Bob Smith's latest book delivers poignancy peppered with punchlines

By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Editor

When we last left Bob Smith, he had just published his first book, Openly Bob. During that interview in 1997 and in the book, Smith detailed his ten-year relationship with Tom. Reading Smith's new book, "Way To Go, Smith!" immediately lets us know we're in for a different ride, as the first essay details his breakup. As usual, Smith's comic Godsend of a mother helps him through the experience.

"I wrote about Tom so much in the other book, so I had to keep people up to date," Smith said over dessert and coffee recently in San Francisco. "It's difficult after ten years to remove someone from your life, and I wouldn't want to."

Smith actually wanted to try and make the relationship work, but Tom didn't.

"We were having some problems, but I thought we could work them out. And then we had a really bad year, and we quit it. Tom thought it was over, I still think we could have worked it out, but obviously we didn't," Smith said. "The interesting thing about it is that my mother helped me get through it. My mother is such a comic character. She kept calling me and giving me advice, and she is a widow, so she went through it three years ago when my father died. She really sympathized with me."

Smith isn't looking for sympathy, though. In the book's essay that deals with the breakup, the emphasis is on the humor of breaking up, such as kitchen utensils that were broken up like kids in a custody battle.

"I am okay with it now. But it's definitely something you have to work through and it takes a long time. It's been a solid year," he said. "I did the 'I don't want to see you' for about three or four months, and we're not best friends or anything, but we see each other socially. We're civilized."

Smith, 40, mines comedic gold from his family, friends and experiences in "Way To Go, Smith!" A gifted stand-up comic, Smith's timing and flair for finding comedy in everyday life make the book a delight to read. The book illustrates Smith's mastery of shifting gears from being a great stand-up comic to being a great comic storyteller. The essays don't have a unifying theme, aside from them all being about Smith, but they all flow with a mastery of language. Smith had to spend a lot of time getting this much humor into these stories, as they never seem to be going out of their way to bring in punchlines.

The essays range from: his breakup, his gay fourth grade teacher, a kid on his street who became a murderer, members of his dysfunctional family, and a high school essay which quotes from his high school yearbook. The book finishes with "War and Piece of Ass," Smith's essay on being single again.

As for the title, that came from something people used to tell him in the fifth grade.

"The title of the book refers to me fainting twice in the fifth grade during biology movies and everyone would say 'Way To Go, Smith!' like, 'you're a big loser,'" Smith said.

Smith said writing the book is a completely different process than when he is writing jokes for his stand-up comedy act.

"Stand-up is very succinct. I do occasionally rip off a good one-liner in the book, but it comes out of the story," he said. "In stand-up, it's the other way around, where you think of a good line and work a bit around it."

With this book, Smith is building on the success of Openly Bob, which was also a book of comedic essays. The first book did very well, winning the Lambda Literary Award, going into numerous printings and garnering rave reviews.

While the book does have some cross-over appeal, Smith has no qualms about writing material specifically for a gay male readership.

"The primary audience is a gay audience, but what I find gratifying is that straight people and lesbians read it and like it," he said. "I get letters, and people come up to me. So that is rewarding."

Smith also thinks a high school audience, like many of Oasis' readers, will be able to relate to a lot of his experiences growing up.

"There's a mixture of nostalgia, but I think it's something everyone can recognize," he said. "I talk about gym class, someone who called me a fag once, my friends in high school, what kinds of books I read. This book is also a little sexier than the last book."

With his current book-naming convention of including his first or last name in the book title, and each one getting sexier, I suggested that six books from now the title would be "Nakedly Bob," although Smith said he would probably be up to "Bob's Balls" by that point.

Smith is already thinking ahead to his next project, aside from stand-up comedy which he does continually.

"I have an idea for another movie and an idea for another book," he said. "But I think I want to do a novel. I think I'm ready to lie in a book."

Smith, who has appeared in his own HBO comedy show and on The Tonight Show, said one of his recent television appearances didn't go as well as he had hoped. He appeared on VH-1's new show The List, which has four panelists and Meat Loaf as the celebrity host arguing over 'lists' of best singers and such things.

Smith, who advised me (and you, too, I suppose) not to watch the show if I happened to find it, said he was slightly unprepared for his appearance.

"I went on the show without seeing the show, which was bad," he said. "They said it's like Politically Incorrect, but it's really not."

Smith did better on Politically Incorrect itself, although in typical Politically Incorrect fashion any gay guest must be countered with an anti-gay guest. Smith got to argue about gender issues on the Politically Incorrect, after a college woman recently began declaring herself a man on campus. Smith didn't have a problem with it, but was countered by a minister who didn't approve.

"They had a woman minister who was homophobic, but she was nice to me off-camera," he recalled. "And afterwards, she said, 'Oh, Bob, I hope you're not really upset by anything I said. I just want you to know my mother's a lesbian.' And then I was horrified that she was picking on her poor mother! I wish she would have told me that before the show."

But now, with his relationship with Tom over, Smith is upbeat about his life moving forward.

"For a couple months, I didn't do anything. Then you have your rebound fling, which I write about, and that gets you started again," he said. "As much as it's sad, there are a few things that are fun and different. You have to live your life again and look forward to things."

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Oasis editor Jeff Walsh would love to hear your feedback at jeff@oasismag.com