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.”