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Arts & Entertainment
02/26/06 Page G8


An Interview with Jonathan Ames

Humor writer set to lead seminar, read at UAlbany

Jonathan Ames admits that he doesn�t always try to write humorous stories. They just sort of end up that way. �In high school I tried to write funny, satirical stuff for our school paper,� he said recently in a phone call from Los Angeles. �That probably came about because I read so much from Mad Magazine.�

He has written three novels, but his first book �I Pass Like Night� (1989) wasn�t very humorous at all. �That first book was serious and dark,� he said. �My mother read it and said, �Why don�t you write something funny. You always say funny things.��

Ames realized he had a knack for humor when he was in a self-help group in his early twenties and he began talking about his problems and everyone in the room started laughing. �I think it had to do with my delivery and inflection,� he said.

As an essayist he has made a career of writing about his failures, bodily idiosyncrasies, embarrassing adventures and humiliating escapades. His third and most recent essay collection �I Love You More Than You Know� (266 pages, Black Cat, $14) has just been published as a paperback original.


His newest book is a laugh out loud collection of many of his misadventures like the time he went to cover a Mike Tyson championship fight, took a wrong turn out of the sports arena and found himself locked outside. He ended up stuck perilously on the top of a fence he was attempting to scale to try and get back inside. I also loved his adventures on his first book tour in Europe and the pimple that suddenly seemed to grow out of his nose.

�Most of those essays came from my columns at the New York Press,� said Ames, �but I�m not writing columns anymore. I got sick of constantly writing about myself.�

What he liked about his columns was that he didn�t have to be funny. �If I was in a low mood I could write about that,� he said, �like my essay �Our Selves Between Us� which describes how sad I was when my girlfriend and I broke up.�

He also found out a long time ago that he loved shocking his readers, and he never wants to be bore them. �I tried to write my essays the way Charles Bukowski would write his poetry,� said Ames. �I tried to be as honest as I could. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes I knew I�d offend someone that meant a lot to me, and I would think don�t put that down.�

He�s never had a problem writing about his own humiliations though. �I find that most embarrassing events have an expiration date, and after that date they�re usually funny.�

On Thursday Ames will conduct a public reading at 8 pm in the Ballroom of the Campus Center at the University at Albany�s uptown campus. He will also lead an informal afternoon seminar at 4:15 in the Assembly Hall of the Campus Center.

Now that he is no longer writing his column he expects to focus primarily on his fiction. �Writing fiction gives me more latitude,� said Ames. �I can take more risks, and because I�m making up some things I can actually be even more honest because I won�t be offending people I care about.�

PERFORMING WRITING<P> He also enjoys his readings, which he thinks of as a way to perform his writing. �I usually do a reading a few times a month,� said Ames. �They provide me an opportunity to get out and socialize at night.�

He feels his readings help him as a writer. �They make my writing more precise,� he said. �They let me know first hand what�s working in my writing..�

As a recurring guest on the David Letterman Show he is sometimes referred to as a comedian. �But my humor doesn�t really work as stand-up,� he said. �I�m kind of a monologist, like Spaulding Gray was.�

Ames said that writers have a long history of performing their work. �Twain loved to do readings of his work and so did Dickens.�

Showtime approached him about doing a situation comedy which was very exciting. �I wrote the script and they gave the go ahead to film it,� he said. �I even got to play myself in the show. It was incredible. We filmed it for five days. People treated me like I was really important. They�d bring me coffee. It was thrilling.�

But after getting his hopes up Showtime decided not to proceed with the project. �That�s what it�s often like as a writer,� he said. �You have to deal with so many disappointments. But there are more positives than negatives.�

As a writer he enjoys being his own boss. �I work for myself,� he said. �I�m kind of a lazy boss and a lazy employee at the same time, but it�s an interesting life. I get to go on book tours, like right now I�m staying at a hotel in Los Angeles. I like staying in hotels.�


Being a writer can often create some financial struggles. �But I�m surviving,� he said, �and as a writer of humor I get to amuse people. That�s nice.�

Jonathan Ames feels that people throughout history have always wanted to laugh. �People always have problems,� he said. �Mankind is so confused. There�s so much violence and there are so many environmental concerns going on today, but still we need a good laugh.�

He�s looking forward to his visit to Albany. �As a kid I used to visit my uncle in Saratoga,� he said, �and I�ve spent a few summers at Yaddo. They�ve always been very generous to me there. I�ll probably read a variety of things when I come up, some of my essays and some of my fiction.�

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