Julie Klausner is very funny, and although it’s possible to escape into the things she’s made (her work writing for high cotton venues such as the New York Times and McSweeney’s, her work for television and the stage, and, notably, her “How Was Your Week?” podcast), there’s no need to check your brain at the door. Every comic inflation, every easy sex joke, every wry understatement is animated by a restless intelligence and a writerly instinct that wrings new life from the old tropes.
As a straight married man who has never spent any time as a straight single woman looking for love, I approached “I Don’t Care About Your Band,” Klausner’s darkly comic memoir of dating, as a kind of dispatch from a secret and enticing land.
Among the things I learned while listening:
- A “friend with benefits” is like a unicorn that shits cupcakes: Fun to imagine, but not actually real.
- A guy claiming he’s entitled to a three-way with two women is like a chubby kid demanding frosting on his Snickers bar.
- Men are way more likely to become more appealing to you over time than they are to magically grow manners.
- Try to avoid dating rock stars. Also, try to avoid dating artists, writers, members of improv comedy troupes, and anyone else whose quest for stardom supersedes the quest for love.
- Crazy people are good for writing great fiction in the Southern Gothic tradition, knitting outfits for their pet chickens, boosting sales of Purell and tin foil, shooting presidents, and providing otherwise reasonably functional people with crazy sex.
You may have noticed that this is the kind of writing that is made to be delivered in person to an audience, and Klausner has achieved an audience of sufficient size that she could certainly have assumed that a large portion of her readership would automatically wed the sentences to their preexisting memories of her confident and often ironic vocal inflections.
Fortunately, this isn’t necessary for those who are listening to the audiobook, because Klausner is her own narrator. And she is a splendid narrator, chatty and companionable. Her delivery seems less performed than confided by a friend.
Unlike many memoirists, Klausner’s candor isn’t in service of ideas of victimhood or self-aggrandizement. Her aim (heavily disguised, perhaps, by all the joking) seems to be more than occasionally literary. The book’s exoskeleton is a more-or-less chronological account of her experiences with love, sex and dating. But often these episodes serve as a lens through which we might also be engaged in a little cultural criticism here, a little feminist pushback there. (The dueling epigraphs at the front of each section — Pauline Kael versus Daddy Warbucks, Joan Didion versus “Sex Tips for Girls” — offer one clue to the intentionality of this tension.) Along the way, we also get an old-fashioned coming-of-age story, copious analysis of the bad romantic advice too often offered to women by other women, and not a little complaint about the preponderance of “guys” and the relative scarcity of “men.”
That’s not to say that Klausner is so highbrow as to avoid prurience. She loves it, wallows in it, shakes it in the reader’s face, and there are a few moments in the book that seem calculated simply to cross the reader’s boundaries in a manner not entirely different from the shock-and-gross-out tactics of writers such as Tucker Max and Chad Kultgen, or of Kevin Smith, about whom Klausner offers a mid-book complaint.
What distinguishes her work from theirs is that, ultimately, what is privileged in “I Don’t Care About Your Band” isn’t a fantasy version of sex and love and power, but, rather, an attempt to offer something real, in all its ugliness, but also in all its fragile beauty. For a comic writer, this represents a tremendous risk, because it’s often more difficult to get the laugh when you’re also trying to offer up the experience in its fullness of complication. And it’s true that Klausner doesn’t always succeed on both counts. But it is not a modest achievement that she succeeds often enough to bring the listener pleasure from both directions.
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