Tall Poppy Interview – Jonathan Ames, Writer, Comedian, Sometimes Boxer
Sure New York based writer Jonathan Ames looks like a badass in this photo, with his fists up in the air like he’s ready to deck Torontoist. But after reading his collection of essays I Love You More Than You Know we know that Ames, can be a big softie (he dedicates the book to his great-aunt and the title of the book is inspired by something she said to him). Heck, Ames even describes himself as “Kerouacish on the outside, but somewhat Woody Allenish on the inside.”
The blurb on the cover of his book describes the McSweeney’s contributor as “an edgier David Sedaris.” Torontoist prefers to think of Ames as more like a Hemmingway sans the chest-thumping and machismo, and with a healthy serving of neuroses. Jonathan Ames will be in town Mar. 7 at the Gladstone Hotel as part of This Isn’t A Reading Series. He’ll be performing his one man show Oedipussy. We e-mailed him these questions and certainly hope that odd Torontonians (and you know who you are) make his stay memorable.
The essays in I Love You More Than You Know span a long period of time (1998-2005) what do you think has changed about you in that period of time?
An awful lot has changed. Was it Shakespeare who wrote about human beings changing every seven years? And isn’t some kind of scientific fact that our bodies completely reproduce or something every seven years? Our skin, our organs. Who knows. I do feel I’ve aged quite a lot since 1998. I had some hair then, and I had just published my second book and I now have six books. I sort of yearned for love and now I’m afraid of it. So I guess a lot has changed.
One of the things I noticed was your son, because everytime he appears in an essay he’s a little bit older. He’s 18 or 19 now? What’s your relationship like? Has he seen your writing and what does he think?
My son is now 19 and will soon be 20. We have a very good relationship, friendship. He’s seen of my writing, but not much. To paraphrase something Salman Rushdie said: My son is more interested in me as a father than as a writer. Also, the access he can have to me is much more intimate than reading one of my books. Why approach me in the way that strangers must?
I find that you’re constantly teetering between this “edgy” (God, I hate that word), at times dysfunctional, bad boy writer persona and the most self-effacing neuroses. You don’t keep things bottled up. How, or I guess, why do you do it?
Bad boy? What does that mean? That I have fun sometimes? Why do I unbottle things that are normally bottled? Well… Freud said that all writing is confession. (At least I think he said that; see my faulty Shakespeare reference above… ) I must want to confess, then. I feel guilty. I want forgiveness. I also want to entertain and amuse and writing about myself sometimes provides that for the reader.
The most beautiful and affecting thing in the book is your essays and relationship with your great aunt, can you tell me a bit more about that?
She’s been good to me my whole life and I madly adore her. She’s in a nursing home now. I really miss her, though I do see her about once-a-week. I would see her more but she’s in New Jersey and I’m in New York. I just feel this very pure affection and love for her. It’s a less complicated love than what one might have for a parent. I love to hug her, make her smile.
Can you describe Oedipussy, the play that you’ll be performing here?
I’ll be doing a version of “Oedipussy,” which is a series of linked monologues from my life, stories of my childhood and early fatherhood. They are tales of odd calamities, physical problems, puberty, smoking crack, making love, the agony and the ecstasy.
You’ve been to Montreal, ever been here? Is there anything you’re looking forward to?
I’ve been to Toronto two times. Both times I didn’t see much (they were very quick one-night, two-night jaunts), but I remember enjoying the broad streets, the architecture. I’m looking forward to meeting some odd Torontonians, whom I’m hoping will turn up for my performance.
Ames will be performing Oedipussy at the Gladstone Hotel, March 7, 7:00-10:00pm, free (seating limited) as part of TINARS.