The Return of Laurie Notaro

Last night I trekked into DC to catch the Laurie Notaro reading event at what turned out to be the most cleverly hidden Borders store in the world. I first encountered Laurie’s work when my old roommate Julia plastered magnets of Laurie’s book covers all over our fridge and then proceeded to read passage after passage from Autobiography of a Fat Bride, each prefaced with, “Oh my God, you have to hear this!” followed by raucous laughter before her interpretive reading would begin.

Laurie came to the ASU Writers Conference one year and read with Peter Pereira and Tony Hoagland. This may or may not have been the same day she and another writer I won’t name nearly came to blows on the “Humor in Literature” panel, when he referred to her as “the pottymouth” during the session.

Laurie’s reading are equal part readings and stand-up, which is an accurate approximation of her work. What tends to irritate literary types about Laurie’s work is precisely what I find so endearing about it (and her): she’s more likely to use a vivid metaphor or turn of phrase in the interest of causing a chuckle than to, you know, sum up what it means to be human.

But for many of us—the people who trip on sidewalks (as I did after the reading) or who laugh awkwardly (but geniunely) in public or who have ever returned home from work to discover the “barn door” is open without being able to theorize exactly how long it had been the case—that is what it means to be human. You either laugh or are laughed at.

And those who are laughed at quickly learn to orchestrate the laughter, to control it, and take away some of the sting.

I picked up Laurie’s first book and her most recent last night, and I think I may have gotten her another reader in the guise of my friend visiting from out of town, who, in exchange for my likelihood of getting a cocktail afterward, accompanied me to the reading.

Highlight of the event: an audience member asking Laurie what exactly it meant to “play beard” for someone.

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