An acclaimed poet proves his versatility in his gut-busting memoir on jokes.
In his debut memoir, Hudgins (English/Ohio State Univ.; American Rendering, 2010, etc.) admits his Achilles’ heel for clowning. “Since junior high, I’ve been a joker, a punster, a laugher,” he writes, “someone who will say almost anything for a laugh.” In his memoir, he also proves that he will write anything for a laugh as well. No terrain proves too taboo for Hudgins, who dispenses racial jokes, misogynistic jokes and jokes in which Jesus and dead babies make appearances in the punch lines. Yet his often-bawdy material probes depths far beneath the jokes themselves, providing opportunities to examine his life through a humorous lens. Hudgins recounts his evolution from grade school clown to college-age clown to married (and later divorced) clown, but he’s at his best when moving beyond himself and providing the historical context for his punch lines. While tightrope walking along the perilous subject of racial jokes, Hudgins' true contribution comes from his commentary on growing up in the segregated South. His discussion on jokes as a regional defense mechanism—one that exposes the fears and biases of the time—prompts new thinking on a subject often overlooked: i.e., the attempt to shroud America’s past lunacy in laughter. “Jokes are often—some would say always—intricately wound up with power,” he writes, a claim all the more powerful given his Southern upbringing. As Hudgins proves, jokes provide various other functions as well, including a test of the teller’s ability to read his audience. As the author has learned, humor is no universal language, though thankfully, he possesses the skills to prompt readers to examine their own complex relationships with chuckles, guffaws and groans.
A humorous, cerebral and daringly written memoir.