Saturday, November 22, 2008

Seamus O'Regan Emcees Michael Cohen's Stag

Seamus O'Regan is such a well-liked emcee, he's starting to get private gigs. My friend Mike Cohen, an endodontist, was married last weekend. Everyone gathered in a private room at The House of Chan to talk, eat, and have a good time. About twenty minutes into dessert the lights dimmed, and from a door at the side of the room came Seamus O'Regan. He walked to the head of the table, smacked his palm on the wall, then started ripping into Mike's family. It was like having Don Rickles appear in your kitchen. And it was very funny.

Let me excerpt some of Seamus's jokes:

"Mike's father, Ron, is an interesting man. He's an oncologist at Princess Margaret's. Mike's brother Adam was married last year, and Ron planned the stag. He took all of Adam's friends to see women's naked breasts. Then, when visiting hours were over, he took everyone out for a drink."

"Mike's marrying a woman who likes rough sex. But she's very quiet. On their first date she only thought, 'No!'"

"Mike's mother is a terrific woman. She never spanked Mike as a child. Didn't want to spill her drink."

"Mike is a great reader, and I had the chance to introduce him to Michael Ondaatje. The two hit it off right away. Mike and Michael went out for cocktails one day--a dark, smoky bar--and Mike had a lot of fun. They sat for three hours; together all the time except when Ondaatje went to use the washroom. In fact Mike took Michael back to his house, and they ended up making love. They fucked. All night. Then Mike drove Michael home, and took him up to his apartment. The next day Michael didn't call him back, and Mike was devastated. 'Why wouldn't he call me?' Mike asked. He was frantic. 'Did I do something wrong?' 'No,' I said. 'It probably just hasn't worn off yet.'"

Incredibly tasteless jokes, but O'Regan likes to work blue. He's just held back by CTV's censors, who themselves are governed by CRTC guidelines. No swearing, no nudity, no obscene references.

O'Regan is a gifted comic, and I urge you to contact him if you ever find yourself in need of a toastmaster or roastmaster or just plain emcee. He charges about $450/appearance, which I think is a very fair price. Plus you have to pay for his meal and drinks, but that doesn't work out to more than a hundred bucks. And he doesn't even eat much--just dessert.

Oh, and let me say this: he has the funniest goddamn Canada AM stories. If you think you know Beverly Thomson, think again my friend. O'Regan tells a story about her at The Cupcake Shoppe that'll make you laugh till you cry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Katy Perry Writes A Book

Len Findlay sent me a letter:

David, I'm faithless and wandering. I want only to be quiet and still. I've lost hope that this world can offer anything better. And I'm thinking of buying a motorboat.

There's a group of people in Oregon who're willing the apocalypse. They're not waiting for it; this isn't part of any prophecy or misunderstood scriptural passage. They've just had enough of things (poverty, homelessness, cruelty, etc.), and they want everyone to know that it'd be okay if this tireless pursuit of a doctor's appointment just ended tomorrow.

"Otherwise," one told me, "there'll be a Saw VI. Can you believe that? I wouldn't use that goddamn script as a rectal thermometer."

The group's called the Wolfsonians and I'll address them later.

But the Wolfsonians keep a list of factors influencing their fatalism. It's like a Billboard 100. So, a couple of weeks ago, Palin's candidacy was #1. We all know that Palin's a genius, and rumours of her ignorance were fabricated by the liberal media, etc. Palin was great; she was just folksy. And if she didn't know that Africa wasn't a country...well, that was Schoolhouse Rock's fault, wasn't it?

Then Obama won, and Steve Maich's hair became an issue. (I wish I had a picture of Maich circa. '08 on The Agenda. It was the strangest thing. His hairline hadn't really receded, and his hair was long. Yet he was bald. And under the studio lights you could see his entire scalp. It was like sun streaming through a forest of denuded trees.)

Their list's been amended since then, and the new problem is Katy Perry's forthcoming novel. Katy Perry is an American pop singer who's famous for a bunch of reasons--big tits and a nice ass. And she sings. I want to be fair; Perry's not just an attractive woman who made it on looks alone. But to buttress my point I will say that Rolling Stone has speculated that, had she been born a mute, her past album sales would've decreased by about half.

Perry's writing a novel. Christ, why not? Miley Cyrus is working on a tome in the kitchen of her tour bus. It's based on the life of Mark Ruffalo, and Dick Cavett, who read an advanced copy, says that the writing is just cogent as anything Prudential's actuaries have ever done.

