The book on Greg Fitzsimmons
That Irish spirit of defiance has marked his book, his career and his life. Starting out as a stand up, he’d play schools and colleges, and when a stuffy official told him what he could and could not talk about it always set him off.
In fact, for Fitzsimmons that kind of censorship was useful because it made his job easier. “When you tell me not to do something then you’re really keying it up for me, and I enjoy it so much more,” he says.
“Don’t be a wiseacre out there,” a school principal counseled him before a high school prom gig in Indiana once when he was starting out. That command grated on every one of his anti-authority Irish impulses.
“It’s one thing to be told don’t be a wise ass but now you’re using a phrase that highlights the fact that you’re a big nerd. That’s irresistible,” he says.
Responding to this provocation, Fitzsimmons invited the graduating class back to his motel for a keg. He celebrated the glories of cocaine, and he even joked about having sex with his grandmother. The angry protest letter to his agent was in the post before the curtain fell.
“It all started with that angry prom letter,” says Fitzsimmons. “I really was hurt by it at first. It really bothered me that the principal wrote it. Only because I thought the show had gone so well.
“So receiving this letter was like another failed attempt, even after years, for them to control me. But only later when I started reading it to the audience on stage the crowd started dying. I didn’t realize how funny it could seem to other people.”
Fitzsimmons’ mother saved all the nasty letters. “It’s almost as if she knew that one day I’d be a comedian,” he says.
“Those letters are gold. Stand-up comedy is really like a memoir. You go up and tell stories about your life. We’re storytellers. I felt like if I can communicate my own story best with a memoir then that’s what I need to do. Maybe it will surprise people that there’s so much more to see here than they expected to find.”
But if you buy the book -- and if you like a laugh you really should -- don’t expect linear stories about where he grew up and how he became a comedian.
“It’s a stand up comedian’s memoir, but it won’t be placed in the comedy section of the bookstore. I want to appeal to the Irish. If you can win them over then everyone will follow. If gay guys are the ones people follow into real estate, then the Irish are the ones they follow into books,” Fitzsimmons reckons.
The McCourts wrote books that lured you in with the lowered expectations of memoirs, Fitzsimmons says, and then they blew you away with a narrative that was so well written, so heartfelt and so tragic and comic that you couldn’t help but respond.
“To me it was like saying, ‘Hey we’re Irish, we’re not snobs, we don’t stand on ceremony or proper etiquette. We don’t belong to private country clubs. We’re about putting it all out there, our humor that is.’
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