Celebrating humor this 2016 #ComedyBookWeek

I love to laugh.

OK, who doesn’t, right?

But, for me, it’s an obsession; which is why I’m so excited for the upcoming 2016 Annual Comedy Book Week, July 16-23, organized by Ana Spoke, author of Indiot and Shizzle Inchttps://anaspoke.com/

More info here https://comedybookweek.com/

Sure, I have other important things in my life, a wife and kids and a job I hate, but I spend most of my time, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, trying to make people laugh—trying to make myself laugh—working through skits in my mind, making notes of essay ideas or themes for more humor books, and finding new ways to fall down hilariously.

Laughing feels good. It’s why we pay folks like Adam Sandler and Louis CK and Tina Fey and Joe Biden the big bucks.

#ComedyBookWeek is an annual, online celebration of humor in writing. It is a free event, and all writers, readers, and book bloggers interested in funny books are welcome.

Humor, for me, isn’t just something I do to kill 80 minutes while watching the latest yuck-fest Hollywood has to offer.

Comedy is an escape, it’s a way of looking at life, and it’s good therapy.

Growing up poor in the pre-internet world, and with a whole bunch of siblings, there wasn’t much to do that didn’t require equipment or money or transportation.

If you wanted to go for a bike ride, you needed a bike—which I often did not have.

If you wanted to play a sport, you needed the money for physicals and travel and uniform—which I did not have.

If you wanted porn, you had to steal it from the utility shack at the grainery near the railroad tracks like everybody else.

If we were lucky, we got our old black and white TV to bring in three or four channels, usually fuzzy, which played whatever ABC, NBC, CBS and, occasionally, PBS (if Saturn was aligned just right, and if the coat hanger was facing west) were willing to give. And that was usually golf or Meet the Press or some sweaty televangelist panhandling to pay for his new water park.

Sure, we explored, we threw rocks at things, we drew pictures of naked ladies, and we fashioned guns out of sticks so we could play “army.” (This was the ’80s. “Cowboys and Indians” hadn’t been a thing for a good twenty years. Rock-throwing, however, has never gone out of fashion. In fact, I think I might go throw me some rocks after lunch today.)

What we did spend a lot of time doing was making each other laugh—full-bodied, tear-jerking, snot-bubble-blowing, hyphenated-word-inducing guffaws.

The seven of us, six boys and a girl, entertained ourselves by making up songs and comedy skits and putting together radio shows which we recorded onto an old cassette deck; sound effects courtesy of a miniature keyboard which supplied just the right amount of barking dog, applause, seagull squawks, and digital fart sounds recorded by yours truly.

To this day, our family get-togethers sound like a white trash open mic night. We spend most of our time trying to make the others laugh by any means necessary.

What can I say? I was obsessed with comedy as a kid—still am.

I watched and re-watched and watched again all the classic comedians and their movies, from the Stooges to Oliver & Hardy, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Fletch, Garrison Keillor, anything by John Candy. The list could go on and on.

When I got a little older, I discovered the humor essay.

I was dazzled by writers like Nora Ephron, Gene Shallit, Fran Lebowitz, Mark Twain, Woody Allen (even if he’s a pervert) and, later, by Jack Handey and David Sedaris. And, I guess, if I hafta, Dave Berry.

While making small crowds laugh in my high school drama classes, I dreamed of moving to Hollywood and becoming the next John Belushi—or at least the next Jim Belushi.

I never left Michigan but I did start putting my desire to make folks laugh onto paper.

The first humor pieces I ever penned became an unpublished memoir (maybe I’ll share it when the parents die) which I shared with some of my siblings. They liked the humorous spin I put on our rough upbringing so I kept on writing.

When I began working as a journalist in the early 2000s, it wasn’t long before I tried out my material on the local masses; kind of by accident.

First week on the job, the editor said I had to write a column introducing myself to the town. Terrified, I retreated to my safe space and did what I always do when I’m nervous: play the jackass. (I remember breaking tension in the newsroom during stressful times under one editor by spontaneously falling out of my chair and taking a filing cabinet with me. She nearly peed her pants on account of me on more than one occasion.)

I didn’t think for a moment they would publish what I submitted.

I even apologized when I handed it in, saying that I would have the real, more subdued version, to the editor by the Friday deadline.

Little did I know the chuckling coming from the editor’s desk, later on, was due to that ridiculous piece I wrote about having come to journalism after failing as a plus-sized underwear model. (Not my best stuff but not terrible, either.)

The piece was well-received by the readers, too.

I was hooked.

It never occurred to me earlier in life that I could make people laugh with nothing more than pencil and paper but I loved it.

Many years later, I would compile some of those columns into a humor book which got pretty good reviews.

A couple years later, I wrote a few dozen essays from scratch for another humor book, this time focusing on my ridiculous struggles with middle age.

Now, I have the opportunity to participate in #ComedyBookWeek.

And, so can you. Whether you’re a reader, writer or book reviewer, you can participate.

There are all sorts of books on all sorts of topics.

Many of the authors, like me, are giving away free review copies for the event in exchange for a blog post or a review on Amazon or Goodreads or all of the above.

