The author of Denton Little's Deathdate gives us a tragicomic story of bad dates, bad news, bad performances, and one girl's determination to find the funny in high school.
Winnie Friedman has been waiting for the world to catch on to what she already knows: she's hilarious.
It might be a long wait, though. After bombing a stand-up set at her own bat mitzvah, Winnie has kept her jokes to herself. Well, to herself and her dad, a former comedian and her inspiration.
Then, on the second day of tenth grade, the funniest guy in school actually laughs at a comment she makes in the lunch line and asks her to join the improv troupe. Maybe he's even . . . flirting?
Just when Winnie's ready to say yes to comedy again, her father reveals that he's been diagnosed with ALS. That is . . . not funny. Her dad's still making jokes, though, which feels like a good thing. And Winnie's prepared to be his straight man if that's what he wants. But is it what he needs?
Caught up in a spiral of epically bad dates, bad news, and bad performances, Winnie's struggling to see the humor in it all. But finding a way to laugh is exactly what will see her through.
About the Author
LANCE RUBIN is the author of Denton Little's Deathdate and Denton Little's Still Not Dead. He's worked as an actor, written and performed sketch comedy (like The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre), and done a lot of improv. He's also the co-writer, along with Joe Iconis and Jason SweetTooth Williams, of the musical Broadway Bounty Hunter. Lance lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons. You can follow him online at LanceRubin.com and on Twitter at @LanceRubinParty.
Read an Excerpt
No one knows how funny I am.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My dad, and sometimes my mom, and my best friends, Leili and Azadeh, know.
And I know.
But no one else.
Definitely no one in school, where successful humor tends to involve farts.
I’m not knocking fart humor, but I recognize it is but one color in the comedy rainbow. For many people at my school, however, it is one of just three primary comedy colors, the other two being sex humor (e.g., pretend-humping in the hallway) and mean humor (e.g., pulling away someone’s chair as they sit down), which isn’t even humor so much as an excuse to be an asshole.
Anyway, if a joke falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, it does not make a sound, so sometime in the middle of last year, I stopped saying my funny thoughts aloud. It’s like giving your finest, most expensive jewelry to your hamster. Guess what? That hamster does not give a flying eff about carats.
(He might, however, care a great deal about carrots.)
(I’m sorry. I am aware puns are, in many ways, no better than fart jokes, but there’s a long tradition of really smart comedy writers appreciating puns in a manner that is half ironic, half sincere—and that is the way I appreciate them.)
So, yeah, when it comes to my sense of humor, most of the people in school are hamsters, which is why it’s incredibly surprising that just now, on the second day of my sophomore year, I seem to have made Evan Miller laugh.
“Ha, that’s hilarious,” he says, standing next to me, our lunch trays balanced on the metal rack of the cafeteria line, as his less sophisticated friend Tim Stabisch looks on like Wait, seriously? Was it?
I should mention: Evan Miller is, by many accounts (not mine), the funniest guy in school. He’s a junior, and though our interactions have been minimal, I’ve had quite a bit of time to become familiar with his comedic stylings, as I assistant-directed last year’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace, in which Evan played the brother who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt and is always maniacally charging up the stairs of the house. And yes, Evan was truly hilarious in that play, mainly because he was so confident and committed to the role. As my dad has said, “The secret to being successful in comedy is confidence. That’s, like, ninety percent of it right there.” And Evan Miller has that, so I understand why his comedic reputation has soared.
Now, does he possess the other ten percent of the formula, which includes having a smart, interesting perspective on the world around him? Not so much.
Though it’s possible I’ve underestimated him, because he did just laugh at the thing I said moments ago (which was not a pun or a fart joke). I was standing in the lunch line by myself when this happened:
EVAN (next to me in line the whole time, though I hadn’t acknowledged him because I assumed he had no idea who I was): Hey, you worked on the play last year, right?
ME: I did.
EVAN: Winnie, right?
ME (surprised he knows my name): Oh. Yeah. And you’re . . . (I pretend I don’t know his name, I have no idea why.)
EVAN (slightly disappointed): Evan.
ME: Right! Evan, yeah. You were really funny in the play. (I felt bad that I’d pretended not to know his name, which is why I gave him a compliment.)