Perry's novel is a guaranteed best-seller, and so it deserves space on this page. The plot? That's still a secret. But Perry's doing it all herself. No ghostwriter here. This is going to be pure Perry. Apparently she's doing a lot of work in the studio, between takes. Dr. Luke is helping her with synonyms.

A friend questioned Perry's qualifications. "Novels are big and hard," she said. "Katy doesn't have any experience with that."

The easy joke would be to talk about or list books that Perry's read. From lyrics like, "Us girls we are so magical / Soft skin, red lips, so kissable," I'd say she's familiar with a lot of stuff by Bernard Kops. But I haven't read the novel, so I can't judge her. Maybe it's good. Maybe it's terrific. Would MTV offer to "get The Hills writers working on an adaptation right away" if it were bad?

The Hills writers--you know them. They're the group that said the only problem they had with Henry Fonda as an actor was that he didn't play Tom Joad "funny."

And Perry's songs are literary. Let me say that. Philip Roth called Ur So Gay, "Like Anna Karenina set to a funky beat." And Charles McGrath, in the New York Times Review of Books, said that "One of the Boys" is, "not better--but isn't too far off from anything that Virginia Woolf shit out on a particularly cold, Aylmer morning."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Return To The Gillers; or Kevin O'Leary's Looking Thin

Literary gossip's a big thing. Who knew? This 'site, which I started after watching Daphne Marlatt surreptitiously eat a bunch of muscat grapes in the Yonge/York Mills Loblaws, is starting to draw significant traffic.

A lot of it's coming for New Orleans. That's the cradle of Boyden territory. He teaches down there; he's got friends and family down there. They were cruising Google, looking for news of Boyden's Giller win, and they landed in the loveseat beside Adler.


If Joseph's literary debt to A.R.M. Lower is a surprise...well, I'm sorry you had to read about it here. But I will go on record and say that he did not write Through Black Spruce at Marian Engel's grave. That was Hugh MacLennan. (And it wasn't a novel; it was a letter to Rosie DiManno.)

I'm just cleaning up some reminiscences of Giller night, and I thought I'd share them here. Hundreds of people--most of them brothers and sisters of Marie-Claire Blais--seem interested in knowing what happened behind the classy velvet curtains of The Four Seasons. And I can't resist telling all that I know.

Neil Smith was there. I don't know if I mentioned that in an earlier post, but the author of Bang Crunch was sitting at my table. He didn't want to talk about books. I said, "So what do you think about Lam?"

He said, "Fucking wool..."

A strange answer, but Neil's a strange man. I once saw him return a set of house keys to a homeless man at Christie and Bloor.

I kicked Bob Rae's shin. "Nexen's in play," I said. "You know that."

"What?" Bob asked.

But Neil jumped in. "You follow stocks?"


"Do you watch BNN?"

"All the time."

"I love Kevin O'Leary."

Kevin O'Leary's a fund manager/banker who co-hosts BNN's Squeeze Play--their prime-time show. He's rich, he's candid, and he's a lot less vapid than most people on TV. I guess his only fault--if he has one--is that he believes greed should replace breast milk for nursing infants.

"He's entertaining." I said. "Although I'd like him a lot more if he'd admit that he's lost money."

"Oh, he's lost money."

"I know, but he won't admit it."

"Have you noticed how thin he is?"

"Yeah. He does look different."

"Different? It's night and day. I was telling my friend, he either had a facelift, or he's lost thirty pounds. His face is like an axe. It's like he's sucking in his cheeks. But they never show him standing up, so you can't tell."

"That's true. But he's on all the time. You think he had a facelift? When? He hasn't missed a full week in a couple of months. David Fleck's spun his goddamn pen for two--maybe three--days in a row. That's not enough time. Maybe a chemical peel..."

"Well, something's different."

"He's lost some money. And he's lost some weight. Do you ever watch CNBC? Karen Finerman looks like she has her makeup done at Benjamin's. Guy Adami lent her his tanning bed. She's wearing closed-toed shoes just to hide the tag."

"What's Benjamin's?"

"That's a Jewish funeral chapel. Very famous in Toronto."

"Oh. But he's got no wrinkles. His face is smooth. Gaunt. If you lost weight, wouldn't there be hanging skin, or creases?"

