Fun With Pop Culture

Half-Ass Book Review: Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me (May 13)

Rejection is funny. Sure, it’s not usually hilarious at the time, but sometimes it gets there. I didn’t laugh when I was told “You’re the guy I’m going to want when I get my life together. Well, not you exactly, but somebody like you.” But years later, it’s, well, still pretty painful, actually. But a little funny.

That’s the theory behind the new book Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me, a collection edited by former Onion writer and current head writer of The Colbert Report, Ben Karlin. More than 30 comedians and writers contribute their essays on what they’ve learned from rejection, and the results are often hilarious.

The line-up includes big names like Stephen Colbert, Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter, Bob Odenkirk, and Will Forte. Less famous, but still impressive, are Larry Wilmore (Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show), David Wain (Stella), Paul Simms (Creator of NewsRadio), Dan Vebber (Futurama), Senator Bob Kerrey, and Fountains of Wayne lead singer Adam Schlesinger. That’s a dream team right there, especially if you, like me, dream about comedy writers.

It’s to everybody’s credit that the collection doesn’t get monotonous. One would think tales of rejection would soon start to repeat themselves. It turns out, there are many kinds of heartbreak, and just as many ways to write about them. Undeclared writer Rodney Rothman interviews the first girl he ever kissed, and finds out, in a stunning display of awkwardness, that she doesn’t even remember him. Wain presents the story of the woman who kept canceling their plans as a screenplay. Odenkirk’s piece is a motivational seminar on the exact right amount of time to stay in a bad relationship (Nine years, for the record). Larry Wilmore writes about his infant daughter’s rejection of him, and Colbert’s submission is purportedly edited by his wife.

The vast majority of essays, whether from big names or lesser-knowns, knock it out of the park. Tom McCarthy’s summer camp reminiscence is tender and funny, and actually made me forget that he played the much-reviled Templeton on The Wire. Matt Goodman, who was unknown to me, has a hilarious essay on dry-humping. Neal Pollack has a warm and filthy story about the cat he loved. (Title: Don’t Come on Your Cat). And Senator Kerrey’s entry on finding lost love is surprisingly witty and bittersweet. It’s a real pleasure that the unfamiliar names are so consistently good. You’ll buy the book for Colbert and Patton Oswalt, but you’re going to enjoy Eric Slovin and David Rees just as much.

Karlin did a fine job of choosing contributors. The book contains a nice variety of styles, and the more famous folks don’t phone it in like you might expect. There are no quickly tossed-off pieces in here. Sure, there are a few clunkers, but it’s a high hit-to-miss ratio, and your mileage will vary. For my part, I found playwright Bruce Jay Friedman’s short story to be irritating and disingenuous, and Alex Gregory’s cartoon entries were more than a little flat. Yes, those were the two that broke from the parameters of the format – Friedman turned to fiction (if the story were autobiographical, it might have helped connect if he’d written it that way – as it is, it feels like a fair-to-middling creative writing exercise), and Gregory’s one-liners aren’t funny enough to really warrant their inclusion. Still, the overall product is strong, and highly recommended.

Not only is the book funny, but it just has to make you feel better about your own romantic past. Compared to Dan Vebber’s horrifying attempt at losing his virginity or Andy Selsberg’s all-consuming grudge, my own wreckage seems like a walk in the park.

Score Four and a half Beans

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