Friday, August 13, 2010

Joe Was Becoming Witty

This book club book about Joe E. Lewis is super crazy. Like, Art Cohn (the author) keeps telling us what a comic genius Joe E. Lewis is (Scott Phillips zeroed in on this insane bit as the ultimate example: "Now he was a Socrates in cap and bells, a drunken Aesop revealing the wisdom of the ages in logical lunacy") but PROVIDES NO EVIDENCE to back it up. I'm not saying Joe E. Lewis wasn't funny. I have no idea. But if he was, there is something that's not coming across on the page, no matter how many times Cohn assures us of the hilarity we're missing ("He was ahead of them, whether they laughed or not, and they loved it"). Here's how Joe E. deals with a heckler. He makes a quip, and another quip, then HE THROWS A HOT CUP OF COFFEE IN THE GUY'S FACE. Another heckler: Joe E. directs a quip at him, and another quip, before walking over and BASHING OUT THE GUY'S TEETH WITH A MICROPHONE. Just a paragraph or two after that, Cohn writes with no apparent irony, "'You got to be wise before you're witty,' Josh Billings said. Joe was becoming witty." Huh? Let's leave it to Megan Abbott to make sense of everything as usual: "To me," she writes, "the fascination and kinda crazy brilliance of the book is the anxious desperation driving the need to make this portrait stick--this kinda antic accumulation of praise from others, this surrendering of the 'voice' to other megaphones who can help build the case, this enjambment or collapsing of time -- like the sense he can't even control his own narrative so desperate he is to show Joe E. (and himself, as a writer of value) as Someone Who Matters. When all you can think of is, My God, what do they have to hide? What is this manic shell game designed to conceal?"