By Michelle Patterson
Let me preface my take on The Lowbrow Reader Reader which a bit of nostalgia: When I think about the candy I had as a child—the kind that I tried to sneak under my parents’ radar because of the illicit pleasure of spending my allowance on the various toxic-looking treats at the corner store—I only get nostalgic for a few of them and upon closer inspection, my choices were pretty telling. The soda candy, in which the soda-type-liquid is encased in tiny, hard plastic bottle-shaped blobs, was some of the foulest-tasting candy on this earth, both past and present, but I still sucked that down with joyous glee. Candy cigarettes, in both hard and gum form, actually evinced a chuckle from my mom when she did find a pack in the back pockets of my shorts, while doing laundry, because she used to “sneak them,” as well.
These candies have a dusty glow about them as though beamed out of a television from the 1950s. We’re wistful in embracing both the good and the bad they represent because they represent us: our pasts and how those feed into our current interests. Whether we acknowledge it or not, what we gobbled up from the corner store still informs our choices today.
The Lowbrow Reader Reader aims to capture such a feeling with a new book, a collection of the best from their comedy journal. Over the course of eight issues, the various writers—including a couple flights of stage-bound fancy from vintage comic Shelly Berman and several installments of snarky kid-in-the-back-of-the-classroom style “Letters from the Editor” from Lowbrow creator Jay Ruttenberg—both embrace and capitalize on the stickiness of comedy’s past.
Where the wistfulness truly comes into play is in the articles that thoroughly examine and support the comics and films we’d previously deemed disposable, tired, or not-fit-for-publication. Don Rickles is a comedian whose talents expand beyond his rat-a-tat machine gun fire of insults because he is deep deep down, a warm-hearted fellow. Jackie Mason is a prickly pear, but there were many speed bumps in the road, mostly people-shaped, that turned him into the reigning “Most Bitter Jewish Comedian on the Planet.” Don Knotts should be taken just as seriously as Andy Griffith for his contributions to television and film is argued in a piece on the shaky, bug-eyed thespian of yore.
One of the strongest articles is the extended interview from the “not fit to print” files—Glamour magazine did not think this raunchy rollercoaster would vibe with their readership—and we’re luckier for it. The Queens of Comedy, a quartet of bawdy and candid ladies, bestow so many buckets of lascivious and downright hilariously nasty sex advice that I never wanted the article to end. If there is an audio version of this interview, I’d use it as a lullaby to rock myself to sleep to every weeknight.
The second amusing and essential article in this collection is the thorough examination of the genius that lies within the “film” Billy Madison. I may not agree with the author’s worshipful ode to Coalemus, a.k.a. Adammus Sandlerous (the god of stupidity), but the care and devotion put into the article is impressive.
Whether it’s a Mad magazine inspired lunatic fringe comic or the ability to say to yourself, “Yes, I do think Joan Rivers is a genius and needs some damn respect,” The Lowbrow Reader Reader has something for the accidental wax-ingesting, cigarette gum-chewing, foul-mouthed lady comic kid in all of us.
The Lowbrow Reader Reader was published on May 22 through Drag City Books and is available to order from their website.