Mental: Funny in the Head by Eddie Sarfaty (Kensington Books)

Buy it Now! at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I saw standup comic Eddie Sarfaty on stage recently, here in Kansas City. I had seen him perform live before, but never in such a dump. It was the kind of dark and gritty gay bar where you suspected each tawdry surface of hiding something gross, like a turd dipped in glitter.

The “emcee” for the evening was Dirty Dorothy, a self-described lesbian drag queen (I’m not kidding) with orange pigtails, a gingham dress, ruby red shoes, and a potty mouth. How original. The audience came complete with a drunken heckler, the kind who is not even remotely entertaining, just boring and irritating. I wondered why management didn’t throw him out, then realized they couldn’t—he was a regular.

After belting out a perfunctory song, and passing around complimentary “shots” that tasted like Nyquil mixed with Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Dorothy introduced Eddie. A seasoned performer, the handsome and affable comic wooed the audience, handled the heckler, and let Dirty Dorothy rub up against him. It was all for a good cause—our local AIDS Service Foundation. But for me the highlight of the evening came after the performance, when Eddie sold and signed copies of his new book, a collection of personal essays entitledMental: Funny in the Head.

Standup comics aren’t necessarily good writers. They may understand the structure of a joke, but the structure of a sentence can be something else altogether. And while there may be a storyteller’s soul inside the punster who delivers one ba-dump-bump line after another, that doesn’t mean he can sustain a narrative over the course of many pages.

Happily, Eddie is a natural as a writer. The thoroughly engaging Mental far exceeded my expectations for a book written by a funnyman, being not only funny but solidly well-written. Describing his mother’s plan for a European trip, he captures the wistfulness and homeliness of family life in one sentence:

She slips the faded travel brochures out of the fruit bowl on the sideboard where they’ve been cushioning the bananas for the last six years.

So strongly do I wish I had written that sentence, it makes my toes curl. And to torture myself even further, let me type out a passage from Eddie’s account of working as a bartender at a gay gentleman’s club:

The surreal air of the Eton Club was enhanced by the overwhelming amount of smoke produced by two hundred men puffing away on Marlboros and Virginia Slims. In the hazy dark, the artistic sweeps of glowing cigarettes reminded me of fireflies in search of mates, and I mused about the poor drunks, lured in by the graceful trails of light, who awoke in the morning appalled to get a good look at the insects they’d spent the night with.

Eddie is blessed with more than the satirist’s eye for detail; he also has a heart. While his essay “The Eton Club” may pull no punches in describing an over-the-hill milieu, it also contains a measure of hard-won sentiment. This particular essay stands up against any short story I’ve read in a long, long time.

Eddie, you don’t need my advice, but here it is anyway: don’t give up your night job, if it satisfies your performance jones. But please, please write more books. Lots of them. Okay?

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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