Thirteen years later, my zine became the victim of its own success: The process simply ceased to be fun for me, so after 37 issues — or was it 38? — an exhausted one-man publisher called it quits.
I only tell you this because as I was wrapping up, a New York-based zine called The Lowbrow Reader was taking off. Jay Ruttenberg’s was a lot like my own (funny, pop culture-centric, well-designed, well-written — basically everything most zines were not), but with some relatively famous names contributing, like Royal Trux musician Neil Michael Hagerty. That credibility obviously helped, because now it’s spawned the one thing I was never able to get off the ground: a book.
And to come full-circle: The Lowbrow Reader Reader is something you can read in the bathroom. By sheer coincidence (?), the cover even suggests as much. But don’t take this paperback as some pithy, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader crap; the release from Drag City — yeah, the lil’ CD label whose logo adorns the spine of my beloved Stereolab, Broadcast and The High Llamas discs — is a thoroughly satisfying collection with such a high re-readability factor, it’s earning a permanent space on my shelf.
The only way to review the Reader Reader with relevancy is to take a quick survey of its contents. Consider these highlights among highlights, in chronological order:
• Margeaux Rawson shares the banned-from-Glamour transcript of her interview with the four female comics known as the Queens of Comedy. They talked about their sex commandments, but in a zero-filter manner that is so dirty, so filthy, one wonders if Mo’Nique still would’ve won the Oscar for Precious had this raucous piece gone viral. A small sample: “Let a muthafucka eat a strawberry out your pooty-cat!”
• In a wonderfully lengthy essay, Ruttenberg makes a great case for Adam Sandler’s first star vehicle, 1995’s Billy Madison, as a genuine comedy classic. I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve contended from the start that it and Sandler’s follow-up of Happy Gilmore are hilarious works of absurdity. The rest suck.
• Speaking of absurdity, the primitive drawings that constitute David Berman’s “Cartoon Hour.” Some make no sense, but “xmas tree tetris” is a favorite.
• Michaelangelo Matos’ “18 Stories About Chris,” with Chris being his one-time stepdad — by these uproarious accounts, a clueless, loudmouthed, unpleasant beast.
• Hagerty explores the history of CARtoons magazine, which was like Mad for gearheads. Growing up, my little brother always used to buy these at the grocery store. They were terrible, and yet, I find this piece fascinating. Who else would tell it?
• Rawson recounts the time she interviewed rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard at his house: “It was the smell of Newport cigarettes, feet, ass, food and unbrushed teeth. Just all-around funk. A bouquet of stink.”
• Even more horrifying: Liza Weisstuch dishes the dirt in her date with unfunny comedian Jackie Mason, who clearly expected immediate sex after dinner: “What are you, frigid or something?”
• Ruttenburg’s interview with Jack White of The White Stripes is illustrated in comic-book form by Mike Reddy.
• Sam Henderson recommends several “Overlooked Comedies: 1961-1983,” and his suggestions are pretty dead-on until the end. Sorry, Sam, but I just can’t get behind Up the Academy or Screwballs, beyond glimpses of nudity.
• Ben Goldberg rips Chevy Chase a new one (almost assuredly deserved) by revisiting many of the star’s jerkiest moments. This is followed by Joe O’Brien admitting that while Chase is a prick, his talent looms large.
At nearly 300 pages, there’s plenty of content to consume, both satirical and serious, including worthy appreciations of Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, Muhammad Ali and Dons Rickles and Knotts. One need not even approach the book as a cover-to-cover experience. If The Lowbrow Reader Reader at all sounds within your realm of interests, chances are whatever you flip to — Shelly Berman’s poetry aside — is going to make you smile and/or laugh, with or without a bowel movement. —Rod Lott