Mike Sacks Co-wrote 2010’s Funniest Book, Earned Jon Stewart’s Praise and for Now, at Least, Preserved His Infant Daughter’s Mental HealthBy Litsa Dremousis
October 06, 2010
“The human imagination is inexhaustible, and why should we expect the creative vision that invented astronaut ice cream and God to settle for standard penis/vagina fare? Once you have the basics down, you’ll find there’s a whole world of erotic variations for you to explore–all it takes is an open mind and a junior-high-school (or equivalent) education.
Take fetishes, for example–sexuality’s big tent. Show a man with a shoe fetish a woman in high heels, and he will drop to his knees to kiss the patent leather. Remove the shoe, and a foot fetishist will jump in to worship every little piggy on that most intoxicating of extremities. Remove the foot and an acrotomophile stands ready to play tribute to that heavenly absence, the amputation. In fact, there isn’t a body part, inanimate object, or idea that someone hasn’t found a way to eroticize–one person’s excuse to park in the handicapped spot is another person’s masturbatory temple.”–Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk by the Association for the Betterment of Sex (Scott Jacobson, Todd Levin, Jason Roeder, Mike Sacks and Ted Travelstead), p.126
“A reviewer from Temple University thought it was a real sex manual,” Mike Sacks says, referring to Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk by the Association for the Betterment of Sex, the new tome he co-wrote with four friends who work for The Daily Show, Conan O’Brien and The Onion. He laughs over the phone from the Manhattan offices of Vanity Fair, where he is an editor, and it’s not an uproarious, we fooled them chortle, but a wonderfully droll expression of what the hell? mirth. You can almost hear him shaking his head. I ask from my home office in Seattle if perhaps the collegiate scribe was taking a stab at “meta”, as 20 year-olds are wont to do. “Yeah, we thought of that,” he continues. “But it was clear from her outrage she thought the advice and charts were genuine.” Sacks and his cohorts might present sections on “Dry Humping: the Rough Ballet” and “When Bits Don’t Fit: Improving Sexual Compatibility through Invasive and Potentially Life-threatening Surgical Procedures” (“Penis Whittling”, “Labial Prosthetic Inserts”), but they’d prefer if you were in on the joke. As with fetishes, theirs is a big tent.
“It’s ourselves we’re making fun of,” Sacks says of the book’s scabrous but inclusive tone. “I mean, come on, we wrote it as a team of academics who believe the clitoris is a myth, ‘the Vagina’s Bigfoot’.” I point out the graph depicting a lady’s many parts includes my new favorite term, “the Glitteris” and that I wish I’d thought of it. He tells me which writer concocted the line and it’s a testament to all of them that when I play back the recording of our conversation, I’ve laughed over his answer. (Said praise is compounded by the fact I was also taking notes. Seriously, Glitteris. It’s like a boxed set of David Bowie’s Brian Eno years, or the sequel to Mariah Carey’s film debut. I want to book an appointment with my gynecologist just to use the term with a straight face.) “I came up with ‘Mary Chestnut’s Bonnet’,” he says, explaining it’s a reference from Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary, The Civil War. It’s fitting that in the hands of Mike Sacks, bearer of the most ribald moniker since Peter O’Toole, our nation’s bloodiest schism yields a delightfully wry punchline.
Yet Sacks himself is rather grounded. “I have a child,” he says, as if admitting to something unexpected, like a drawer full of Pokemon cards or a penchant for gum-sculpting. His Greek-American wife is an urban landscape historian and, recognizing the origin of my name, he asks several questions about our overlapping extended-family mores and listens thoughtfully to my replies. He then asks if I’ve shown Our Bodies, Our Junk to my parents and is quite pleased when I answer, yes, actually, I’d just had brunch with them the day before and had proudly excavated my review copy from my bag when they’d asked whom I was interviewing next. “What’d they think?” he inquires and is quite pleased my folks, retired prosecutors both, are unflappable and found the book hilarious. His parents, too, are incredibly supportive of his endeavors, if they’re a bit perplexed by this one. “My dad called it, ‘a new style of comedy’,” Sacks says, briefly (and I will assume, accurately) adopting his father’s somewhat confused tone. “They’re very proud of the book,” he continues, “but they were really excited when I was included in The Potomac Almanac”, i.e. their local Maryland newspaper. I mention that receiving wildly enthusiastic blurbs from a slew of comedy legends (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Merrill Markoe and, wait for it, Buck Henry) probably offsets any pang incurred by parental mystification and he cheerfully agrees.