"Neil," I said, "it's a mystery."

"I notice it every night."

"Who'd miss it?"

"But Amanda looks good." He started to whisper. "I love it when she needles him about the shippers. Robert Peel." I nodded, and Neil looked toward the podium. "Oh, Seamus is starting. We'll talk about this later."

At that point O'Regan ascended the stage, taking his place behind the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here tonight. I just flew in from Moncton, and are my arms tired..."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Scalp A Giller Ticket; or People Will Say We're In Love

Last night I was in London, ON, visiting a friend, and I popped in at Frank Davey's house. Frank was watching Oklahoma!, the 1955 version with Gordon MacRae and Gloria Grahame. Yes, Frank has a DVD player. A Toshiba. People tend to assume that, just because he wears homemade sweaters, Frank is some kind of anachronism. That's not the case at all. You should see the man's iPod. If Chantal Kreviazuk only knew who her biggest fan was...

We started talking about my night at the Gillers. Frank hadn't been invited, and he wanted to know who was there. I told him that I'd seen Vicki Gabereau, Valerie Pringle, Wendy Crewson, Craig Kielburger--

"Who's that?" asked Frank.

"Craig Kielburger?"


"He advocates for child rights. Mostly in Africa, Asia. He tries to get kids out of sweatshops. That kind of thing."

"That's nice."

"Yeah, he seems genuine. But he was written by J.M. Barrie, so who knows."

"Why would he be invited?"

"I don't know. He's famous, I guess."

"I've never heard of him."

"He has a column in The Star. He's all over the news."

"But what does he have to do with Canadian writing?"


"So why would they invite him?"

"I don't know."

"I just don't understand."

"It's a tough one."

There was a pause. "Well. They didn't invite me."

I was shocked. He'd already told me, five minutes before. But I'd also noticed an incredible amount of milk in the house. "They didn't."

"No. And I asked the mailman. I asked him every day. What do you think? Can I trust him? I don't know if I can trust him anymore."

"I think you can trust him. I wouldn't worry about that. But I can't believe you weren't invited. I wish I would've known. I had an extra ticket; I scalped it." I never would have taken Frank. He's no fun, and he tends to get into pointless arguments with waiters. Once, at Shopsy's, he insisted that he'd been given slightly less corned beef than I had. And he made the waiter stay at our table while he ran out to his car for a ruler.

"You scalped it?" he said.

"Yeah." [Beat.] "Well, I didn't need it. I asked a friend to go with me, but she's on strike. She had to collect wood. I sold it for eight hundred bucks."

"Eight hundred? Jesus. To whom?"

"Some woman on the street."

"On the street?"

"Yeah. People were lined up out there--right outside of The Four Seasons. 'Who's selling?' was all you could hear. She tried to start me out at two hundred, but there was no way."

"And you got her all the way up to eight?"

"There were four other guys bidding against her. I just let them go. The woman and the guy were left at seven fifty. And they were dressed up, all ready in a dress and a tux. Finally the guy said, 'Look, I've only got eight hundred on me.' And the woman said, 'Me too.' So I didn't know what to do. And I said, 'Well, flip a coin.' The woman said, 'Wait! There must be something else I can do for you. Something.' And, Frank, it was right out of a movie. So, of course, I gave the ticket to her."

"And what did she say?"

"She was so grateful, she kept re-iterating that she'd do anything. And I was thinking about it. She was beautiful. But I said, 'Belinda, I'd never take advantage of someone like that.' So I got her to stick an ice cube down Alice Munro's dress."

"You're kidding!"


"What did Alice do? What did she say?"

"She said, 'It's hot in here.'"

"I can't believe I missed it. David, I'm so mad."

"It wasn't that good. Don't worry. O'Regan hosted again, and he was just terrib--"

"Shh!" And Frank pointed to his LCD screen. "This is my favourite part." And he started to hum. Then he started to sing. The man was in a trance. "Don't throw bouquets at me...Don't please my folks too much...Don't laugh at my jokes too much...People will say we're in love."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Night At The Gillers; Joseph Boyden's Giller Win; and Vincent Lam On Writing

First, congratulations to Joseph Boyden for his '08 Giller win. Boyden's Through Black Spruce, a terrific tale of trees and shrubs and leaves and snow, took the $50,000 Prize. When asked what he planned to do with the money, Boyden said, "Moisturize."

