B.J. Novak Tells Us About His New Book, Which He's Been Previewing for UCB Audiences
Anthony D'Alessandro B.J. Novak backstage at UCB after his show. More philosophical than Woody Allen
Eight years ago at a comedy show in Los Feliz, B.J. Novak took the mike and regaled the crowd with a jaw dropping story: As a tween, he had a personal encounter with Michael Jackson.
The theme of the night entailed comedians' run-ins with celebrities, and before the crowd's imagination could assume the worst for Novak as a child, he hysterically put us at ease recounting Jackson's presence at a dinner party at Deepak Chopra's house in Massachusetts. The jokes were in the details, and Novak's sincere boyish demeanor not only heightened the story, but also made what might be perceived as a whale tale more believable: Jackson whisked into the room disguised, sat at the kids' dinner table, played Scattergories, and finished the night by singing Queen's "We Are the Champions" a cappella after he and Novak won the game. (Years later, Novak recounted this story on the Late Show With David Letterman)
Upon hearing that Novak is releasing a book of his comedic prose this February entitled One More Thing, culled from his public essay show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Uncollected Stories, the mind savored what other anecdotes The Office scribe and star had in his pocket. One could assume that Novak had some wacky takeaways from his childhood memories of Nancy Reagan and Lee Iacocca standing around in his kitchen. Novak's father, William, was a noted ghostwriter of memoirs for such celebrities. However, rather than pull from these true-to-life moments -- and the Jackson story is true -- Novak's UCB show and upcoming book take the opposite approach: They're a collection of essays without any ounce of credibility.
"With that Michael Jackson story and some others, I felt like I lucked out on a few amazing experiences. I didn't earn them. I was lucky that happened to me," explains Novak in a phone interview. "I feel like my prose writing is my way of being personal. My values and sense of humor come to the surface."
Anthony D'Alessandro Novak: "At home I tried staring at photos of Kate Moss for four hours. Now, I'm Kate Moss."
Each month over the last year, Novak has been reading the stories from a music stand before L.A. audiences at Upright Citizens Brigade. However, the night is far from being a humdrum college lecture or lofty poetry recital. Novak's stories are as visceral as New Yorker humor pieces (and he is currently submitting some of those). When the announcement was made that Novak was nabbing a seven-figure book deal, his manager heralded to the press that the book is akin to Woody Allen's stories. While that sounds like a brash PR headline, after taking an aural ride with Novak, you realize it's a statement that's right on the money.
A couple of Allen's greatest hits include the one about a group of men dressed up in red long underwear, believing that they're firemen and running around Manhattan trying to find a fire, or The Moose who waltzes into a costume contest party, only to lose at the end of the night to a couple that is dressed up as a fake moose.
Like Allen, Novak is a zany wordsmith who also revels in the ridiculous. In one story, To Catch a Predator host Chris Hansen argues with his teenage daughter over his attending a Justin Bieber concert with her. Yes, because he's Chris Hansen. He's the only guy that can get her tickets, but what will the crowd think if he's there? Will they think Hansen is a closet predator or is he at the concert to catch a predator? Then there's "Dark Matter," in which a teenage boy chokes a nebbish planetarium tour guide to try to get him to to divulge the full theory behind dark matter in space.
Sprinkled between such longer stories are snappy ironies, like one titled "Kate Moss."
When I was 16, I would come home from school everyday and stare at pictures of Kate Moss for hours. Then one day on a school trip to New York, I saw Kate Moss. I went up to her and pulled her coat. "Are you Kate Moss?" I said. "Of course," she said. "How did you become Kate Moss?" She moved her face close to mine, and smiled and whispered, "Everyday," she said, "when I came home from school, I would stare at pictures of Kate Moss for hours, until one day, I was Kate Moss." "How many hours, I asked?" "Four," she said. When I went back home, I tried staring at photos of Kate Moss for four hours a day. Now I'm Kate Moss.
The story is akin to an Allen tale in its hyperbolic ending. But Novak didn't set out to emulate Allen. While both have a penchant for the outlandish, "The subject and the comedic ideas I'm drawn to are pretty contemporary," says Novak about their differences.