Plus there’s all kinds of other special offers in connection with the event.

If you do want to read and review one of my books, either I’m So Great & Other Delusions or Frickin 40: Funny Stories About Middle Age shoot me an e-mail with your mailing address or indicate you’d prefer a digital copy at benjamingohs@gmail.com.

I promise not to send you any hand-drawn pictures of naked ladies … unless you’re into that sort of thing.


Middle-aged politics or Gohsarchy in the USA!

Just in time for the 2016 presidential race, yet another jackass with all the answers—ME!

Though often wrongfully attributed to Winston Churchill (and, really, what isn’t wrongfully attributed to the chubby little drunk?) the axiom that one who is not a liberal when young has no heart, and one who is not a conservative in his later years has no brain, is still an interesting one.

I think it was Winston Churchill who also once said, “Politics shmolitics!” (Or was that Benjamin Disraeli?)

Anyway, there was a time when I really gave a rat’s ass about elections and political parties.

By the by, what is up with that saying? “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

It means you don’t really care. So, does that mean if you do care you’d be willing to give a rat’s ass?

And, if you did, who would want one? How much can a rat’s ass be worth?

The Wife: “I really love you and I care deeply about your feelings.”
Gohs: “Oh, I am so glad to hear that.”
The Wife: “Here, I got you something.”
Gohs: “Oh, what is it?”
The Wife: “It’s that rat’s ass you’ve been asking for.”
Gohs (wipes away tear): “I hope it’s the brown one!”

Anyways, my political awakening occurred after a long unhappy childhood as a strict Republican.

I began life as an impoverished neo-con. If the gays are Log Cabin Republicans then we were the Cardboard Box Republicans, those pitiable poor types who favor all the same things their wealthy counterparts pretend to espouse—self-sufficiency, hawkish foreign policy, an end to the welfare state and so on—and all to our own detriment.

Nonetheless, I deplored those whiny liberals with their public handouts and touchy-feely social programs just as much.

But, then, something happened over the period of several years that began to soften my crusty exterior and open my mind up to the idea that all of us are alone in this great universe and so we should damn well take care of each other.

Nowadays, I am more middle of the road, looking fondly on America’s mix of perks for the ambitious and safety net for the less fortunate.

Oh, sure, I still believe everyone should do his part to make society safe and healthy, and I am all for rewarding those who go above and beyond what is expected of them.

But, I no longer fall for the line that the handful of rich people in this world all got there because they are simply more talented and hardworking than the rest of us.

Unless you think Bill Gates worked four billion times harder than you do at your job.

So, what could it have been that changed me so? Well, as it so often happens, you hear about some guy who was anti-gay his whole life until his son came out of the closet, and then the father had a change of heart.

Or, the rich guy, who thought all poor people were just lazy, until circumstance found Mr. Big-Bucks down in the gutter, giving hobo hand-jobs for apple cores, through no fault of his own.

My political awakening was like none of those. I began changing my mind because of talk radio.

I listened to right-wing talk radio five days a week for at least four years before coming to the realization that these guys were just mean and stupid, and that their self-contradictory, childish views of the world were not for me.

To be fair, I never had much love for the Democrats, either.

They always just seemed to be Republican-lite, like the diet Mountain Dew of ideological bullshime. And, so, I decided to just withdraw from politics altogether.

I stopped voting, I stopped lecturing coworkers on the evils of “the other guy” and I quit writing politically motivated columns for the newspaper at which I worked.

Presently, I don’t do too much opining on politics nor economics. I’m simply too busy running my businesses to protest. But, In my younger days I did sit on the fence and fling my fair share of poo, at my leisure, at the foot soldiers from all the parties.

And, having gone through quite an extreme spectrum, from conservative Republican to Libertarian to Democrat to Marxist to a 50/50 mix of socialist and capitalist with just the right mix of Green Party, and finally to bleeding-heart Libertarian, I feel like I’ve had enough vantage points from extremist ideologies to offer a comprehensive look at this diverse fustercluck we call “Democracy.”

(I know, someone with more broken TVs than teeth and waving a Confederate flag just screamed, “It’s not a Democracy, it’s a Republic!”)

The American political system has its perks but it also has plenty of flaws. But, whenever I begin to point them out, there are always those voices saying “Oh, you’ve got a better idea?” or “What are you, some kind a communist?” or “Stop hitting on my wife!” The fact is that I do have better ideas than those policies currently used to run our local, state and federal governments. And, no, I will not stop hitting on your wife.

Therefore, being the reliable source of information and insight you’ve come to know and trust for the last few dozen pages or so, I give you Gohsarchy.

The rules under Gohsarchy are so painfully easy that most people ironically find them confusing. Some might even say the structure is downright ridiculous. To them, I say, “Watch your ass!”

Rule #1 – You must be 37 years old to vote. Let’s face it, when you were 18 you were still incapable of doing a great many things right in your life. Those incapable of balancing a checkbook, returning items they borrow or listening to decent music should be kept as far away from the voting booth as possible. You want to have a say in how the country is run? Come back and see us when Lady GaGa no longer sounds good and your credit score is above 650.

