The Comedian Becomes a Humorist

We know Shawn Hitchins as a comedian. He is now a humorist as well.

With the publication of his A Brief History of Oversharing, Hitchins joins the ranks of those who use humor in writing. He continues to perform stand-up but we don’t have to wait to catch one of his shows to enjoy his wit. We can pick up his book.

Hitchins’ humor is multi-facetted. The unpretentious folksy settings and stories in A Brief History of Oversharing carry some of the same tone as the writings of Mark Twain or Stephen Leacock. But Hitchins goes where Twain and Leacock never ventured: raunchyville. His ribald zingers are akin to Dorothy Parker. Except Hitchins is not acerbic like Parker. He can be cutting but not cruel.

As a writer, he is not only a humorist. He is also a memoirist. The subject of A Brief History of Oversharing is Shawn Hitchins. The book is autobiographical. And this is where his humor becomes really interesting. It is highly self-deprecating. There are many laugh-out-loud moments as Shawn Hitchins describes the wacky crazy life of Shawn Hitchins. We are simultaneously laughing with and at Shawn Hitchins. But we don’t laugh too long or too hard because we sense something beyond the hilarity of the scene. There is an unanticipated poignancy that surfaces frequently in his stories. He is sharing (not oversharing) his vulnerability. There’s not a hint of the maudlin in this. It’s clear-eyed tough writing about the scars as well as the successes.

Because of the nature of my own writing, I’m drawn to memoir. There is a robust literary conversation these days about the genre-bending aspects of contemporary memoir-writing, in particular the convergence of autobiography and fiction in memoirs/novels such as those of Karl Ove Knausgaard or Elena Ferrante. Hitchins similarly combines genres — he has written a memoir that uses humor as its principal narrative vehicle. A Brief History of Oversharing is a memoir and a book of humor rolled into one.

There are so many gems in A Brief History of Oversharing. Just a few of my favourites:

  • “I moved to Toronto and quickly learned that living in the Big Smoke is just like living in a small town. Both are full of gossips, bigots, boozers, sluts, addicts, criminals, and Jesus freaks, except living in the city I’m not related to any of them.”
  • “I was raised with an intense sense of belonging and a blind sense of comfort that I’ve been desperately trying to regain since I lost it.”
  • On the thrill of realizing the against-all-odds triumph of the Ginger Pride March in Edinburgh: “Like a cat darting from a litter box, I duck into an alley and begin to laugh so hard and so deeply that I take my sweater and jam it in my mouth to muffle any sound.”
  • On the death of legendary director George Bloomfield with whom Shawn was a personal assistant: “…for the first time I had to negotiate with grief, trying to rationalize loss as if it were an algebraic equation where the sum of permissible feelings would be derived by the number of dinners at the Bloomfields’ multiplied by the number of hours spent on set.”
  • “A succession of memories played in my head, and like Russian dolls they fit neatly within each other, memories dating from adulthood back to childhood where I questioned why I felt like a witness but never the direct object of happiness.”
  • On trying to masturbate to donate sperm to two lesbian friends: “I reach down and knead my genitals while debating what to think about during the next one to twenty-five minutes.”

A common definition of humorist is an intellectual who uses humor in writing. Hitchins has a basket full of insecurities on display in A Brief History of Oversharing, some blatantly and some inconspicuously. While as a person he is about as far from a traditional intellectual as one could imagine, as a writer he is not. A Brief History of Oversharing is a work of considerable intellectual competence in its conception and in its delivery. He should be proud of what he’s accomplished here.

* * *

For information on A Brief History of Oversharing, see: https://shawnhitchins.com

For information on my writings, see: http://davidghallman.com

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