Ira Nayman – A Seriously Funny Canadian GuyPosted by Nicole Chardenet on May 12, 2013 in Geeks/Nerds, Pop Culture | 5 comments
I met fellow wiseass author and sushi hound Ira Nayman at the Ad Astra sci-fi/fantasy convention here in Toronto a few years ago. Since he was the only other author besides myself flogging his humourous fiction, of course we became friends. I read his book What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children’s Toys which was some of most seriously funny s**t I’d read in a long time. If Ira ever decides to give up his wild madcap fiction writing career, he needs to write for The Big Bang Theory.
I caught up with Ira recently. Mostly because I can run faster than he.
Your books indulge in a lot of science-based or otherwise ‘geeky’ humour – where does that come from? Are you a scientist yourself, or do you just play one on TV, or did you just do a lot of weird mind-altering drugs in the Sixties while watching Wild Kingdom, Star Trek and The Jetsons?
Funny you should ask that. It’s true – and I probably shouldn’t mention this, but we’re friends, and I know you won’t spread it around – that, when I was younger, I had a terrible Coke habit. It seriously messed me up for a lot of years. I was drinking a two litre bottle a day! And, wondering why I was always bouncing off walls! I largely quit caffeinated beverages a couple of decades ago.
I recently met Peter and Allison Buck, publishers of my first novel at Elsewhen Press, who asked me a similar question. I told them (truthfully) that I don’t do mind-altering drugs of any kind – if I did, they would probably make me think like a lawyer, and Arrundel* knows we don’t need any more of them about!
I grew up reading the ABCs of science fiction (Asimov, Bradbury and Clark), among others. And, in keeping with my classical background, I watched such TV shows as (the original) Star Trek and Time Tunnel and movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. They certainly primed me to write science fictiony things. Today, I read two newspapers a day (they contain a lot of current science and technology news) and I have subscriptions to Scientific American and Scientific American Mind to keep up with the latest science news.
This is by no means the only thing I write. Readers of my Web site (Les Pages aux Folles) will find a lot of articles of political and social satire, as well as cartoons that provide a surreal take on relationships. I focus on promoting the science fictiony humour because a few years ago – and this was a real shock to me – I looked around and saw that there were no satire conventions. I know, right? Who doesn’t want to pay an outrageous amount of money for an autographed picture of Art Buchwald? Our society has some strange priorities.
Oh, and I would appreciate it if we kept my ass out of this. It may be wise (although, to be honest, it often feels dumb), but it is overly sensitive to the possibility that an interview like this will make it look fat.
* Arrundel is the leader of the digital gods (like Odin, but without the penchant for aftershave that smells like burning wood chips). He first appeared in an Alternate Reality News Service article (“Digital Gods: Appendix A: Digital Gods”) which can be found on my Web site and will appear in one of my next collections in print. He and other digital gods will also appear in a chapter of the novel I am currently working on, which is why I am risking blaspheming by using his name in this context.
Having actually seen your ass*, I can assure it it’s not at all fat, it’s just pleasingly round and firm and fully packed (rather a lot like a pack of Lucky Strikes. There. Your ass has just now been compared to a long thin rod of cancer-packed death. I hope it feels better). And I certainly hope you’re not receiving any hate mail from the Canadian government or the Republicans for being so up-to-snuff with the latest and greatest science news. But one must wonder: As a Canadian, your work refers far more to American politics and culture than Canadian. Is that because we only have enough Canadians in our country to stuff an envelope and you’d starve trying to make a living here, or are you a self-hating Canadian, or are the rumours true that we’re really as boring as everyone thinks we are?
*Only in a sushi restaurant and fan shows. Mr. Nayman and I have never even suffered a chance meeting at Hanlan’s Point, Toronto’s nude beach, as we are both required by the Geneva Convention to keep our clothes on in public at all times.
I actually write a fair amount about Canadian culture and politics on my Web site, but a lot of it is in writing that doesn’t make it into my print books. There is a bit I rather like in the novel where Canada, being a pioneer in transdimensional travel technologies research, ends up a world power because it hadn’t sold the technology to a multinational corporation fast enough. So, uhh, yeah – I do make my points about my home and native land.
