Category Archives: humor

Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw

I listened to two Anthony Bourdain books this year, both read by the author. The first one was Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook and the second was Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

As you probably know, Kitchen Confidential was the book that made Bourdain famous and the one that was probably the most shocking. Of the two, I liked it less.

I didn’t dislike it because of the content – the content was just fine. It was Bourdain reading it. He sounded monotone and kind of bored, and you think that maybe he recorded this book back before he’d really mastered his public persona. He does a 180 in Medium Raw, during which he sounds lively, funny, and engaged in what he’s reading.

A lot of people don’t like Anthony Bourdain. A lot of people see him as one of those guys who never grew out of the smart ass, teenage bad boy thing. He acts like he’s a badass but you don’t really believe him. They say he’s angry, and he can be vulgar and brutal. I always just thought he was being honest.

I’ve always liked his style. He’s gruff and says some wacky stuff from time to time, but Bourdain, to me, is very cool, and he’s cool because he doesn’t care what you think. He doesn’t care if he’s cool, if you think he’s cool, or what you think about him either way. He is what he is and he does what he does, and that kind of honesty and self-assuredness, is the coolest thing anyone can possibly achieve.

Both books are similar – stories of Bourdain’s time in kitchens, how the industry worked, in Medium Raw he talks about what’s changed about the industry since he wrote Kitchen Confidential, etc…

I found both books funny, but Medium Raw funnier, because Bourdain’s sense of humor about himself is on full display. He did it in Kitchen Confidential, too, but it was different. It’s easy to make fun of yourself as a goofy kid just out of college who thinks he’s really cool. It’s much harder to make fun of yourself as an adult who is supposed to be taking himself and his career very seriously.

Medium Raw also torches the Food TV industrial complex that has emerged in the last 20 or so years. That book actually came out in 2010, so Bourdain was criticizing actual chefs who had never worked in restaurants. As someone who really used to enjoy watching those chefs Bourdain made fun of on Food Network, I have to say that in 2018, Food Network kinda sucks now. They used to have actual TV personality chefs making things for most of their programming. Now we mostly watch food based reality TV shows, which are kind of interesting sometimes but mostly bore me to tears. I used to love turning Food Network on during the holidays and see what people used to make their own holidays special. Now it’s just, like, sad people competing to see who can build the biggest most structurally sound gingerbread house.

Sorry, tangent. My point is, I get where Bourdain is coming from even if he caught a lot of shit for it (and he DID catch a lot of shit for it).

I found Bourdain’s stream-of-consciousness style both endearing and conversational, writing the way most of us talk (although without maybe using so many F-bombs). I liked the stories. I know from these books that I could never work in a kitchen, so that is one regret I don’t have to suffer.

Plus, I’m a fairly adventurous eater. I’m not Bourdain’s level of adventurous (I enjoy his TV shows as well, although I don’t watch them often), but it’s nice to hear about food from someone who knows about food. If it wasn’t for him, I probably never would have tried oysters (which I now love) because I just didn’t know what to do with them.

The bottom line is that both books were enjoyable food-centric memoirs. And who doesn’t love food-centric stuff?

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Yes Please

Amy Poehler wrote and read her book, Yes Please, which I borrowed and listened to at work.

There were some very funny parts, although pieces could be dull. I did come away really wanting to watch Parks and Recreation, Poehler’s critical darling comedy that was apparently on life support for much of its tenure but survived six seasons.

My favorite thing about listening to female comedians is that they usually give pretty good advice and, as someone who is told frequently they should try stand up, I took away from Poehler’s book is that if I want to try it (I go back and forth on it, and not just stand up, anything), I really just should. Do as much as you can, as often as you can. Say yes as often as you possibly can.

That said, I loved listening to Poehler’s stories about her family because they did remind me a lot of my family, and you know, childhoods mess people up so it’s always fun to hear about how other people are just like you but different.

