With two editors-cum-writers, a comic with his fist in his mouth, refrigerator art, and a yeti, “An Evening with McSweeney’s Editors” was far from the expected bookstore event. However, the event this past Wednesday still included a reading and signing of “The Funny Man” by author John D. Warner and a presentation by Chris R. Monks, a current McSweeney’s editor. According to Alex W. Merriweather, staff member and organizer of the event, the bookstore was very excited to have both Warner and Monks, and the event drew a large crowd comprised of writers and students.
“Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency,” the humor website known for its satirical features, started as an HTML collection of reject authors but has developed into a multifaceted publication house that draws thousands of submissions per year. As the former editor of this viral phenomenon, Warner has the wit to match that of the website. His cut and dry humor was clear as he read one of his short pieces, an epic saga entitled “My Bestseller” that described how he should have written about the trials of a half-yeti half-teen getting ready for the high school prom. “One of the cool ironies about writing is that the ideas, the conception, the vision never gets on the page in quite the way it exists in the writer’s mind,” Warner said, and “My Bestseller” is no exception.
Warner also spent time reading from a chapter of his new book, “The Funny Man,” which he described as a reflection of the American condition: “No matter what you have, it’s never enough.” The central character in his novel is a comic who has achieved fame by putting his fist in his mouth every time he does a sketch. However, he later suffers what Warner called a Charlie Sheen meltdown due to his dissatisfaction at the state of his life. This observation of the absurdity of the celebrity lifestyle is, according to Warner, humor with a purpose. “This is satire in service of more serious commentary,” he said. Though different in content, “The Funny Man” does not stray from Warner’s comic writing style.
Monks was the next to speak, reading from his “Submission Guidelines for Our Refrigerator Door,” the last piece of his to appear on McSweeney’s. According to Monks, he has a self-deprecating sense of humor; he used to have a column that satirized his experiences as a stay-at-home dad. Now, as the editor of “Internet Tendency,” he reads every one of the 200 to 300 weekly submissions.
Monks’ job maintaining the ingenuity and tongue-in-cheek humor for which McSweeney’s is known means envisioning a movement toward a more graphics-accessible design for the website. For the main part, however, he believes “Internet Tendency” will and should maintain its traditional text-based layout. During their question-and-answer session, both Monks and Warner spoke of the plethora of meta-pieces dealing with the Internet and social networking, as well as the overabundance of list submissions with the title “List of Rejected McSweeney’s Pieces,” most of which they ironically tend to reject.
There was no doubt that a large percentage of the audience consisted of avid readers of or potential contributors to McSweeney’s. “I usually read the lists, and may have submitted something a while ago,” said Merriweather. This familiarity with “The Funny Man,” or McSweeney’s, or both made most people very enthusiastic in getting to know Warner and Monks during the brief book signing at the end of the night.
While they were not the youngish hipsters that one would probably envision McSweeney’s editors to be, Warner and Monk brought a lot to the table. They kept it light with their visions for the future of McSweeney’s and paid attention first and foremost to the humor. After all, as Monk said, “We’re just being funny.”