You are correct, though, in pointing out that I write a lot about American politics. For me, it’s a matter of the scope of the results. When American politicians screw up, the world is plunged into war, with massive amounts of death and destruction. When Canadian politicians screw up, a few people in Petawawa (look it up) are mildly inconvenienced. Somebody once wrote that you shouldn’t hunt butterflies with cannons; as a satirist, I like to go after big game.
Also, years ago I wrote that Canadian politics is basically American politics, only 10 years later and only about 10 per cent as effective. So, I figure jokes I tell about Americans today I can tell about Canadians in a few years (the one exception being Rick Santorum: we shall never see his like again, praise the lord!) Nobody can say I’m not environmentally friendly!
* As for my ass, I tried to – oh, wait, I didn’t refer to this paragraph in a footnote above. Oh, man, this is awkward – maybe, I could – no, that wouldn’t work. What if I went * now – no, that would doom us to the curse of the recursive. You know what? I think I’ll just have to start again.**
** Aah, much better. As for my ass, I used to try to cover it up with a burka, but I was told that I would not be allowed to give testimony in trials if I did. I asked the judge if he would let me talk out of my ass behind a screen so at least it wouldn’t be seen in public, but the tabloid press subsequently accused my ass of aiding terrorists. There’s a lesson about the law in all of this, but I’m no Dickens so I’ll let better minds than mine figure it out…
Now that I think of it, I should really tell your ass to pipe down and let you do the talking because your ass has not, to my knowledge, written any books. And this is an interview with a writer, not a writer’s ass. Please tell your ass to stop interrupting.
Now. Where were we? Oh yes. I do recall some of your Canadian references in Welcome To The Multiverse, and I can see where Canadian politics might have less impact in the world than American politics. And I already know where Petawawa is, dammit – then again our American-slash-foreign readers might not. Then again, I’m not at all sure anyone outside of Petawawa knows where it is. I hope you didn’t bring down Google Maps with all the server hits there, Ira.
Anyway, do you, like, worship Douglas Adams or something? The Great Man’s influence was a bit subtler in your earlier books, but in Welcome To The Multiverse it hit me upside the head so hard I still have a migraine (but it’s the funniest migraine ever). Do you sacrifice towels to Deep Thought for inspiration or what?
My ass thanks you for you understanding.
Yeah, I get the Douglas Adams thing a lot. Do people think I wear Pangalactic Gargleblaster aftershave or something? Sure, I’m a fan of his work, and he was one influence on my writing, but only one of many. The problem is, people reading my writing expecting another Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are going to be disappointed because my writing is quite different, and, frankly, I’m allergic to pitchforks and torches.
In fact, my formative years came BEFORE Adams started writing novels; two influences which I consider more important to my development as a writer were Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Marx Brothers. I learned two things from them that are fundamental to my writing to this day. The first is to interweave humourous elements so densely, and at every level from the overall story to each sentence and even individual words, that there is almost always something funny going. This requires a lot of comic ideas, of course, but the effect can be very satisfying.
The other thing I learned was to use all of the different comic devices at my disposal. Ordinarily, writers specialize in one or two types of humour; I try to use them all. Aburdism. Surrealism. Word play. Irony. Exaggeration. Understatement. Parody. Satire. Character-driven humour. Situation-driven humour. I try to incorporate as many different types of humour in my writing (especially my long-form writing, such as novels) as possible to keep the reader off guard, because one of the basic elements of humour is surprise.
But, uhh, that’s pretty serious, and you wanted to keep this interview light. So, umm, ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION! That’s always good for a laugh, right?
Oh really, Ira. Dick jokes? How juvenile. <snicker snicker> Okay, maybe a *little* bit funny <giggle> All right, the hell with it, ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION is funny!!! BWAAHHHHAHHAAHHAAA!!! Well okay, maybe not if you suffer from it…or are on the receiving end (or not :), so while the condition isn’t at all funny, saying ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION is !!! ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION! ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION! ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION!
