a fundamentalist's attention?

J: What's up next after "Oh the Humanity" tops the Times' Bestseller list?

JR: The second stage of the Apocalypse, I would imagine. And possibly a novel.

J: Besides world peace, what's your hope for the future?

JR: I'm not ready for world peace, not until Cyprus apologizes to me. You know what you did, Cyprus.

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