EVAN (perking up again): Oh, thanks! (Inexplicably going into stereotypical California girl voice) That’s, like, totally cool of you to say.
ME (unconvincingly): Ha.
PEARL THE LUNCH LADY (to me): Chicken or vegetable?
ME: Wait, what is it?
PEARL: Stir-fry. Chicken or vegetable.
ME: Oh. Chicken, please.
(PEARL slops stir-fry onto my tray.)
ME: Thanks. (Looking to Evan) She and I go way back, that’s why she hooks me up with the good stuff.
EVAN (laughing): Ha, that’s hilarious.
And there you have it. Evan is laughing at something I said. I don’t even know why I said it.
Tim, trying his best to keep up, asks, “Wait, did she just give you extra chicken?”
“Yes,” I say, even though she obviously gave me the same amount she gives everyone. “But don’t feel bad, that’s only because we were platoon mates in Vietnam. I saved her life. Twice.”
Evan laughs harder, and Tim is more confused. “I want extra chicken too,” he says. “They never give enough.”
“You’re really funny,” Evan tells me. “You should join Improv Troupe. We always need new funny people.”
This catches me off guard. I mean, he’s right—I saw the improv troupe perform a couple of times last year and they could probably use my help—but it’s a foreign and delightful feeling to have someone who isn’t me recognize that. Unfortunately, I retired from performing two and a half years ago after a traumatic incident at my bat mitzvah. Nevertheless, I’m flattered.
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Maybe.”
“First meeting of the year is tomorrow. After school.”
Pearl, back from replacing an empty serving dish, asks Evan, “Chicken or vegetable?” He opts for vegetable, which surprises me, then turns back to me as I’m grabbing a rice pudding and walking away. “Seriously, think about it. You’ll have even more fun than you did in Nam!”
“That’s not possible,” I say. “Nam was a blast.”
Evan cracks up harder, and I try to hide my smile.
Maybe I should join Improv Troupe.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Laugh out loud funny, witty and has an all encompassing warm fuzzy feeling to it from the very first page, to the last goodbye. Absolutely 5/5 stars for being he new comedic read of the century.
This should have been a great year for Winnie. She had her two best friends at her side, a cute older boy was showing interest in her, and she was going to attempt performing again, but then, things started to unravel. Friend drama, boy drama, epic comedy fails, and worst of all, her father's ALS diagnosis had Winnie wondering where she could find any humor in her life, but with love, and yes, comedy, Winnie was able to find her way. I think my first update for this book was about how I had already laughed and cried. Rubin did a wonderful job blending the light and heavy in this beautiful story, which delivered quite an emotional punch. Five Things I Love About Crying Laughing: 1. Winnie was a little spark plug. I found her witty and charming, and she did indeed, make me laugh. Her journey over the course of this book was not an easy one, but she took each lesson to heart, and learned from her mistakes, as well as, the mistakes of others. She opened her eyes a little wider, and began to see the world in a bit more detail. 2. I think I have only read one other YA book that featured improv, but not to the depth encountered in this book. Rubin really delivered an education on the art of improv, and I enjoyed learning more about it. It was also a nice parallel to how Winnie needed to begin listening more and living in the moment. She had to challenge herself to not think about her father's end, but rather, treasure the moments she still had with him. 3. When I took my adolescent psychology class, I remember discussing how this was a time in a teen's life, when they realize their parents were only human. They made mistakes and were simply mere mortals. Winnie had to face this about her father, who she sort of hero worshipped. She first had to accept, that he would probably be gone in 2 - 5 years, and then she learned some more hard truths about her parents, which she had to deal with. Rubin handled this part quite thoughtfully, and spared no emotional impact as he did so. 4. The relationship between Winnie and her father was very special. I loved seeing them interact and joke around, but I also found their deeper discussions quite touching. These two filled me with feels and brought me to tears. 5. I loved the friendship that Winnie shared with Asmaa and Leili. They had some ups and downs over the course of the story, but that only made it seem more authentic. Fletcher was also a good friend, and all three were a source of comfort and support for Winnie as she attempted to deal with her father's failing health and family situation. "Laughing and crying, you know it's the same release." - Joni Mitchell (from Laughing Crying) As promised, this book made me laugh and cry, but it also was a great reminder to hold onto the ones you love, while you can, to listen to each other, and to be present.