Laugh Lines: Mike Sacks’s Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason

March 18, 2011 | 1 book mentioned 1 4 min read

coverDo you perform yoga in parks? Do you carry an NPR Fresh Air tote bag? If you don’t mind getting made fun of, Mike Sacks’s Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason is for you.

Sacks’s introduction, “ATTENTION READERS: This is a Warning!” informs us that the vast majority of the following humor pieces have no particular narrative line, no connecting theme or characterization or running plot. They have “absolutely nothing to do with each other.” If we try to make sense of what’s there, Mike tells us, we will be disappointed.

Unlike some of his contemporary humorists (David Sedaris, for example, blurbed the book and wrote, “Mike Sacks is not just a sensational comic writer, but a sensational writer—period”), Mike refrains from comedic memoir. In his essays, previously published in The New Yorker, McSweeny’s, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and “any number of other publications, including a few which no longer exist,” Mike focuses on absurd, fictional characters doing heightened versions of every day human behaviors. (The “Ikea Instructions” cartoon that results in a gun to the head springs to mind.) Twenty-five of the fifty-four essays are collaborations between Mike and the Pleasure Syndicate, a comedy-writing group consisting of Todd Levin (Tonight Show), Scott Jacobson (Daily Show), Bob Powers, Jason Roeder (The Onion), Scott Rothman, Will Tracy, Ted Travelstead (Esquire), and Teddy Wayne. Mike takes a moment in the intro to thank these men for being his cronies, helping to make him the writer he is today, and to (hopefully) resolve his workshop edits.

So what can you expect from a book about “reasonably wild” dreams? Some very brief but memorable Shouts & Murmurs-esque humor, a sprinkling of Kama Sutra poses. Ah yes, a bit of “everyday life.” Despite the fact that half of the characters in these pieces are irrational schmucks who do things like write rejection letters to Anne Frank (“We’re focusing on authors with broad multimedia platforms. While you were up in the attic, did you have strong Wi-Fi access?”), or who put together a list of warnings regarding their brothers’ upcoming bachelor party (“The electrolyte boost will usually make Tom see tracers, which is always good for a giggle, until it becomes horrifying.”), or who send fan mail to Salman Rushdie (“I have yet to stumble upon a really solid gimmick, such as the fatwa you were lucky enough to be associated with for more than two decades!“), when you get past the “fictional fantasies,” the people in these essays remind me much of myself. I do carry a Poets & Writers bag, after all.

In “Geoff Sarkin is Using Twitter,” Geoff is getting married and decides to Tweet the entire experience—he’s in the midst of typing when he looks up and realizes it’s time to kiss the bride, which he does, and returns to update his followers with, “Oh, yes, the kiss! LOL. Still LOLing. Helen not laughing, maybe she will in a sec—No, still not laughing. Kiss is wonderful. Better than expected!”

“Funny Letters from Summer Camp and Their Not-So-Funny Responses” shows Todd writing his “Mummy and Daddy” to tell them that camp is fun, he’s eating a lot of candy, and a frog crawled into his shirt. Todd’s dad writes back to say, “Mummy and I are getting a divorce. Will give you specifics when you come home. Tell Kevin’s frog we say hi!”

And my favorites are the lists:

“The Worst Places to Die”:

Roughly six minutes after mumbling, “What the worst that can happen?” and stopping to pick up that drifter with the “colorful past.”

“When Making Love to Me: What Every Woman Needs to Know”:

#6. If I begin to laugh uncontrollably, it isn’t you. Chances are extremely good that I’m just imagining what my best friend Kurt’s reaction will be when I tell him about all this.

“Icebreakers to Avoid”:

The Muppets are bullshit, and let me tell you why.

In “Krazy Kris!” a desperately depressed man hires a clown to cheer himself up and the clown, in turn, becomes glum:

Krazy Kris: I think my troubles first started in college. Women could never relate to me as anything more than a friend. Always the funny guy, you know?

Me: God, you’re a bore. What’s the matter with you lately?

Krazy Kris: I guess even clowns have their months off, right? So sue me. Life ain’t all about the gags. Pass my reading glasses.

Just a few hours before reading the essay “Dear Mr. Thomas Pynchon,” in which a new writer attempts to convince the famous author to blurb his upcoming book, I sat in a sushi bar conversing with one of my non-writing (near non-reading) friends, who said, “I refuse to read a book unless I’ve been told it’s good.” The hopeful writer in Sacks’s essay writes to Pynchon, “In today’s literary climate, it is essential that a new writer obtain a blurb so that Joe Q. Dumbbell thinks a book is worthy enough of purchase or library checkout.”

Yes, I thought to myself, my post-military, weightlifting pal would probably never read anything I wrote unless someone (Mike Sacks, perhaps) told him it was worthwhile. That said—Mike, I blurb your book, you blurb mine? It’s a 500-pager written in one long, French sentence about my affinity for sheep. You seem open-minded. I’ll put it in the mail tomorrow.

is an intern for The Millions. She was born in Los Angeles and is currently earning her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at The New School. Her work can be found at thenewyorker.com and at her blog, rachelhurn.blogspot.com. Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelmariehurn.

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