Thirteen years later, my zine became the victim of its own success: The process simply ceased to be fun for me, so after 37 issues or was it 38? an exhausted one-man publisher called it quits.
I only tell you this because as I was wrapping up, a New York-based zine called The Lowbrow Reader was taking off. Jay Ruttenbergs was a lot like my own (funny, pop culture-centric, well-designed, well-written basically everything most zines were not), but with some relatively famous names contributing, like Royal Trux musician Neil Michael Hagerty. That credibility obviously helped, because now its spawned the one thing I was never able to get off the ground: a book.
And to come full-circle: The Lowbrow Reader Reader is something you can read in the bathroom. By sheer coincidence (?), the cover even suggests as much. But dont take this paperback as some pithy, Uncle Johns Bathroom Reader crap; the release from Drag City yeah, the lil CD label whose logo adorns the spine of my beloved Stereolab, Broadcast and The High Llamas discs is a thoroughly satisfying collection with such a high re-readability factor, its earning a permanent space on my shelf.
The only way to review the Reader Reader with relevancy is to take a quick survey of its contents. Consider these highlights among highlights, in chronological order:
Margeaux Rawson shares the banned-from-Glamour transcript of her interview with the four female comics known as the Queens of Comedy. They talked about their sex commandments, but in a zero-filter manner that is so dirty, so filthy, one wonders if MoNique still wouldve won the Oscar for Precious had this raucous piece gone viral. A small sample: Let a muthafucka eat a strawberry out your pooty-cat!
In a wonderfully lengthy essay, Ruttenberg makes a great case for Adam Sandlers first star vehicle, 1995s Billy Madison, as a genuine comedy classic. I wholeheartedly agree. Ive contended from the start that it and Sandlers follow-up of Happy Gilmore are hilarious works of absurdity. The rest suck.
Speaking of absurdity, the primitive drawings that constitute David Bermans Cartoon Hour. Some make no sense, but xmas tree tetris is a favorite.
Michaelangelo Matos 18 Stories About Chris, with Chris being his one-time stepdad by these uproarious accounts, a clueless, loudmouthed, unpleasant beast.
Hagerty explores the history of CARtoons magazine, which was like Mad for gearheads. Growing up, my little brother always used to buy these at the grocery store. They were terrible, and yet, I find this piece fascinating. Who else would tell it?
Rawson recounts the time she interviewed rapper Ol Dirty Bastard at his house: It was the smell of Newport cigarettes, feet, ass, food and unbrushed teeth. Just all-around funk. A bouquet of stink.
Even more horrifying: Liza Weisstuch dishes the dirt in her date with unfunny comedian Jackie Mason, who clearly expected immediate sex after dinner: What are you, frigid or something?
Ruttenburgs interview with Jack White of The White Stripes is illustrated in comic-book form by Mike Reddy.
Sam Henderson recommends several Overlooked Comedies: 1961-1983, and his suggestions are pretty dead-on until the end. Sorry, Sam, but I just cant get behind Up the Academy or Screwballs, beyond glimpses of nudity.
Ben Goldberg rips Chevy Chase a new one (almost assuredly deserved) by revisiting many of the stars jerkiest moments. This is followed by Joe OBrien admitting that while Chase is a prick, his talent looms large.
At nearly 300 pages, theres plenty of content to consume, both satirical and serious, including worthy appreciations of Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, Muhammad Ali and Dons Rickles and Knotts. One need not even approach the book as a cover-to-cover experience. If The Lowbrow Reader Reader at all sounds within your realm of interests, chances are whatever you flip to Shelly Bermans poetry aside is going to make you smile and/or laugh, with or without a bowel movement. Rod Lott