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Comedian Gary Gulman on his new book, “Misfit”

This week, I sat down with my longtime friend and comedian, Gary Gulman.

Over 25 years in comedy, Gary Gulman has established himself as an eminent performer and peerless writer. His most recent standup special for HBO, “The Great Depresh,” is a universally acclaimed, tour de force look at mental illness, equal parts hilarious and inspiring.

A product of Boston, Gulman has been a scholarship college football player, an accountant, and a high school teacher. He has made countless television appearances as both a comedian and an actor.

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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors.

Jimmy Tingle 0:03
Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of the Jimmy tingle show, we have taken a little bit of a break over the holidays. But we are back. And I am back with an old friend and a fantastic comic who is coming to Boston, the Boston area of March 14 and 15 to the Cabot theater in beautiful Beverly, Massachusetts, please welcome the one and only Mr. Gary Gulman.

Gary Gulman 0:27
Thank you, Gary. It’s great to see your face. And I am always happy to see you, you you’re always a very positive encouraging friend and mentor.

Jimmy Tingle 0:40
Well, thank you, Gary. And I have to say you your power of example is just your work, man, what you do and the way you do it. And the work ethic that you’ve demonstrated over the years is it’s incredible. I was just on the website, Gary Folks, if you’d like to check out his website, all his tour dates are there. So wherever you are in the country, he’s going to be very, very busy in 2024. But, and he’s got a new book out, we’re going to talk about that when talk about his process and comedy. And that’s what I love about you, Gary, the work ethic is amazing. And the the amount of material that you turn out is it’s just really so impressive. And it’s very, very inspiring. So you got me psyched to talk to you today, because I know you have a new book out. And I’m so happy to talk to you about your book, because I have so many questions. First of all, what was the inspiration for writing the book?

Gary Gulman 1:36
I think that since I’ve been old enough to really well, first of all to read, but also understand,understand the mechanisms of of books I’ve just been in love with, with reading and books and admired authors. But there was also a part of me that was in awe of them. And so, but throughout my life, I’ve always thought

this would be interesting in a book, certain things would would happen, events, positive and negative. And I would think this is this would be a very interesting story for a book. And then after I, I put out the Great Depression, which was my last special before this current one that just came out, I was approached by a number of publishers, and they said you have a, you have a story to tell or a book idea. And there was an idea that I had for a long time. And it was it was called at the time K through 12. And it was just a memoir of my life from kindergarten through 12th grade I have an unusual memory for for most of my life. But But what was unusual was that most people don’t remember kindergarten or the first day of first grade, or seventh grade or whatever. But for some reason I have this this vivid, all these vivid memories of my time there. And so I pitched them that idea. And they were amenable to it and matched me with an editor who I felt would be a good guide, a man who had written his own books, and also had edited among others book that Bob Newhart had written. And so I thought, Oh, this will I won’t have to do it by myself, This man will be able to point me in the right direction and give me guidance. And so that was that enabled me to overcome sort of that awe of authors and, and the fear of failure, and things like that. And and, and so it took me over over two years to do it closer to three years, but I I put it together and and I got to the point where I would read it and I wouldn’t cringe from the from the writing, which is sort of something that artists or writers and comedians understand that either reading yourself or watching yourself, you think, Oh, I’m so embarrassed and I can literally cringe. And then I so that’s where it got in the in the book. And luckily it coincided with about the time we were going to going to send it to print and I’m very proud of it. And I think it I think it works and I’ve gotten really remarkable feedback from from people who were fans of my comedy but also people who are just discovering me through this books. I’ve been really grateful.

Jimmy Tingle 4:38
Yeah, well, the name of the book is misfit. Now, where did that title come from? Gary?

Gary Gulman 4:45
That’s one of my favorite questions to answer because I, I was originally going to call it K through 12. Right then I was informed that if you if you type K through 12 into a Search Engine, millions of things will come up before your book. There are too many things. It’s been out there. This expression so many grammar schools. Yeah, it would be every grammar in North America, yeah. So I, I’m a big fan of the rock band Rush. And they had this wonderful song that came out in 1982. But I probably intersected with it much later than when it originally came out. And there was a line about growing up in the suburbs. And, and the line was, nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit, so alone, and it always resonated with me, as a dreamer and a misfit, and a lonely person. And, and, and I remember how much solace and, and sort of comfort that song gave to me. And I felt like this book was intended partially to provide comfort for other people who, who felt uncomfortable or didn’t fit in. And it’s most of us, most of us have been in a position where, for whatever reason, the company we were in, or the school or the sports team, or the jazz band, or whatever it was, we felt like an outsider or a misfit or a new person, or just uncomfortable, and I wanted to provide some, some comfort for those types of people, the way that song had, had made me feel a little bit better. There’s just this idea that somebody is saying, Oh, you’re not alone, a lot of us have felt that way. And, and it’s okay to feel that way. And you shouldn’t. The main thing is, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for feeling uncomfortable. And you don’t have to take pride and you’re in you’re not fitting in, but you can. And also you can feel like you’re not a loser or a failure if you’re if you don’t feel like you’re fitting in. And in many cases, it’s just a matter of time before you do find a community that you that you fit in. I mean, that was really what I found when I first started doing comedy in 1993. And in Boston at Nick’s comedy stop. And, and I felt, Oh, this, this feels so comfortable. I’m, I’m not 100% accepted. But there were guys like you and Don Gavin and Tony V, who really embraced me and and were positive and encouraging, and complimentary. And it just, and for a kid who grew up watching or going to Nick’s comedy stop and seeing you guys are at the Comedy connection. It was It was surreal. It was it was literally a dream come true.

