Publication Year: 1990
David Brenner (1936-2014) was one of America’s best-known and best-loved comedians in the 1970s-1990s. Considered a master of observational comedy, he was the forerunner of and influence upon Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and many others. This book is a collection of “outlandish tips and hilarious anecdotes” collected over decades of crisscrossing the U.S. on his many tours of his stand-up comedy. This is a book written by a guy who always remembered to “bring the funny”.
Books of this type are difficult to review without wanting to bring up that quote, or that list, or that really hilarious thing that happened when, etc., etc., etc. I hope Mr. Brenner’s spirit understands when I say that this is a terrific bathroom book — the kind of treasure trove of quick tales and batches of one-liners that you can hardly wait to share with the rest of the gang. This particular book skewers reasons to travel, the impossibility of preparing for a trip, the futility of communicating in a language other than your own, the frustrations of travel, the irritations of hotels, the dangers of sightseeing, and the exhaustion of returning home only to find that you’re so tired, you need a vacation.
Brenner gleefully translates phrases spoken by travel guides and natives to tourists. For example, when your flight attendant says, “We should be landing in a few minutes”, what she really means is, “You have time to grow corn.” When the desk clerk at your hotel says, “I don’t see your reservation”, it means “Fifty should cover it”; if he says, “There’s nothing we can do”, it means, “Make that a hundred.” At a foreign restaurant, when they say, “It’s a local recipe, eaten for centuries”, what they mean is “Dog.”
He also warns against the types of illnesses you might suffer when traveling. Greenergrassaphobia is being convinced that, wherever you are and how much of a good time you’re having, there is a better place to be at that very moment. There is also hotelstuffitis, the inability to resist taking everything that isn’t nailed down in your hotel room, then stuffing it into your suitcase and taking it home. Being gay, single, and childless, I’ve never suffered from takumwitusitis — this disease begins to strike just before you and your spouse leave on that much-awaited vacation or second honeymoon, when, all of a sudden, you decide that it would be great to take your children with you.
There are also convenient lists, such as signs that it’s time to check out, including: You put your quarter into the bedside magic-fingers vibrator, and only one finger works, and it’s the middle one; the room service number has a long-distance prefix; in the hotel hallway, you smell formaldehyde; when you look into the bathroom mirror, you see the back of your head; the lobby phone is on the ceiling, and someone is using it; the couch folds out into a lobster trap; the bath water is dusty; there are thick pads on the walls; the bath soap is in the shape of a chicken’s spleen (or worse, the bath soap is a chicken’s spleen).
Sometimes, comedy is so current-events related or time-related that it fails to amuse us in later years, or else the humor is too juvenile to be thought of as still being comical. When a comedian remembers to “bring the funny”, it means that the comedy will last. It’s why (using an example from television) most of us who grew up with Gilligan’s Island no longer laugh at it, while The Munsters can still tickle us. They “remembered to bring the funny”. In this way, Brenner’s work will be with us always, and I’m glad there are several books to help us remember this funny guy.