The up-and-coming comedian shares—and occasionally overshares—tales from his nerdy, manic-depressive youth.
In the introduction to his debut collection of personal essays, Gethard proclaims that he has “always wanted to charge headlong into outlandish situations at the first sight of them.” Outlandish situations are in dispiritingly short supply here, though: Gethard’s predicaments are largely of the garden-variety teen and 20-something variety, from awkward sexual experiences to moving violations. Growing up in New Jersey, the author was an introvert whose relatives were prone to violent verbal explosions, and the title story reveals how he inherited some of that barkiness. Alas, too often Gethard oversells moderately irritating experiences as hyper-wacky, emotionally cataclysmic events. When he balances his self-deprecating posture with some genuinely humiliating moments, he can be funny: In “White Magic,” he recalls an ill-fated stint playing a pimp for a Z-grade pro-wrestling league, and “The World’s Foremost Goat” is an amusing fable-like yarn about how his attempt to get an easy A in college led him to care for a goat in a harder-than-expected agriculture class. The stories run in chronological order, and as Gethard becomes more involved in the New York comedy scene the book acquires something of an arc: Self-hating funny guy comes to terms with his depression. (He breaks down on the phone with his mom more than once.) So he’s easy to root for toward the end in “Jiu Jitsu,” in which he ties his modest martial-arts success to his hard-won emotional equipoise. But to get to it, readers have to get past the self-explanatory “Colonic,” and Gethard isn’t funny enough to justify detailed discussions of his bowel movements.
The author has a good time laughing at himself, but he needs more interesting stories to tell.