Jimmy Tingle 7:49
Yeah, when you find your tribe, yes, so memorable, and you immerse yourself in it. And that’s exactly what happened to me in terms of comedy as well. I mean, the dang whole Comedy Club opened up like two blocks from where I grew up. Lenny Clark was the host of the Wednesday night show. And Barry Crimmins was the, you know, the Wednesday night open mic show, and I went to high school with Lenny, okay, he was a year ahead of me. But the people that started, you know, the other comics, we were all in our early 20s. So, so all of a sudden, there’s these people coming in making things up on stage. And I was trying to make stuff. I was doing poems. I tried to play the blues. I mean, I tried different ways of expression, you know, but anyway, but I can remember being in the dining hall and like Paula Poundstone, Mike Donovan, Goldthwaite kremens of Mike McDonald. You know, Lenny, of course, his friends and family. I mean, it wasn’t Jack Gallagher. And just all the comics that were just there, all of us just making stuff up in this one place that was like, a community and I just, I got a job there. I became the daytime bartender. I just lived at the place for like three years. And my friend was saying, Tang, when are you going to get out of your comedy cocoon.

Gary Gulman 9:18
But it’s just this idea, this place for for somebody, especially us who are either artistic or different, or, or more sensitive, that we feel like we can be ourselves and not ridiculed or or or insulted or anything or sometimes we are ready to cool, they’re insulted. But there’s a there’s a good natured pneus about it. And there’s also a great deal of warmth that I felt almost immediately when I started going to open mics in in the city.

Jimmy Tingle 9:54
Yeah, well, I hear you and I know a lot of every comic out there is connected And I’m fine with that. Because there’s nothing like finding your tribe. So Gary, so the book misfit it took you like almost three years to write. But this is what I’m talking about with your work ethic in that period of time. You also did the Great Depression. And you also did your newest special. Yeah, correct me if I’m wrong, but your newest special born born on third base, is that right? Yeah,

Gary Gulman 10:25
yeah, I mean, I had finished, I had put out the Great Depression. By the time I started writing the book, I really the interests for me writing a book came from the popularity of the Great Depression. So the the interesting thing was, I had a year where I wasn’t doing any stand up because of the pandemic. And I was, I was writing the book. So I had a head start and momentum. And then it was just a matter of putting aside four hours each morning, to work on the book. And then the rest of the day, I could, I could do some stand up at night. And unlike when I was, when I was first coming up, where I would do two, three shows a night, I, I was probably doing six or seven shows total per week, so maybe two or three on a on a Friday or Saturday, or both. And so I had a lot of free time. I mean, the lifestyle of a comedian is, is really amenable to writing a book, because you have that free time. And also you’re you’re used to writing and thinking and being in your head. So I it wasn’t a huge adjustment to go from writing stand up to writing, writing a memoir, because a lot of my my jokes were were personal and autobiographical. Anyhow, so I will say I did, I did have more discipline than the average person, and certainly the average comedian has, but I just the other thing was that I really enjoy my work, I enjoy writing sentences, and funny sentences and performing. So it’s, it’s never been something where it was drudgery or I or I didn’t look forward to, to performing it or sharing it or writing. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t all a breeze in writing the book and that I had to learn how to write in general memoir, and then this particular memoir, in specifically, but for the most part, I I found it to be an enjoyable and enjoyable way to spend a few hours every day. I know there are some writers who are writing from the moment they wake up until after dinner and there. And it’s something you can build an endurance for, and a tolerance for but I, I found that I was able to keep up with with deadlines with three or four hours a day, some days, one hour, some days, six hours, but on average, three to four hours each each day. And the other thing that I would recommend anybody writing a book is to be really careful about taking one day off, because it becomes that much easier to take that that second day off. And that’s when you lose your momentum and you have to rebuild your your endurance.

