Related stories: Gaithersburg Book Festival is a true page-turner
In Larry Doyle’s latest book, “Deliriously Happy: and Other Bad Thoughts,” the comedy writer revisits pieces — mostly from “The New Yorker” — that he wrote during the last 20 years.
Whether musing about the rocketing celebrity of a dog or laying out the nitty-gritty of dating him, Doyle’s absurd sensibilities find a way to resonate with routine life.
Before the Gaithersburg Book Festival, where Doyle will speak at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Gertrude Stein Pavilion, Doyle took the time to chat with The Gazette about his writing.
A&E: I understand the book was organized chronologically.
Doyle: Not chronological by publication. Just sort of chronological by stages of life or, mostly, a depressing view of the stages of life. So it sort of goes from stories about kids to stories about having kids to stories about dying or wanting to die. Or the end of the world is also where it goes at some point.
A&E: Have you seen a change in yourself or your viewpoint since you went back?
Doyle: I wrote some things about kids when I was kid, and I write about them differently now. Interestingly, I think that I was less kind to kids when I was younger than I would be now.
A&E: Less tolerant of them?
Doyle: Not so much tolerate, but describing them in much more negative ways. And I suppose that’s just a distancing thing, or just because I didn’t have kids or I had no particular love for them as a species.
But... because I tended to write so close to my experience, I didn’t write anything that would come off to me anyway as naïve, because I wasn’t trying to be anything other than what I was doing. I’m sure if I looked back at some of the political things I wrote over the years I would realize I was a total idiot.
A&E: Two of your books “I Love You, Beth Cooper” and “Go, Mutants!: A Novel” are set during high school. As a writer, what is the appeal about that time in people’s lives?
Doyle: The reason why those are both about high school is I wrote a book about high school that was very successful and, then, when it came to write the next book, the publisher said, “It’s time to write another book,” and I said, “Well, I have these five ideas, one of which is about high school,” and that was the one that they picked. So I wrote about high school again. ... But “Go, Mutants!” is really about something other than high school, too. So it’s a bigger book and sort of larger scope in terms of what it’s trying to talk about.
I do find high school interesting because and this is as somebody who is trying to write comic things high school students ... teenagers in general take everything very seriously and very dramatically, which allows you to heighten even the most ordinary experience because it means so much to them in that moment. I’m 53, there’s unlikely to be a “night of my life” coming up, you know what I mean? There isn’t going to be — I suppose there could be a horribly tragic night that could change everything but there isn’t going to be this wild night that I will always remember kind of thing. It’s not in the cards ... mostly because it will get around 10 o’clock and I’ll just want to get into bed and watch TV.
But, when you’re a kid, you can have what seems to be a transformative experience. And the other good thing about teenagers [in terms of] comic possibilities is even the smartest of them are capable of making incredibly rash and stupid decisions. So it’s really, from a construction point of view, easy to get them in trouble. Like half of the things that I had Denis do in “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” if I had an adult do them I would lose the audience right away because they would be like, “You’re not going to do that. Why would he blurt that out?”
A&E: Did you go back to any of the book ideas for later projects?
Doyle: I’m writing one of them now, which is about a guy my age, and it’s sort of a look at our conspiracy culture. It’s from the point of view of a guy who wrote a book that became a great sort of conspiracy object, a la “The Da Vinci Code” or “The [Girl With the] Dragon Tattoo” sort of thing, and then he sort of fell down a hole and he’s remerging with the ... sequel to the book. And now it appears as if a lot of people are trying to kill him and the question is, “Are people really trying to kill him and, if so, why are they doing it?”
A&E: You wrote for “The Simpsons” for several years. What does it take to get hired? What was the audition process like?
Doyle: I’m sure it’s different things at different times depending on who’s doing the hiring. I had, at that point, a fairly good résumé outside of television. I had been an editor of “Spy Magazine” and ... I had written spec “Simpsons,” [which they read]... They know they’re going to be around next year. Most shows don’t really know that, so the contract you get, it’s like 12 weeks and then they can renew it. So those are a pretty nervous 12 weeks, and I was there for four years.