In honor of the momentous occasion (he’s 73), why don’t we stroll down memory lane with a piece I wrote for McSweeney’s called I knew It Was a Mistake To Go On a Road Trip With Alex Trebek:
Look at this bastard. Sitting over there, gazing out the window, smug as hell. Sure, he knew all four faces on Mount Rushmore while I forgot about Thomas Jefferson for a millisecond… and yes, he knew South Dakota was the 40th state added to the Union, but this madness has got to stop. What was I thinking, agreeing to give Trebek a ride across the country like this? And why did I listen to him and take this insane route? Really, what did I expect from this guy? He’s a total know-it-all and if he corrects my pronunciation on some other trivial matter—a town’s name or a river or something—I swear I’m going to snap. Honestly. He’s going to find himself on the side of a road, explaining why America’s favorite Canadian gameshow host is hitchhiking.
I have a new piece up on McSweeney’s today called, I’m Thinking About Launching My Podcast Pretty Soon.
How will we build that audience? Easy. For instance… um…
OK, how about a podcast where I play different characters? Right? Like Saturday Night Live, only I’m everybody in every sketch. The only problem is that I don’t really do voices or anything, except for an impression of Johnny Carson, which doesn’t come in handy too often these days, and a pretty stellar, “Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here!” which loses steam after that one line, if I’m being totally honest. And I rock a decent Chandler Bing, too. But Johnny Carson and Kermit and Chandler Bing do not a podcast make, as the old saying goes.
"OK, let’s run through this: I’ll pop out, both arms extended, bask in the applause, blow a kiss, squat down, spring back up, lunge forward, grab the mic, right leg kick, shake it out, point at the crowd, run across the stage, double-point, arch my back with sparks spraying across me, keep my feet at shoulder-width position, left shoulder forward, cup hand to ear, pause, beat, wait for it, beat beat BEAT, grab the mic, pause again, start singing, cue fireball stage left, explosion stage right, flash peace sign, pump same peace sign to the beat, full spin, strut across the giant retractable bridge, abruptly stop in the middle, shout Woooooo, squat again, rest elbow on knee, stand, run backwards, wink, frown, big smile, curl up like a baby … and expand! Like clockwork.”
"There must’ve been actual milk in that supposed soy latte. Now my stomach hurts. Great timing, too. Sheesh.”
"I never know what to call him — just ‘Edge’ or is it ‘The Edge’? It’s way too late to ask. Also, what’s up with the skullcap all the time? Nobody’s fooled about the whole baldness thing, man! Accept it and move on.”
"I think I lost my blue wraparound sunglasses on the jet. Maybe there’s a lost & found here. Fortunately, I still have my purple wraparounds and my red wraparounds and these orange wraparounds and my green wraparounds."
"That concert promoter pronounced my name Bow-no … like Sonny Bono. That was so weird. It’s like, How famous do I have to get in order for you to pronounce my effing name right? OK? I’m Bono. Say it with me: Bah-noo.”
"Strange that nobody ever figured out that ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ was about my missing leather wallet. I thought it was pretty obvious."
"I’d really like to have a much bigger fireball shooting out of the stage when I start singing. Who should I talk to about that? I used to know all the guys who worked for us. When did that change?"
"I wonder how many pushups I can do? I was up to 25 last summer, but then I stopped. My arms were getting so toned, too. Mick Jagger definitely seemed impressed at that garden party.”
"Hey, Larry Mullen, Jr.! Why didn’t you get a cool name like Bono or Edge or The Edge or whatever? Did you step out of the dressing room when we were passing out cool rock-star names? Huh, Larry Mullen, Jr.? I guess it’s better than Larry Mullen, Senior, but just barely.”
"Just be in the moment, Bono. Quit thinking so much. Not everybody gets to rise out of a stage like this. [Pause] Did I unplug the toaster?”
"I haven’t been awarded a medal in quite some time."
"My stomach is seriously hurting. I must be lactose intolerant or something. So much for jumping into the front row, tonight."
"I wonder if my dad is proud of me."
"Do I look silly right now? I wonder if there’s a single person in this entire organization who’d tell me if I looked silly right now."
"Ooh, I love this song!”
Every so often, Jory John will help you jump-start your prose and get you writing. Use these prompts to free that long-suffering writer who’s trapped in the prison of your human shell.
