In I’m A Little Brain Dead, Los Angeles writer Kimberly Davis Basso describes her experience of having a stroke and its scary consequences.
It was one of the funniest books I have ever enjoyed—and one of the most courageous.
Decades of professional writing experience combine with over 25 years as a theatrical director and producer to demonstrate her understanding of audience:
We are held by fear.
We are held by laughter.
Oh, how well Basso wields this double-edged sword!
Basso is very approachable via Goodreads, where she patiently answered my numerous questions: Did she describe events truthfully? Did she and her husband really obsess over zombies?
–We have always enjoyed ridiculous little games and jokes, so the escapism is real. And of course that’s what it is – so much easier to side step into a zombie apocalypse than to play the “what if” game – which is dangerous, scary, and entirely unproductive unless you’re trying to raise your stress level. The chapter called Scared? is my true, honest view of life. Panicking never helps. The bigger the problem, in fact, the less panicking helps. Of course, in day to day life, this is harder to remember. Which is why I backed up that chapter with the also true story of my panic over a medical issue that turned out to be nothing.
“Did your daughter really call you ‘Stroke Woman’?” I ask.
–Yes, she really did. She gets her irony from me, I’m going to say, because I have the caustic wit. I was born in New England, where sarcasm is an art form.
My biggest question, as for anyone writing about a life event, is whether she took notes! Basso replies:
–Oh, the actual notes/writing. I write, I’ve always been a writer. I asked my husband to bring my laptop to me in the hospital, so I had it with me on day two. Hospitals are boring, after all. And I wanted to be able to Skype with my folks who live out of state. I type very fast, I’ve been accused of faking it actually, but I was writing the experience from day two. So that immediacy and honesty is all because it was all still happening.
I think aspiring writers who want to cultivate humor need to know how you did it so well.
——– My best advice is to watch comedians and read how they do it. Read David Sedaris, Read and watch Steve Martin. And read Erma Bombeck.
Have you ever written for stand-up comedians?
—— I haven’t, but I did coach a stand up a long time ago, so I went to all these open mics with him and was able to watch as his stuff evolved. And I’ve written a bunch of comedies (plays). I also had a student (high school) who started off freshman year doing standup. Talented from the get go. His name is Eric Gil. He is still working it- so if you ever come across his name.
What else would you say to writers trying to be funny?
–The rules apply. Write what you know, just write it with unflinching honesty. I’m pleasantly surprised that people think it’s funny. That probably sounds odd, but it’s true. Originally I kept categorizing it as memoir then I realized that nope, this is straight up humor, because that is how all the readers are responding. I mean, I didn’t think it was a tear jerker. But you know, first book, reader reactions are so different from theater audience reactions. OH OH OH and the cursing – don’t do it. I know that sounds odd considering that every other word is an F-bomb – but unless it’s naturally there, don’t do it. The curses in this book were all exactly what I was thinking at the time. And I swear a lot – so yeah. But if I didn’t swear in real life, I wouldn’t be cursing in the book. None were added in for effect. That would be fucking cheap. And EDIT. Ruthlessly. I took paragraphs down to a sentence or removed them altogether if they didn’t work.