As I've warned before, Seamus O'Regan hosted the ceremony. O'Regan was quicker than Jack E. Leonard, riffing on the "celebs" stuck in Giller traffic. "We're here at the Four Seasons, right in the heart of Yorkville," O'Regan started. "The Four Seasons--you know what 'four seasons' means in Canadian fiction? That's right [and here O'Regan shivers]...cold--ice cold--and white: Margaret Atwood's panties."

I was at the dinner, having a few drinks with Rawi Hage. "I'll have Canadian Club on the rocks, please," I said.

"Me too," said Hage, "but I'll have mine on him." And here he pointed to me. Cash bars are tricky, but it was my pleasure.

Vincent Lam was there. Now, I hate Vincent Lam. I hate him. But I've learned to tolerate him as a Canadian author. The man never finishes a meal. Never. You serve him a steak, he eats half. A fish? He eats the head. A hamburger? I've seen him eat the bun and leave the burger.

A friend of mine works at a Toronto-area publishing house, and a few nights ago she helped to host an online dialogue between Nino Ricci, Vincent Lam, Doug Pepper, and Lewis DeSoto. (The National Post story says "...Lewis DeSoto and more," but I'll just end with LD.)

Ricci is an excellent writer; certainly one of Canada's best. I have nothing against Pepper and DeSoto.

But Lam's still hanging around. He's still here. He baked a nice pie--once--and now he keeps saying, "I could bake another. You know I could...I'll bake it! Don't make me get out the flour. Don't tempt me!"

And from the artistically charged halls of medical school, Lam has now become cemented as a Canadian literary giant. A true writer. But as a person he prefers prostate exams.

It reminds me of an interview that I heard years ago; an interview with Woody Allen that tried to get at the core of the question of "funny." The reporter kept asking Allen why the audience laughed when he told a joke. Allen said there was just something about him that people found funny. It was his voice, his posture, his appearance, and his energy that were responsible for 90% of the laugh. The other 10% was material.

Which makes me wonder what an interview with Lam would sound like. I don't think Vince is much of a writer, and my opinion hasn't been changed by rumours that CBC is trying to develop a film based on Lam's improbable doctor-to-writer success story. They're having a bit of a problem because it doesn't look like Colm Feore can play "Asian."

But, you know, there are a lot of rumours re: Lam floating around. And last night at the Giller I had a chance to talk to him. To size him up.

"Vincent," I said, "how's your book coming?"


"I hear it's a comedy."

"It's funny. But serious, too."

"What's the plot?"

"No, I couldn't talk about that."

"Okay. I understand. But are we going to see it soon? I'm really anxious to read it."

Lam groaned. "It's taking so long. But you know how the process is: Margaret's such a perfectionist."

Thanks again to Jack Rabinovitch, Scotiabank, and the rest of my Giller hosts. It was a lovely night. Bronwyn Drainie looked beautiful, as always. It's gotta be tough finding a Petro Canada jumpsuit to match black Mary Janes, but she does it every year. What a gal.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Won't Drink Tim Hortons Coffee Unless It's Brewed By Joseph Boyden

Not many people know that before he became a successful mousse model/writer Joseph Boyden used to work at Tim Hortons. He worked at the Yonge/Bloor branch, making donuts and muffins, cleaning tables, and scrubbing floors. I once saw him throw out a homeless woman who'd spent the night sleeping in the utility closet. When I asked him how she'd managed to sleep in the 3x3 room, Boyden told me, "After six days, you get a little tired." Boyden picked her up, carried her out the door, and dropped her in an empty parking spot. She got fifteen bucks for the spot, and when Boyden went to pay for a banana on his way home from work he realized that his wallet was gone.

In fact, Boyden spent a lot of him time at Tim's researching Three Day Road. There was an Native fellow who used to come in at around seven o'clock every morning, buying a large cup of regular coffee, staring out the window at the sunrise, then leaving the full cup on a table just beside the door. He didn't even take a sip; he just left the full cup sitting on the table.

One day Boyden got curious, and he decided to ask the man what he was doing. What was the rationale behind his behaviour? Was this some kind of spiritual offering?

So when the guy came in, Boyden was ready. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "But I notice that you come in every day, buy a coffee, and leave it on the table. Why?"

"Well," the man said, "you serve the hottest coffee in town."


"And my hands are just so cold in the morning, I feel good holding the cup. It warms me up."

