Checkin’ in with … comedy writer Mike Sacks

Checkin’ in with … comedy writer Mike Sacks
Photo by Julie Rosenberg

When last we checked in with Vanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, he was hawking a shameless book of interviews with famous comedians. Now the Park Sloper is back with “Your Wildest Dreams … Within Reason” (Tin House), a collection of his previously published comic essays that was published on March 1. On the eve of a truly rare event — an actual public appearance by the elusive comic genius at Greenlight Books on March 17 — Sacks checked in with Editor and failed comedy writer Gersh Kuntzman over breakfast at Dizzy’s.

Gersh Kuntzman: I was going to condemn you from the outset because you have done the thing that every writer dreams of — you have been paid twice for the same work. And handsomely! I hear that Tin House Books paid you $100,000 for the privlege of reprinting this. Discuss.

Mike Sacks: There was four figures on this book.

GK: One of them is a nine!

MS: No, a three. It’s very hard to sell collections of writing. Right now, everyone in comedy is putting out books: Dmitry Martin, Paton Oswald, etc.

GK: I love etcetera’s work.

MS: But for your years, editors didn’t want this kind of thing, but people love it. I grew up reading Woody Allen books.

GK: I was also going to condemn the book until I came to a line graduating Magna Cum Laude from a lesser college and having your distinguished honor written on your diploma in sperm font. So after reading that, I decided I love the book.

MS: Is that the only line you read?

GK: Yes, but that means you’re batting a thousand. More important, you did, “Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk” last year. That book was very funny. Yet I failed to write a profile of you then. Explain.

MS: Explain from my end?

GK: Yes.

MS: You thought it was too sexy for your readers.

GK: Give me an example.

MS: Well, the big old schlong shaped like a big old mushroom.

GK: Give me another example.

MS: There were a lot of positions in the book that may not have been appropriate for thirtysomething Park Slope couples.

GK: Are you saying that I’m thirtysomething?

MS: I thought you were twentysomething.

GK: And I make love like a teenager. But let’s get back to sex for a second. That book was funny. And it did well, correct?

MS: Yes, but you have to do it yourself.

GK: Are we talking about the book or about sex again?

MS: Both. We went a reading tour in a van.

GK: If that van is a rocking …

MS: Yes, we hit all the rest stops.

GK: How do you do it? Working all day at Vanity Fair and then writing books.

MS: You can do a lot if you don’t watch TV.

GK: Are you saying I’m lazy?

MS: No.

GK: So you’re saying I’m not talented.

MS: You’re incredibly talented.

GK: So are you saying I’m unlucky?

MS: Spread your wings and fly!

GK: And give up Community Board 6?! I should end this interview right now. So let’s get back to you for a change. Tell me about these essays.

MS: A lot were initially published on a website I started called Fredonian, which doesn’t exist any more. Neal Pollack and Daily Show writers wrote for that. It was fun. There were so few comedy outlets then. I wrote for Crack’d in college. But it all fell apart because I sold a piece to Mad Magazine, a bitter competitor. My idea was a story about an intern for the mob.

GK: Good idea.

MS: They noticed my byline in Crack’d, so they made me change my name and they paid me less and they wouldn’t invite me on Mad trips. My name was J. Michael Shade, a reference to “Pale Fire” by Nabokov.

GK: The erudite Mike Sacks.

MS: (Carson-esque voice) Ooh, mommy!

GK: I once got a great rejection letter from Mad.

MS: Why didn’t you keep pitching them?

GK: Because I interpreted rejection as evidence of lack of talent, not as a come-on to keep bothering people. That’s where you and I differ.

MS: You got gershed.

GK: But you’re a genius. Your first book [“And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on Their Craft”] was a collection of interviews with great writers and comics who would later blurb all your subsequent books. You get it, man. So what’s next?

MS: We’re starting a book imprint with “Funny or Die.” It would be for the comedy-writing geek, fiction and non-fiction.

GK: You’re the Arianna Huffington of comedy writing.

MS: I hope so.

GK: I like this idea because at some point, a tiny pebble from the huge mountain of cash on which you are sitting might end up at my feet.

MS: It’s the Reagan trickle down.

GK: Which means the only thing that will trickle down is that in one year, I’ll get to interview you again, and I’ll get another free breakfast. Let’s get back to your sex book. Not everyone realized it was a joke, but what did they think was real?

MS: The section about finding the clitoris, which we called the Bigfoot of the female anatomy.

GK: But that was true!

MS: I know. I’ve never seen one.

GK: Or a Bigfoot.

MS: Or a clitoris on a Bigfoot.

GK: Imagine finding that.

Mike Sacks will read as part of the weekly comedy night at Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. at S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], March 17, 7:30 pm.