Friday, May 02, 2008
Funnymen by Ted Heller
It's been a few years since I first read Funnymen by Ted Heller (it was published in 2002). I read so many books, and my memory is shot anyway, so it was time to give it another go (Heller is also the author of one of my all-time favorite comic novels, Slab Rat.)
The "funnymen" of the novel are the fictional comedy duo of Fountain & Bliss, loosely based on the legendary team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The narrative is unique, set up documentary style, as if Heller himself had interviewed all the major and minor characters of the Fountain & Bliss world. All of these characters (and boy are they characters!) tell of the meeting, union, and rise of the loony comedian (Bliss) and the girl-chasing crooner (Fountain), from the Catskills in the 1940s, to Hollywood of the 1960s, and beyond—past their eventual breakup, and into old age. Each character tells his/her version of events in a unique, identifiable voice, which I know (as a writer) is a hard trick to pull off.
The storytelling in Funnymen is engaging, spot-on, satisfying, exhausting, and more importantly—funny. When the laughs come (and there are plenty of them), it's because you as the reader know the characters so intimately, that you get the joke on every level, as if you are laughing at a long-time friend or family member.
So that's two great novels now from Mr. Heller, but the question is: When is the next one? It's been six long years since Funnymen was published. Ted, if you're out there, help me out. I need some more Heller. I'll be a first reader for you if you need one. Call me.