"Oh," Boyden said. "I feel a bit foolish. See, I thought it was...or could have been some kind of spiritual ritual. I thought that your god could have been involved in some way."

"Spiritual?" The man laughed. "No! Not spiritual at all. In fact, I'll tell you what I do--it's not spiritual at all. I'm a male prostitute."

"A male prostitute? Really? Wow. I guess that you can't have cold hands in a job like that."

"Oh, no! It's exactly the opposite. You go to Alice Munro with warm hands, she'll defrost right there on the spot. I use an electric blanket when we fuck."

"An electric blanket? Why?"

"Condom's got no insulation."

But Boyden couldn't use that--he has no aptitude for comedy. He once told a joke to Rudy Wiebe's step-son, and Wiebe said, "It was funny, Joe, but Mazo de la Roche told it better."

Boyden's a writer I like, and I'll continue to read his work. I'd rather drink his coffee, though. He made a really good cup of coffee. He put cinnamon in it--something like that. It was almost a French Vanilla, but there was an almondy taste. It's really too bad that he had to get famous. He knew just the right amount of milk to put in the pot. That's right, he brewed it with the milk already added.

Firemen used to come into the Tim's just to get Boyden's coffee. I'd see them standing in line: "What are you gonna get?" "The coffee." "Anything else?" "Maybe a donut." "Gonna get a donut." "Maybe a coffee and a donut." "Drink it here?" "Here, outside." "Yeah." "They've got new cups. Look at that." "No, they're the same." "Look new." "Yeah." "What's taking him so long?" "He's got to make it." "It's made." "Can't be." "Look." "Oh yeah."

The man was a genius.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel Dead; Michael Ondaatje Alive And Well

Sometimes I wonder what the lasting impact of this site'll be. The Internet is permanent; nothing ever disappears. Twenty years from now, while researching a paper, some kid in Maine is going to find out that David Foster Wallace once filled a jar with dirt from Scott Fitzgerald's grave, used his thumbs to make an indentation, then fucked the jar as a writing exercise. Whether that'll change his thesis...Well, I just don't know.

Studs Terkel died today. Studs was a great man. He once fucked a water buffalo. And he won the Pulitzer Prize. So only he and Wendy Wasserstein have that in common. Beyond that, Studs was a fine writer, and I wanted to take a paragraph to recognize him.

Michael Ondaatje's an interesting study. Here's a guy who's a gifted writer; a guy capable of intensely academic prose. Yet he's an asshole. I onced watch him sign a book for a seventy-year-old fan at Toronto's Baycrest Home for the Jewish Aged. "Leonard Greer," he wrote.

"Why 'Leonard Greer?'" the woman asked.

"Because I am Michael Ondaatje."

She looked at him. "Please, Leonard..."

But I think the best Michael Ondaatje story comes to me courtesy of a friend who saw M.O. trying to parallel park on Queen West, just west of Ossington. Ondaatje was sitting outside a hardware store, and there was a spot that could've held the Raratongo cast of Fame. But he just sat in his Volvo, watching, waiting.

My friend stopped, recognizing Ondaatje.

Ondaatje started to back up. First he hit the curb. Then he pulled out. Then he went back in, hitting the curb once more. Fine, he tried a third time. Again--curb. Cab drivers were scrambling around him, honking and shouting obscenities. So Ondaatje tried again. This time his back tires mounted the curb and actually got onto the sidewalk.

A pedestrian stopped to try to guide him. The guy put down his groceries and was giving M.O. the semaphore treatment. Ondaatje ran over his watermelon.

He offered to pay for half: "Look! This part's still good. Eat around the tread."

Another story: Ondaatje was asked by Farley Mowat to speak at a testimonial dinner for Jane Jacobs. Ondaatje was asked to do one minute of material. He opened with a joke about Paul Lynde's wedding night, and was immediately booed off the stage.

After the dinner was over, Mowat cornered him in the hall: "Michael! What were you thinking?" he asked.

Ondaatje was defiant: "I thought it was funny."

"You thought that a joke about Paul Lynde would be appropriate? At a Jane Jacobs dinner? Why?"

"Come on, Farley! Have a sense of humour. So what if they shared dildos?"

"This is Jane Jacobs--a great woman."

"And this is Paul Lynde."

"But for her to share a...a sex toy with him? Why, Michael? Why?"

"He had a dishwasher."

"That's not--That's not what I meant."

And another research paper is written.
All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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