Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If You Can't Be Funny, Be Seamus O'Regan: The 2008 Giller Finalists Are Introduced; Later, I'll Roast Them

The 2008 Giller finalists were announced about three weeks ago, and since then I've been writing furiously, trying to find that one joke that'll communicate just how I feel about these people and their books.

I was at Chapters--one of two left in the city--looking for Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault, and one of the floor walkers told me they'd sold out of 'em.

"You're sold out?" I said, a little angry that I'd circumnavigated the globe to find this World's Biggest Bookstore, and they were going to send me home with a souvenir plastic bag.

"Well," the guy said, "yeah. We did." A pause while he thought. "The demand was amazing, you know--we got the copy from the publisher, and two weeks later it was gone."

"Will you stock more?"

"Why? She only has one mother."

I picked it up at a used book store, paying 85% of the cover price for what turned out to be a good read.

Now I've read all of the '08 Giller finalists. I'm one of two persons in the entire country that can claim that distinction. The other's the guy who cleans out the TTC cars after they come in at the end of the night. And then only because he breezes through Metro.

Do I look forward to the Giller ceremony? Well, this year found me without an invitation. I was there last year, sitting yards away from Margaret Atwood, trying desperately to run for a first down.

I just sat there, balling up bread, rolling the balls between my thumb and forefinger, throwing the missiles at her. "I'm trying to knock off the burdocks."

Again I felt estranged as the only Jew in the place not writing a cheque. When Neil Smith asked me if I knew where he could find a good dradle I almost punched him in the mouth. But he moved, and I got his shoulder.

"Watch out!" he screamed, grabbing his lapel. "Sears won't take this back if it's dented."

My date decided to tell an old Jack E. Leonard joke, walking up to Alice Munro, introducing herself. "There's Alice Munro," she told me as we walked in. "She came up here from down there to be with us tonight." And walking up to Alice: "Hi, Alice, how are you? The ground cold this morning? Gee, we better get this started soon--the sun's gonna rise."

The other Giller finalists are: Joseph Boyden for Through Black Spruce, Anthony De Sa for Barnacle Love, Rawi Hage for Cockroach, and Mary Swan for The Boys in the Trees. I like the women this year. The nude calendars'll sell well at Shoppers counters. But Boyden's already stocking up for a win: gel sales in his New Orleans Walgreens have never been higher. This thing could go all night, and he'd still be taken care of...As long as he doesn't have to dunk anything. Guess C. Gibb'll just have to sit up this time.

Seamus O'Regan will host. And that's really a shame. It's not just that the man can't deliver a joke, but when you're leaning on "the best writers in CBC's stable," you're aiming slightly below a Norm Crosby Red Lobster ad. "Are you funny?" O'Regan asked a prospective writer.

"Sure," the writer said.

"Well, what have you done? Show me something."

"Will you accept puns?"

Last year's monologue reminded me of a speech I'd given at my brother's bar mitzvah when I was just out of Grade Ten. I was introducing the head table, and I said, "...And here's my grandmother, Zelda. The watermain burst at my grandparents' house, so today they had to come over to our place to shower. My grandmother went just before me. I never knew she was a blonde."

That got a laugh. When I say that O'Regan reminded me of myself, it was largely in the sense that he was standing up, his mouth moving. His lines were slightly better than Jack Layton's address to a group of Dominion grocery workers on the occasion of their forty-fifth shift. And now he's back again. Would it be possible to select a host who appeals less to the broader public? Even Catholics are tuning in, saying, "Jesus! Wash the corpse of Pat McCormick; get him up there."

Of course--this is Canada, and we have many Scotch-Irish personalities. Some of them think they're funny. They watch The Office. Some of them have even tried to write jokes: "'Knock, knock.' Okay, let me think...A Canadian goose. 'Who?' 'No, that's an owl.'"

I'll be following this closely.

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