I also really admired about this book the way Poehler seems to admit and own the fact that she isn’t – and can’t be – funny all the time. As someone who works hard to be funny (as not my job), I really, really appreciate that. She says some other stuff too that I really appreciated hearing as well, including that there are benefits to getting older and getting towards/entering into middle age, one of the biggest being that you become so much more comfortable with yourself.

I am already comfortable with myself but if I could get more comfortable? I am on board.

Anyway, Yes Please wasn’t some super deep read/listen so you can probably get either done in a couple of days. Great beach read. I like Poehler’s voice and she comes off as funny and relatable.

2016: The Year of David Sedaris

Some time in 2016 I decided that I needed to switch from history to something funny. I think it was around the time the New York Islanders were knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So! I decided to give David Sedaris another shot. I originally read When You Are Engulfed In Flames by Sedaris back in 2010. I didn’t find it that funny at the time, but I said, “Maybe I’m missing something,” and the comedy selection on Overdrive leaves a bit to be desired. Unless I’m a big Stephanie Plum fan, there wasn’t as much choice as I would have hoped, so I gave Sedaris another go.

I’m glad I did. Listening to Sedaris read his own stories made a huge difference to me. They were witty, sharp, dark, and that’s kind of my style, so I got a lot of mileage out of them.

I listened to five books by David Sedaris in 2016:

1. Holidays on Ice
2. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
3. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
4. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls
5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

And one book edited by David Sedaris:

Children Playing Before A Statue of Hercules.

Forget about Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. It was an abridged production, it wasn’t that funny, and I only remember one of the essays which featured a (strained?) relationship between two sisters that I related to a little too well.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sedaris writes essays about things in his everyday life and they frequently feature his life partner, Hugh, and his family. The aforementioned essays are frequently humorous but sometimes serious and usually dark, which doesn’t always bother me until you realize these are real people he’s talking about and you hope that Sedaris is taking a bit of dramatic license.

Long story short, Sedaris writes essays. All the books had their particularly bright spots, but Holidays on Ice was probably my favorite of these books, and my favorite essay in it was “The SantaLand Diaries” where Sedaris chronicles his time playing an elf in SantaLand in Macy’s Department Store one Christmas season. Having worked in retail over Christmas, it was striking how similar Sedaris’s recollections were to my own, minus the elf costume. It seems people are awful everywhere, which is sort of a comfort. It’s not just happening to YOU, it’s happening to EVERYONE.

Other highlights from Holidays on Ice included “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!” (chronicling Mrs. Dunbar’s descent into madness brought on by, among other things, her husband’s infidelity, the prostitute stepdaughter she is forced to take in, and her own drug addicted daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock) and “Dinah The Christmas Whore” (in which Sedaris goes with his sister, Lisa, to rescue an abused prostitute from domestic violence on Christmas Eve).

My favorite essay, however, did not appear in Holidays on Ice but in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and was called “Six to Eight Black Men,” which was about Santa in the Dutch traditions (and other cultural differences).

I don’t really do it justice here because, well, I can’t. It made me laugh til I cried. So I’ll let Sedaris read you the story himself.

The Funny Thing Is…

It took me way too long to read this book.

I read it on my kindle, because I use my kindle when I’m doing cardio (elliptical, stationary bike, whatever) if I’m not catching up on TV (OMG I WATCH SO MANY ‘CRIMINAL MINDS’ RERUNS). And I brought it with me on vacation. And it STILL took me forever.

The thing about Ellen Degeneres’s The Funny Thing Is… is that it wasn’t very funny.

Don’t get me wrong, it had some chuckle worthy moments, and I like Ellen a lot (and my sister is obsessed with Ellen, so I’d be afraid not to like her). I could even hear her voice reading most of the book, but I just didn’t think it was THAT funny.

Maybe I need to see her face, because so much of comedy isn’t spoken, but this book wouldn’t be as funny as I hoped. There were some chuckle moments. The weekend brunch part? The talking butterfly daydream? hahahaha. But a lot of the book just…fell flat.