PROMPT: Once again, you find yourself zooming across the “Silver State,” Nevada, practically a straight shot down Highway 50 from the Sierras to the salt flats of the Utah border, and everything that comes after that, Mormon temples, rock arches and then other states entirely, wilderness, plains, purple mountains, etc. You glance at the clock on the dash and it’s 4:32 p.m. which makes this … what? … hour six? Which leaves at least 180 ruthless minutes before you’re out of this endurance-challenge of a state. That should be its motto, you think. “Nevada: A Real Endurance Challenge.” You’d laugh but your mouth is dry and you feel a tickle in your throat. This better not be the beginnings of a cold, you think. Bad timing, to say the least. You check your rearview mirror for the hundred-thousandth time today: and there’s nobody, nothing. Just dirt … and occasional posted warnings, like the near-constant “Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers” sign, an ominous reminder that you’re surrounded by some of the toughest maximum-security prisons this side of the Rockies. You don’t see any actual jails, of course, but you know they’re nearby. One wrong turn or obscure-law driving-violation and you’ll find yourself locked up, too. Maybe, maybe not. People go away for a lot less. Fuck, man, there’s so much utter nothingness out here. You want to scream, but you’ve done enough of that. No more screaming, you decide. (For now.) Suddenly, a voice in your head is telling you to swerve off the road, just to see what happens … but what would that accomplish, other than landing your Nissan Pathfinder in a ditch and/or making the acquaintance of some ambling, escaped prisoner. So you give the radio dial a whap, but there’s only static, then crackly blips of guitar, sometimes the occasional talking head who’s quickly vanquished by the gray, vacant, radio-wave-defying hills around you. With nothing and no one to keep you company, you turn down the volume and open the windows and belt out a camp song you’ve known since you were 11, which involves the digging of ducks. “Dig a duck, dig a duck, DIG A DUCK!” you holler. There’s more to that song, sure, but that’s all you care to recall. MAN ALIVE, this was a mistake, this drive! Right? Right. But you’re too deeply mired to do anything but aim forward, plow ahead, constantly on the lookout for another gas station, those depressed, half-lit stucco rectangles filled with jangly slot machines and ancient gamblers and dusty bags of Hot Cheetos. And you drive and you drive and nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing. NOTHING! There’s nothing at all. And then a winding dirt road to your left grabs your attention for a second and it curves out to a cluster of shacks — maybe twenty or thirty at the most — and it crosses your mind that these tiny homes belong to the miners who spend their working lives attempting to extract … what? … silver, probably? … or whatever precious natural resources we haven’t unearthed and exploited for monetary gain. You tell yourself not to judge. Choices are complicated and life is a bust and a job’s a job, you think, but still — how can you live like this? Where do these people come from? Sure, these are brave souls, doing what they must, but goddamn! You start to imagine what daily existence might be like out here, in the middle of Nevada, the probable 4 a.m. slog to the mines, where you quietly perch atop a giant metal lift built solely for the purpose of lowering humans into the ground, into the complete and utter blackness below. And you’re a bit of a claustrophobe, so even the thought of hours upon miserable hours of working by headlamp makes your forehead start to perspire. And there are butterflies in your stomach. And there’s that tingling thing in your ribcage, the beginnings of a panic attack. Think about something else, you tell yourself. Yes, think about something else. Anything else. QUESTIONS: What, exactly, do you think about at this moment and why? Does it calm you down or perhaps even worsen the situation? NOW GET WRITING!
“You were in the blue shirt. I was the guy in the ripped sweatpants with the wicked cough.”
“We locked eyes and I screamed, ‘Hey, baby!’ at the top of my lungs. You looked startled, and for good reason …”
“Sorry for seeming so jumpy when you walked into that restroom this afternoon. I genuinely wasn’t expecting anybody.”
“I didn’t mean to argue with you about gun-control. I meant to get your number.”
“Sorry for sneezing on the back of your neck while you were waiting in line. I’ve had a pretty bad cold for a while. My friend said it’s probably mono, but I’ve had mono before and this feels completely different. So anyway …”
“I didn’t meant to imply that I was a doctor or even in the medical profession. I’m not.”
“I was the guy sitting in my truck, staring at you in the parking lot while you were applying your makeup.”
“I don’t usually get that drunk or belligerent. And I don’t usually sweat that much. Hi. I’m Norman.”
"I was the guy who slammed into your passenger-side door and then took off in a panic. Dumb move, I know. Maybe we could grab a cup of coffee and discuss insurance stuff."