There, it’s out of my system. Sorry about that but *you* brought it up <snicker snicker tee hee> So back to the serious stuff: Who’s your favourite Spice Girl?!?! Or was as the case may be. And if NASA ever sent out any more satellite thingies like Pioneer 10 with messages and artifacts for any space aliens to try to make sense of, will they send any of your books into the Great Beyond, and if found by aliens, do you think they’ll appreciate your humour as much as we Terrans do?
As for aliens appreciating my humour, that depends to some extent upon whether or not you believe in the anthropic principle (the idea that the universe evolved in order for microscopic ants to develop). If it’s true, then they would totally be into jokes about erectile dysfunction; if not, they might very well not have erectiles to be dysfunctional, and the joke would fall flatter than…you know – what? I gotta draw you a bit map?
Or, put a different way, there is a general belief that humour does not travel well because it is culturally specific. I believe that this is only partially true: some types of humour refer to people, places or ideas that only those who know about a local culture will understand, BUT, there are also types of humour that are more universal (character-driven humour, for example, since humans in pretty much all places and times have similar emotional needs and drives).
What I try and do in my writing is mix up the two types of humour so that even if people don’t get some of the cultural references (and, honestly, if you’ve never seen The Littlest Hobo, you can look it up on Google – isn’t that what Sergey Brin and Larry page created it for?). I assume I have succeeded. Although I’m Canadian, my publisher is British; clearly, there was enough humour for him to appreciate to want to publish the novel.
PS: I was always partial to Hangdog Spice. Sure, she was mopey and sad all the time, but she had…you know, some special kind of…umm…you know…err…okay, maybe I’m just into mopey and sad. Please don’t judge. Unfortunately, she was cut from the group just before they made it big (by which I mean, of course, five seconds after they had accepted her into the band, which made them realize just how much they actually wanted to be successful).
So, do you have any parting advice for aspiring humour authors? Inside intel on what it takes to get a publisher? Or who was really behind 9/11? And whether they had any ties to the Kennedy assassination, Area 54 or Justin Trudeau’s amazing poll numbers?
Advice for aspirating writers? Slow down when you eat and you are less likely to get food caught in your windpipe!
Back in my bad boy days as a University prof, I used to tell my students that if they don’t love being an artist, if they can imagine a life doing something other than creating art, they should do that instead. One of my favourite quotes is from Vaudeville and film star Eddie Cantor: “It took me 20 years to become an overnight success.” And, he was an optimist! It could take 30 or 40 years, and there is no guarantee that you will become a success (although, I find it helps to be constantly defining the term downwards).
If you love writing so much that you can’t live without it, you’ll be able to weather the constant rejections, the negative reviews, the penury (no, that’s not a dirty joke – I’d like to think we’re past that now) and the general lack of support of your friends, family and even pets. (I had a hamster once – well, no need to go into that story.) If not, you may as well go into advertising: the frustrations may be just as great, but at least the pay is better!
And, even if you aren’t ultimately a success, at least you’ve spent 20, 30, 40 or more years of your life doing what you love, and how many people can say that?
Oh, and, if we’re gonna talk conspiracies, Pompeii was an inside job!
What? Too soon?
Where can you find this seriously funny dude’s work:
WEB SITE: Les Pages aux Folles
FACEBOOK WRITER’S/FAN/WHATEVER PAGE: Ira Nayman’s Thrishty Friednishes
ARNS BOOKS: Alternate Reality News Service collections (Alternate Reality Ain’t What It Used To Be,What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children’s Toys and Luna for the Lunies!) and the novel Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) can be purchased on Amazon.com
RADIO SERIES PILOT: The Weight of Information
NOVEL TRAILER – Welcome To The Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience), natch!
(Not to be confused with the Jonathon Livingston Seagull Writing Contest, which is awarded to the world’s most overblown and pretentiously self-important writing on aviary topics – Nicole)
Author of the novel Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience)
(Yah yah yah…and President of Toronto and King of Canada and Emperor of the Universe and Winner of the World’s Longest Sushi Lunch 2013 – Nicole)
and Luna for the Lunies! (available online through Amazon, Indigo/Chapters and others)