Ellis Weiner.Posted: June 12, 2007
The world seems to have less room for humorists these days. We have comedy writers, and thank goodness for them, and we have purveyors of snark, which can be funny. But we don’t have writers on the order of a Robert Benchley or an S.J. Perelman, fundamentally humane artists whose power lies in their command of language, their ability to use style to pull off varied comic effects at will. Or rather, we do have one. Ellis Weiner.
Writers who think up funny stuff make our world more bearable, but writers who write funny make our world sublime. Whatever his subject, the sense in Weiner’s work of a wit at play in a meadow of language tickles the reader’s polymorphous-perverse pleasure-centers. A humorist has more than the ability to make his readers guffaw, snicker, ROFL, LMAO, whinny or chortle. A humorist has the ability to set the funny bones of his readers humming in sympathetic vibration with his own. Whenever I read Weiner, I get those good vibrations.
He has done a lot of writing over the years in a lot of venues. He writes novels and novelty books and short New Yorker pieces. One other place to find him these days is on his blog at The Huffington Post, where he has put his wit at the service of a wholly appropriate rage at the Bush Administration. Most famously (in the sense of, “I bet this was forwarded a whole lot”), he wrote a post on April 10, 2006 cataloging George Bush’s failures up to that date. You’d say this didn’t really need doing until you read it, at which point you realize, it did.
In 2004 he wrote a novel, Drop Dead, My Lovely, about fish-out-of-water Pete Ingalls, private eye. Pete got hit in the head by a tumbling stack of hardbacks in the rear of the bookstore in which he worked as a lowly clerk, and now imagines himself a 1940s Raymond Chandler gumshoe in a 21st century world. The thing is, Pete doesn’t realize he got hit by a stack of books (having got hit by a stack of books and all) and can’t figure out why the whole world is looking at him funny in his fedora. The feat Weiner pulls off is to narrate the book in the first person, in Pete’s voice. We have a narrator who just doesn’t get it, so making us get it when all we’ve got to go on is the viewpoint of this utterly clueless dick is a pretty neat trick. More than a neat trick, actually; it’s the wellspring of the book’s humor. DD, ML was followed by another entry in the Pete Ingalls, P.I. series, The Big Boat to Bye-Bye, set in the tawdry, lurid, violent world of children’s television, a milieu Weiner knows well, having worked in it himself.
Also recently, Weiner has a pair of short, funny books he wrote with his wife Barbara Davilman, Yiddish with Dick and Jane and Yiddish with George and Laura. And that’s not, as they say, all. Go to his website to find out more about him. (Typical of Weiner’s inexhaustible but never exhausting playfulness, his Official Website is subtitled The Unofficial Website of Ellis Weiner, because it purports to have been put together not by Weiner but by academe’s jaundiced Weinerologist Dr. Renee Willis. Do the anagram.)