What I do like about Ellen, that often goes unmentioned but that I do like, and continues here in The Funny Thing Is… is that she can be funny without being mean. Don’t misunderstand me, I find that being mean can be very funny. Take for example, Tosh.0. I know that’s not a book, but it’s the best example I have of what I’m talking about. Tosh.0 can be hysterically funny, but it is incredibly mean spirited. Mean comedy gets tired after awhile. It’s incredibly repetitive, but also (in my opinion) the laziest form of comedy, and it shows if you watch it enough. It’s easy to make fun of people. If making fun of people was all there is to comedy, we could all do comedy. I’ve never seen Daniel Tosh live, so I can’t speak to his standup, but his TV show is definitely that.

Ellen doesn’t just make fun of people endlessly, she makes real life funny. It’s true. Why in hell can I not open a pair of scissors without a pair of scissors but can pop open a lightbulb no problem? These are the sorts of real life, every day mundane things that Ellen can highlight and make hysterical and does a fantastic job with. She’s to be admired in this way, because finding the funny in routine things is much harder than making fun of people, at least in my opinion.

But overall, it was only an okay read. It was chuckle worthy, but not laugh out loud hilarious.

The funniest books I’ve ever read are by Dave Barry. They’re called Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs and Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States. Those books had me hysterically laughing…even in public. Consequently, I compare all “funny” books to them. If I’m not laughing in a public place and unable to stop myself, the book may be amusing but it wasn’t funny.

So I guess that’s where I’m at with The Funny Thing Is…. It was amusing but it wasn’t LOL-worthy. Ellen is a great entertainer and I wouldn’t mind reading her other books, but if given the opportunity, I’d rather see her live/watch her show.

Meme: 10 Books That Have Stuck With You

This meme is going around on Facebook, and I thought I’d share my list here.

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and do not think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just books that have affected you in some way.

01. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
02. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
03. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
04. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
05. Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
06. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
07. Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs – Dave Barry
08. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
09. Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier
10. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Alternate ‘Game of Thrones’ House Mottoes

My friends and I were discussing Game of Thrones (books and TV show).

For some reason, I find the series – books and TV show – a lot funnier than I think they’re meant to be. So much of it is so deadpan, I just laugh.

My friend was complaining about the Starks who, while being the only “good guys” in the series, are too dumb to survive. “Honor before reason,” as he said.

So I started coming up with alternate house mottoes.

House Stark: Honor Before Reason (not entirely my idea)
House Baratheon: Sibling Rivalry Gone Awry
House Targaryen: Incest – Bad For Dogs, Worse For People
House Lannister: We Barely Like Each Other…Except Jaime. We All Like Him
House Greyjoy: Our Last Male Heir Got Himself Castrated
House Tyrell: Pretty And Prickly (alternate alternate motto: Every Rose Has Its Thorns)
House Bolton: We’re Sadists
House Tully: Just Edmure And A Zombie
House Frey: We Lack Originality And Foresight

Fun stuff. I can’t stop giggling, but I don’t know if it’s because these are actually funny of it’s because it’s the middle of the night, I’m tired, and I just think they’re funny.

On one more ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ note: popuptee.com is selling some pretty awesome shirts of various houses – Stark, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Lannister, and Targaryen – for only $12.99 + free shipping. Other shirts include a White Walkers shirt, a Night’s Watch shirt, and a “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” Cersei quote shirt. Hurry though! There’s only about 38 hours left before the sale is over and they won’t be available anymore!

I bought a Stark shirt and a Baratheon shirt for myself, as well as a Lannister shirt as a gift for a friend of mine. I like them a lot. I sort of want to see if when I put on the Stark shirt I am killed instantly (just struck by lightning or hit by a truck), and I like the Baratheons a lot for no reason I can actually give you. Robert was one of my favorite characters, but I have no idea why. He just seemed so cuddly when he wasn’t raging at Cersei or talking about killing Targaryens.

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