Gary Shteyngart is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed literary novelists of his generation — but he isn’t just that. The New Yorker “20 Under 40″ list author is also New York literary society’s most beloved clown, the dark comic undertones of his novels extending into his public persona. Over the years, he’s exaggerated the excesses of his own personality to create for himself a bumbling, lecherous nebbish character who can’t even speak (much less read) English.
It was that character who hobbled onto the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night, conspicuously overdressed in a black suit with a bow tie, for a Friars Club-style roast to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Shteyngart’s debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. Joined by host John Wesley Harding, his roasters included fellow authors Sloane Crosley, Kurt Andersen, and Edmund White, along with New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman. Although, at under an hour, the program felt a bit too brief and — as Harding suggested at several moments — the ribbing was often too gentle, Shteyngart’s colleagues still managed to get in a few entertaining jokes. We’ve collected the best disses below, with apologies for excluding White’s, which were excellent but which we just couldn’t manage to transcribe because he was reading them very quickly from prepared notes.
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This month, comedian extraordinaire Eugene Mirman released his first book, The Will to Whatevs. Featuring chapters such as “The Fifty N’s of Nightlife” and “The Heart, the Penis, and Mrs. Vagina,” it provides an abbreviated guide to just about every aspect of modern life. Of course, it’s the kind of guide you’d need a severe head injury to actually follow, but as with most things in Mirman’s world, that’s pretty much the point. This year, he returns to his supporting role on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, as well as joining the cast of Adult Swim’s new show Delocated. He’s also set to release his third live comedy album, and has some big-screen plans in the works. This week, he hits the tail end of his current book-release tour, after which he’s staying out on the road with John Wesley Harding for the duo’s Cabinet of Wonders.
After the jump, we catch up with Mirman amid all the chaos to see how he’s holding up, learn more about his All-Night Think Tank Party League, and discover his plan to reinvent the audiobook.
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Wednesday night we were transported to a Victorian-era vaudeville variety show, as post-ironic folkster John Wesley Harding (aka the wordsmith, Wesley Stace) took to the stage along with a line-up of literary heavyweights, kindred musical spirits, and a ventriloquist whose surly dummy stole the whole dang show. It felt like a throwback to a time when the singer-storyteller was king, the magic-lantern was an enchanting device, and stages were lit by candle light… then Eugene Mirman did a PowerPoint presentation, Jonathan Ames talked about his intellectual transformation from a breast man to an ass man (before letting out an oddly soothing boy scout call that put all the women in the room under his spell), and that aforementioned dummy, helmed by Carla Rhodes, killed with a 9/11 joke that reminded us how deep in this century we really are.
Le Poisson Rouge seems tailor-made for this Cabinet of Wonder, which will have two more shows in New York (March 11 and April 15 ) before Stace and Mirman take it on the road. After the jump we chat with the ringmaster about how he put this circus together and why readings are so much better with musical accompaniment.
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