I discovered Ian Shoales at a moment potentially dangerous for my own comic voice: I was writing a lot for an unread leftist student newspaper with delusions of grandeur (the newspaper, and myself) and I had a lot of space to fill. For my final semester as an undergraduate I even had the editorship of the humor section to myself and almost nobody submitting articles, which is what we called content back then, when the Internet was barely started. I could try imitating his style.
I couldn’t do it for more than a paragraph at a time, which shows that he was a professional humorist who’d been honing the character for years while I was a 21-year-old who thought he had to vent society’s frustration with the student government. That’s all right; I had space to fill a lot of paragraphs, and could experiment.
My voice recovered, although I’ve noticed how much it’s been mutating now that I’m trying to do a couple hundred words a day and seven to eight hundred words a week. Still, I was inevitably thrilled when an essay like this suggested Ian Shoales was interested in the same kinds of things I was interested in.
My big gripe with the world today is there’s too much information about the world, and not enough information about me. News is fine — don’t get me wrong — I want to know how much makeup President Reagan wore on Death Valley Days as much as the next American. I like to lie back of an evening and try to figure out just what word that rhymes with rich Mrs Bush meant. Paying attention to the news makes me feel like a citizen, all right, but it’s not going to make me any money. The only way to make money from the news is to be part of it.
I want to be quoted in the headlines. I want my picture on the front page. I want tobe photographed by contest winners as I walk briskly from my limo to my private jet. I want to be surrounded by stern-looking men with reflector shades and snub-nosed Israeli machine guns hidden under their three-piece suits. I want to pick out reporters with a firm jab of the finger and give hard answers to hard questions. I want to tie up traffic for a twenty-mile radius, for no good reason.
No, I don’t want to be President, or even a Presidential hopeful. I just want to be a media figure. I just want to talk to the press. And I’m ready.
Ian Shoales as news. It’s an exciting new concept, but it’s a bandwagon nobody seems willing to jump on. I’m used to being ignored, but the straw that broke the camel’s back, me being the camel, was the return of Doonesbury. Why the return of Doonesbury was news, I don’t now. I have to admit I didn’t feel even the vaguest sense of loss when Doonesbury left, and I can’t really say my life is fuller now that it’s back, but I can say I’m mighty disappointed that Garry Trudeau missed the boat. He could have included me in the Doonesbury pantheon of characters.
He did it with Hunter Thompson, why not doing it for me? I already look like everybody else in Doonesbury — painfully thin, dark circles under the eyes, slightly stoop-shouldered. I realize my acid tongue might make mincemeat of his other characters, but I think he could capture the essential me if he really tried — my great sorrows, my vast rages, my sage opinions, the laughter, the tears. Well, he wouldn’t have to worry about the tears. I haven’t cried since Old Yeller died.
Better act fast, Garry. I’ve got other fish on the line. I’ve already offered to be a hydrophobic dog for Garfield, a corrupt purchase officer for Beetle Bailey, a real Viking to show Hägär the Horrible how it’s done (you know, the kind of Viking who drinks mead from human skulls); I’ve offered to be Doonesbury for Bloom County, I’ve offered to marry Fritzi Ritz, or be Mr Goodbar for Cathy. Gimme a break, Garry, I wanna be newsworthy. If you don’t help me out, I might have to run for public office or even worse, go to work for a living. Call my agent soonest. My image is available, for sale or rent.
— Reading the paper, 10/25/84