Jimmy Tingle 13:24
Right. And it must have been helpful, like you said, to have somebody that you’re answering to, like you said, you’re on a deadline, you just not in your own head, like I’m gonna write a book and you know, and then you have no one no one else knows you’re writing a book, you’re the only one that knows you’re doing it. And you don’t have anybody asking you. How’s how’s it going? You know, when you I imagine you got some sort of an advance?

Gary Gulman 13:53
I did I got a very generous Yeah, in advance and that keeps you honest. But also there’s this thing where were you people understand where most comedians can’t really say, Well, I can’t tomorrow because well, what you’re a comedian you work at night. But when you’re writing a book, you can say, I need to write tomorrow so I’m not gonna be able to meet you for lunch. I’m not gonna be able to go get basketball, whatever it is, and that’s very helpful that people people you have this this legitimate excuse for for not dilly dally. Right.

Jimmy Tingle 14:30
And I was I imagine your discipline as an athlete. Like when I get when I have to do something, I go back to like getting ready for the game. You know, I played sports as well in high school basketball, and I’m getting ready for the game. So like, I’m, I’m like stretching, I’m warming up. I’m getting my game face on. And that’s how I look at my sets. That’s how I look at all my shows. I probably put in an ordinate amount of time doing that. I write out my sets everything. But anyway, I imagine that but that for me that came from sports that came from, you’re going to be out there in front of people, you, it doesn’t matter if you got to hit two weeks ago, you need to get a hit tomorrow, or whatever the case may be, you know, and the same thing I imagined so that that discipline of sports help you in this whole preparation for life in this comedy career, because you wrote government’s tips as well, which was about writing and just write. And I mean, that was an amazing talk about sharing, that was an amazing piece of work as well. If anybody’s interested governments tips, you can tell them more about it. Because it’s really helpful. No matter what walk of life you’re in, whether you’re a writer, or a comic musician, or an accountant, it would really help you. Oh,

Gary Gulman 15:48
I’ve sure I’ve heard that, and thank you. But 100%, the, the discipline, and the lesson of sports, for me was always and you can get it from a number of different avenues, whether it’s art or music, or languages. But the lesson was, quickly, I learned that if you put in effort, you would get better at this thing. And, and it was so gratifying to just when I first started playing basketball, I couldn’t dribble behind my back. And then I did it over and over and over again and still couldn’t. And then one day you do it, and you do it poorly. And then you do it a little bit better. And and it just it pays off. And that that I discovered so quickly. And I I had an inkling that that would be the case because it worked in my schoolwork and it worked in in other things that I’ve pursued. But it works in comedy, the more time you spend thinking about comedy and writing it down and keeping track and preparing. I mean, that was a great lesson I learned from being a fan of John Wooden the UCLA coach, he used to say I think failing to prepare is is preparing to fail. So like you do with your with your sets and your setlist I do the same exact thing I am always so prepared, especially when I’m doing a special taping or, or I did a Late Night with Seth, which the the secret is that the even though I wasn’t doing stand up, I was doing a panel. But I also prepared with the producer as to what what things I wanted to talk about. And I and I was prepared and it relieves you have a lot of doubt and insecurity because you’ve and wouldn’t says this also is this confidence comes from doing everything you can prepare to do to prepare. And then you you let go. And and the anxiety frequently lifts when you’ve done the preparation. And I found that to be the case and that that’s the greatest lesson I learned from from sports. But there are other avenues if you’re not athletically inclined that you can you can learn that through music or or language or art or there are countless outlets.

Jimmy Tingle 18:22
Sure. So on the book tour, Gary, my wife and I, Catherine, we we saw David Sedaris at Symphony Hall in Boston. And maybe he’s not a stand up comic, but he’s an amazing writer. And he’s hilarious. And when we saw him, it made me a want to write a book, but also understand that you can be in front of whatever he had 3000 People at Symphony Hall, and he’s reading and everybody’s just paying attention. And when the jokes or the funny parts come, everybody laughs and when the serious things come, people just, you know, withdraw and absorb it. And it was just so again, just a very, very inspiring when you’re doing your shows, I know all of your shows, until May at least are the book tour. That’s what you’re calling it. But is there stand up involved? Is there reading involved? Have you done any yet? And how is that going to work? Yeah,