I pause and tell Sacks I’m about to wave the dork flag pretty high. “Let’s dork out!” he responds energetically. “Dork away!” I explain I’m thrilled the book’s humor has been praised, but that I’d like to focus for a sec on Our Bodies, Our Junk‘s technical achievements. With five highly accomplished and, presumably, headstrong co-writers (Sacks has also written for The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, The Paris Review and a passel of others), the threat of inconsistent voice and tone must have lurked. Instead, the book reads as if penned by a single, incredibly deft comedian. Five voices are unified into one harmonious, if pervy, band. How’d they pull that off? “Thanks,” he says and seems genuinely pleased. “We’ve been friends for years and had written together a bunch of times previously. And we used to write Radar Magazine’s back page together. So we knew we got along and that we worked well collectively. In the four months we had to write Our Bodies, Our Junk, we were never even in the same room. Each of us wrote two chapters and then the five of us had final say over the whole.”
A nifty feat made that much more impressive when one learns Sacks helped take care of his sick infant daughter while writing large swaths of it. “My daughter developed colic and I was up all night rocking her while I had to come up with hand job jokes. I kept thinking, ‘My god. What am I doing?’ he says and laughs. “Like, I don’t want her anywhere near this book. Aaahh!” I suggest her development might be best served if he doesn’t make Our Bodies, Our Junk forbidden fruit. “You’re right,” he kids. “I’ll leave it around at eye level when she’s older. I’m sure she won’t be harmed by it.”
How do you get these interviews?
A number of different ways, Irene. Depending on the publication I’m writing for, I pitch the subject to my editor and if she or he says yes, I’m off. Sometimes the same editor will assign another or a different interview, too. At this point, I’ve interviewed dozens of individuals–mostly in the arts–so it becomes easier to set up subsequent tete a tetes both w/ the artists and their publicists. Re my most recent TNB interviews: Kurt B. Reighley approached me directly and I was on Mike Sacks’ press list. Massively enjoyed interviewing each of them.
Penis whittling…. Oh, the imagery! Oh, the psychological trauma!
Great interview, Litsa.
What a good and funny way to start the day with this little gem!
Thanks, Zara! The book made me laugh almost embarrassingly hard and Mike was a delight to interview. Enjoyed everything about this one. Cheers!
This is a great interview not just in content but in form, presented as it is like a prose piece rather than the standard Q&A transcript. It allows the thing to feel more like a conversation.
Looking forward to reading this book and plan to keep it wedged under my mattress for old time’s sake.
Nathaniel, I salute the mattress-wedging plan. Thanks for the detailed compliment and I hope you enjoy the book. All the best!
Wonderful interview–a great read!
You know, that’s what parenthood is like even if you aren’t writing a book about mythological clitorises. Your heart is with your child while your mind roams the mucky places of thought/desire/memory.
Jessica, you underscore a point a bunch of my friends w/ kids make: try as one might, it’s nearly impossible to be 100% “Mommy” or “Daddy” 100% of the time. As you say, your mind sometimes wanders into unexpected territory. Thanks for your feedback!
I really like this format, Litsa. Nice work. And having gone to a school were every single dorm room had a copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves in a milk crate near the futon, I am now convinced I should pick up a copy of this book.
Thanks, Sean! I really appreciate it! And yeah, any book that included “pubic wolves” (one of my favorite lines) definitely scores the “must read” seal.
“In fact, there isn’t a body part, inanimate object, or idea that someone hasn’t found a way to eroticize–one person’s excuse to park in the handicapped spot is another person’s masturbatory temple.”–Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk by the Association for the Betterment of Sex (Scott Jacobson, Todd Levin, Jason Roeder, Mike Sacks and Ted Travelstead), p.126″
‘Twould be hard to top that quotation, Litsa. Excellent placement.
Excellent interview, glad you put yourself in it, therefore putting me in it.
I seem incapable of writing this comment without double entendres.
Judy, this piece begs for double entendres. (See, now I’m doing it.) Thanks for the compliment! Sacks is an incredibly intelligent guy and his co-writers are clearly in his rank: crafting such a hilarious book requires a keen eye and their perception is 20/20.
Okay, here’s *another one* I must add to my reading list now. I hope you know, I’m telling my family it’s all your fault I’ve become a shut-in. “But she keeps conducting these fantastic interviews! And then I so desperately want to read these books she’s covering!” I’ll say.
Hooray! Everything about this pleases me greatly, Cynthia! W/ apologies to your family, of course. All of OBOJ is as funny as its excerpts–it was difficult choosing which chunks to highlight–and that’s always a great problem to have.
[…] is where Mike Sacks comes in. I’ve interviewed Sacks before, in conjunction with 2010’s tome, Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk by the Association for the Betterment […]