John Mathias

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To take a break from this Trump-soaked moment in America, I highly recommend the just-published Issue #10 of The Lowbrow Reader, an excellent zine about comedy and more edited by Jay Ruttenberg. It’s only four bucks and filled with all sorts of interesting writing and art.

Hollywood writer-director Amy Heckerling offers a funny faux diary supposedly written by Joseph Goebbels about his boss and secret crush, only identified as “A.H.” I liked life so much better before this piece would have been considered timely.

Ruttenberg’s personal essay “White Light” explores the way serious and trivial art both shape us and sometimes intersect. The Velvet Underground, Steve Urkel, Menudo and Al Franken all come into play. The writer describes the focal point of the 1980s sitcom Silver Spoons this way: “Ricky Schroeder, its pipsqueak star, was seemingly scouted from his previous work, modeling for Hitlerjugend propaganda posters.” Wait a minute, that line also feels a little too timely!

Engel Schmidl penned a piece about Bill “the Balloon Man” Morrison, a wry monologist and sort of proto-Steve Martin who began twisting latex and ideas in the 1960s, and Brian Abrams recalls his eight-year-old self enjoying a very glancing (yet meaningful) relationship with Mel Brooks.

Drew Friedman shares a brilliant caricature of Shemp Howard, an original stage Stooge who rejoined the popular comedy team on film after his younger brother, Curly, suffered a stroke. Friedman, who regularly applies his photorealistic talents to entertainment legends, has been deservedly called the “Vermeer of the Borscht Belt” by Penn Jillette, who is a juggler or something. There’s more wonderful artwork by Gilbert Gottfried, Jeffrey Lewis, John Mathias, etc.

Order before the world ends, which will happen very soon!

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Stuck zipper. (Image by John Mathias.)

I used to work with the really witty journalist Jay Ruttenberg. In addition to his many other enterprises, he publishes a wry, wonderful zine called The Lowbrow Reader, which focuses on the world of comedy, gleefully mocking everything along the way. For anyone raised on Mad magazine, it’s so up your alley. (You can order back issues here.) And it’s fun knowing that someone is walking around in 2010, completely obsessed with Harpo Marx and the like.

Each cover has a play on the same disgusting theme: someone attempting to relieve himself or herself in a bathroom. But complications often ensue. In the cover on the right, a man dressed as a bear is stuck in his costume when he really needs to use the toilet. When I had my apartment painted a few years back, I walked in on one of the workers, who spoke no English, laughing heartily at this image. A guy in a bear costume trying desperately to take a dump is a universal language.

Inside this issue, you can read an essay from a woman who dated Jackie Mason and a critical consideration of the TV show Wings. (No, seriously.) There’s also a filthy, funny piece about the inner sanctum of Brooklyn rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard (who passed away after this issue was published). The person describing ODB’s home is a talented writer named Margeaux Watson, also a former colleague, who visited the rapper’s lair to interview him in all his dirty, bastardly glory. An excerpt:

"It was the smell of Newport cigarettes, feet, ass, food and unbrushed teeth."

Lowbrow Reader: You’re probably one of the few women who has been inside Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s house and hasn’t returned with a venereal disease.

Margeaux Watson: Or a child.

Lowbrow Reader: Where does he live?

Margeaux Watson: He lives in Brooklyn. It’s an odd location–it’s not ghetto-ish, but it’s also not where you’d expect a star to live. In Brooklyn, most stars live in Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg or Fort Greene. But he’s in more of a working-class, family neighborhood. A lot of brownstones and row houses; it’s not near a subway or an urban center.

Lowbrow Reader: What’s his house like?

Margeaux Watson: He lives in a brownstone. It’s been renovated, so it’s modern on the inside. It’s a narrow apartment, with white walls and hardwood floors. It’s surprisingly well-kept and pretty neat–except for its smell. It smelled bad.

Lowbrow Reader: Can you describe the odor?

Margeaux Watson: It was the smell of Newport cigarettes, feet, ass, food and unbrushed teeth. Just all-around funk. A bouquet of stink.”

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