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The Joke smith.

Way to go, Smith!

by Bob Smith

Rob Weisbach Books: William Morrow, 1999 284 pages, $24.

This is not a mildly amusing book; this is a raucously funny memoir in the best tradition of 1950's TV--or is it vaudeville? or Borscht Belt? Smith must have been born with the comedy gene, eliciting laughs from the first page to the last. Best known, perhaps, as the first openly gay comedian to appear on the Tonight Show, Smith was one of the members (along with Jaffe Cohen and Danny McWilliams) of the stand-up comedy trio, Funny Gay Males. His 1997 memoir, Openly Bob, which was dedicated to his then-boyfriend Tom, draws some of its comedy from their ten-year relationship. Two years later, Smith's new book opens with the words, "Tom moved out in December."

"Call me a romantic," writes Smith, "but I have always wanted a relationship like my parents had, where things are iffy for forty or fifty years." His widowed mother, living in upstate New York, becomes "every sensible gay man's worst nightmare. I had lost my boyfriend and gained a new girlfriend: my mother." This indeed continues a lifelong pattern: "I had been unable to find a subject that would make her lose interest [but she] was a friend I couldn't shake no matter how unbearable I became."

In order to give their friends a warning that the breakup was imminent, rather than just tell them that there's trouble in paradise, Smith and Tom resolve to go to dinner with as many of them as possible and let them get a sense that something was wrong. In the middle of a rather melancholy recollection, Smith throws in a sidesplitter about his friend Glen, who had three dogs all named after Judy Garland's children. "When Glen yelled 'Lorna! Liza! Joey! Get down!' [he] sounded like an attendant at a rehab center trying to prevent his patients from hurting themselves as they were going through various forms of drug withdrawal."

Way to go, Smith! traces Smith's life chronologically as one of four children in suburban Buffalo--territory largely untouched in his previous book. His upbringing may have been religious, and his parents "went through the motions of being good Catholics [but ...] on Sunday mornings they were tired, all they wanted was a little peace and quiet, and the baby Jesus was just another kid demanding attention." His gay fourth-grade teacher, Mr. McGaffin, loved poetry, and Edna St. Vincent Millay above all. He was "struck by beauty" almost every hour, and Smith "studied the geography" of Mr. McGaffin's face, "as if [I were] going to be tested" on it. Smith's reflections on visiting Mr. McGaffin's house--and meeting his boyfriend, as he now understands--will strike a chord with all readers who remember a time when one of the biggest shocks in life was discovering that their teachers had private lives.

In subsequent chapters, Smith comments on his life in high school--not too bad, considering that he graduated in 1976. He had a circle of friends, went to his share of rock concerts, and seems not to have encountered too much homophobia. In some atypically un-funny passages, he recounts his grandparents' loveless--if not mutually cruel--relationship, and touches on his father's alcoholism, as he had in Openly Bob. Smith's style has clearly developed and matured since his previous memoir. I can think of no higher praise than that I laughed so hard, at times that I had to stop reading and recover.
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Title Annotation:Review; Way to go, Smith!
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
Previous Article:Before the Before.
Next Article:Going Back for More.

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