STOOPING TO THE LEVEL The Lowbrow Reader

Jay Ruttenberg’s
“smart little magazine about dumb humor” gets anthologized and analyzed.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

The New York Times called Jay Ruttenberg’s Lowbrow Reader “A smart little magazine about dumb humor.” Sure, it lionizes Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison, and gives the Queens of
Comedy (Mo’Nique, Sommore, et al) a venue to discuss their sexual proclivities –
not exactly the most edifying topics. Then again…

 

Everybody fucks, everybody poops, and many of us have been
drunk enough to hallucinate giant arctic birds. Doesn’t that universality make
it relevant?

 

“I think a lot of great comedy draws its strength from
addressing base topics in an intelligent way – and, conversely, looking at
lofty topics from the perspective of a moron,” says Ruttenberg. He points to
Chris Rock, “far and away the smartest standup of from the past 15 years. When
he talks about, say, politics, it can be with faux man-on-the-street ignorance;
when he discusses sex or relationships, he speaks as an exalted philosopher,
using the preacher’s cadence of his grandfather. I should point out that Chris
Rock is also the favorite comedian of the President.”

 

Ruttenberg started the Lowbrow
Reader
with “the vague notion of covering what was generally perceived as ‘lowbrow’
comedy in a hopefully smart and funny way.” He also wanted the magazine to
“come from a heartfelt place” and to steer clear of ironic praise and
disingenuous approval. “It always gets my goat when a critic fawns over
something that is conventionally bad, but you can kind of tell his admiration
is insincere… If the accolades smell false, it cheats the reader.”

 

 

 

 

And so it is that The
Lowbrow Reader Reader
(Drag
City) compiles cartoons,
commentary, essays, fiction and verse from Patton Oswalt, Neil Michael Hagerty,
Gilbert Rogin and David Berman. It also includes an ardent and lengthy look at Billy Madison from Ruttenberg himself.
“If you have only seen Adam Sandler’s later movies, that may look stupid or
phony,” Ruttenberg says. “But after giving this way too much thought, at least
for a mentally healthy adult, I can report that Billy Madison really is my favorite movie.”

 

However, he defers to Margeaux Rawson’s interview with the
Queens of Comedy – originally conducted for Glamour,
which rejected it as way too blue – as the book’s masterpiece. “All I can say
is, if a person is to read only one article in the book, I hope it is that one.
Unless that person is my mother-in-law.”

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