Rule #2 – Campaign finance. Do they expect us to believe that it’s just a coincidence that he who raises the most money is more often than not the one who ends up in office? About as much of a coincidence as … as … as something coincidental, that’s what!

Under Gohsarchy, all campaigns would be publicly funded. Each person who ran for office, regardless of whether it was for local dogcatcher or U.S. Senate, would get a stipend of $5,000 and no more. You don’t get to raise funds. Nobody can donate to your campaign, and there would be three televised debates for every race that would get played on every major network and streamed to the web.

The public campaign funds would be kept topped off by a new “Annoyance Tax.” This tax would be retroactive to 1999, and would fine anyone misusing certain words, like, “Epic, sketchy, sick” or any utterance of “YOLO” or “Cray cray” for $100 per violation.

Also, any “family values” politician who is later caught having an affair with a member of their own sex, or any politician who so blatantly and severely contradicts himself would also be fined.

For example, voting against providing medical care for the poorest among us while simultaneously voting to increase the amount of money America spends on its war machine under the guise that the health and safety of the American people cannot be measured in vaccines and physicals but that it can be in the number of bullets and rocket launchers we give to third world thugs … that’s a no-no.

Rule #3 – You must have the skills to pay the bills. It’s fine for an asthmatic 15-year-old to pretend to be Jamrod, the 12th Century warrior mage from beyond the Ghastly Zone.

However, we must stop running this country like it’s a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

If your biggest claim to fame is porking chubby secretaries in your Little Rock law firm, or shooting slow-moving wildlife from an attack helicopter, your application is going straight to the basket with the Thorazine admirers and the guys who think the X-Files is real.

Rule #4 – Foreigners can run for all offices. If it’s one thing I’m sick of hearing, it’s my fellow Caucasians screaming about how they want their country back. Excuse me, you want your country back? I have a feeling there are a handful of people who might disagree with the pecking order on that one.

What my pasty brothers and sisters fail to realize is that this is a nation of immigrants.

OK, so they were mostly angry white immigrants who couldn’t understand why God would lead them to a new nation only to leave a bunch of half-naked heathens all over the place. But, frankly, I think this nation could benefit from some outside perspective.

Maybe if we were forced to learn that we’re not the only people on the planet who matter, we might stop being such world-class assholes about everything.

Don’t worry, Hubert, having to hear someone speak a language other than English isn’t going to make your wife’s tits fall off or anything.

And, who knows, you might actually learn something about geography other than that the Tim Horton’s is up two blocks from the Walmart. (Doesn’t Tim Horton’s have the best coffee?)

Rule #5 – Pay and perks. I don’t expect it to solve a lot of social issues but these monkeys we’re sending to have feces fights in congress and the senate would be overpaid if we compensated them in bus tokens and lard sandwiches.

The fact that they make anywhere from $200,000 on up to $400,000, not including benefits and perks, is downright disgraceful for folks who work part-time in air-conditioned offices while folks are busting real ass to barely make ends meet.

Therefore, under the super keen rules of Gohsarchy, all state and federal politicians—including the president—will earn the current American median income of $50,017. It’s a very respectable amount for where I come from, and paying these self-serving tools closer to what real people are making should help assuage some of the angst we feel when we vote for their dysfunctional asses. (By the way, before you politicians start complaining, most working folks aren’t making near $50,000 a year.)

Rule #6 – No more job jumping. Beginning immediately, there will be a 10-year-long embargo preventing politicians from working as lobbyists or paid political consultants—other than for political campaigns. There will be no more of this congress-to-corporation mutual masturbation that’s gone on too long.

Rule #7 – No more partisan elections. Under Gohsarchy, we will vote for the person, not the political party because there won’t be any. You want team sports, go watch women’s synchronized scissoring or something like that.

Rule #8 – Greater access to the polls. Under Gohsarchy, people will be able to vote from any digital device, from smart-phone to laptop, in addition to being able to go to the traditional locations. In this day of never-before-dreamed-of technology, there simply is no valid excuse for making people line up for hours like wombats in the kill line at the hotdog factory. (It’s an Australian hotdog factory.)

After all, if people know they can have a little tender “alone time” right after they vote, I’ll be much more likely to participate. (I mean “they,” they’ll be more likely to participate.) I expect as near a 100 percent voter turnout as is statistically possible.

Rule #9 – No more negativity. Your mother always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That rule will apply under Gohsarchy.

No negative campaign ads will be allowed.

You either have to talk about yourself or say something nice about your opponent.

Also, whoever loses the election will have the opportunity to work on the cabinet of the person who won. This will help ensure everyone is represented.

Rule #10 – Liberty for all. Personal choices that do not directly affect or harm others will no longer be fodder for ballot measures. You and your gay lover wanna snort cocaine and shoot off machine guns to celebrate your black atheist wedding, then you work it, girl!

As long as you don’t take out any street lights or ejaculate on public property, you’re untouchable! (And not in that creepy Hindu way, either.)

Note to self: add “shoot out street lights” and “ejaculate on public property” to bucket list.