Gary Gulman 19:16
I actually, I’ll explain it. I don’t do any reading from the book for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t think anybody does it, as well as David Sedaris. The other thing is that I also, I also put out an audio version of the book. And so I feel like if they want to listen to me read the book, they can they can get that from the audio version. And also my my superpower or My main skill is that I’m a stand up. And so I, I had a bad experience in the 90s where I bought Jerry Seinfeld’s book, and I read it and it was expensive to me. And when I read it, it was just his act typed up and bound. And I was very angry. And so I said, over the years, as it became more likely that I would eventually be asked to write a book, I said, I will write a book. But I’m not just typing up my act. And I’m not including jokes in there. And I don’t want to sell people something they’ve already heard or read. So I’m going to write a book that isn’t my act. But then I realized when I was planning this tour, that I wasn’t going, I didn’t want to read from the book. And I didn’t want to do jokes or stories from the book. And so I had to come up with an entire 90 minutes of material that was based on the time period of the book. So they were stories from my childhood in high school, and things like that. But I didn’t want the people to read the book, and then feel like, Oh, we did this the other night. And it wasn’t, this is much, this is much more specific, or interesting or better, or I liked it better. When he told it on the stage, I didn’t want them to comparing it, I wanted the stage show to be an accompaniment a complement to the book. And so it would be two separate items. And so that’s what you’ll see. And, and some people will say, that is really hard. But for whatever reason, I’ve never been more creative or productive in my, in my comedy. So it wasn’t that it wasn’t that hard. I had some ideas. I wrote them down. i i workshop them over the summer, probably 20 times. And and I put together a very compelling, funny show that has themes and ideas presented in the books. But but but none of the none of the stories or anecdotes are jokes from the book, and i i It was a challenge. But I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I don’t. I enjoy watching David Sedaris read from his book. It’s a great show. I don’t think there’s anybody else who can who can do that, that Well, I don’t I like going to meet authors and, and hear them take questions about the book. But I don’t want to hear them read. And I don’t for a stand up comedian to do questions and answers. I think it’s a little bit especially at my level. I’m not a celebrity. I don’t have any any fancy anecdotes about meeting the President or anything or and so I feel like my, like I said, my my one trick is that I write I write good jokes.

Jimmy Tingle 22:58
Will you be obviously there’ll be books at the cabin theater when people come with the first shows already sold out. I mean, it’s usually the the 15th is just about sold out. And there’s still tickets for March 14 Folks, so but they’re going very, very fast. Will you be doing there’ll be books there. You’ll be signing them after the show. Yeah,

Gary Gulman 23:20
I think I said that. If you bring your book, I will, I will sign it. I kind of assumed that everybody who was going to get the book would already have it. So I Oh, we may have we may have some for sale there that I think that’s a good, good question to ask. But to be most prepared, I would bring my my book and I’ll sign it after the show in a in a in a meet and greet because that’s really what I wanted to what I love about going to hearing authors speak at a at a Barnes and Noble or at a library I love to be able to, to thank them for the book and meet them and take a picture and it’s like one time I met Ray Bradbury and I’ve seen I’ve seen Harlan Coben and met him and other authors and it’s just a it’s a really special connection that you can make with a with a reader as a as an author. And so I really get great, great amount of joy from that. Right?

Jimmy Tingle 24:16
Well Gary, the first one is in love with a corner theater, the cornet la cornet.

Gary Gulman 24:22
Yeah, the first one to La 24 But I’ve been I’ve been touring it since September. Okay. Yeah. And it’s been going really it’s been so fun. And and the people have been so appreciative and I’m just I’m grateful because you know what it is to have an audience that’s your own that are there to see you. It’s it’s a different you can be yourself more you can sort of lean into your quirks and your your obscure and arcane references are and so it’s it’s really, I think you were at the show I did in Beverly the last time where I was able to do such specific local geographic humor about the two malls that we had in their house that were in competition and the people, the people really appreciated it as long as they were aware of the of the two malls.

Jimmy Tingle 25:16
Right? Well, what will you be doing a q&a with this audience? Do you do any q&a?

Gary Gulman 25:25
No show name. But I, after the show, I meet the people and I give them more time than I think they’re expecting. So if they do have a question, I normally answer the, the questions. But the it’s, I’ve always found that the comedians who do q&a seem to be trying to have the audience set them up for jokes that they are familiar with. So I remember seeing Jerry Seinfeld when I was in college, and he said, Are there any questions and people would just yell out, when they were when they were asking the questions, they would really just say, What do you think about socks and the laundry? And he would do a jokes about socks in the laundry? So it was it was a little bit of a it was a little bit of a cheat rather than a? An honest component?

Jimmy Tingle 26:16
Yeah. When I was running for President, my show Jimmy tingle for president, people would either open it up to q&a, like a press conference, and people say, and they would say I would get the same questions, many of the same questions every night, because what are you going to ask a satirical presidential candidate? So I would ended up giving a many of the same answers. And it was like, you know, shooting fish in a barrel. Who’s you? Mr. tingle, President Kennedy tingle? Who’s your vice president. I said, I’ve given that a lot of thought. And I’ve determined after much prayer and meditation, I don’t need one. What I do I love it. I’m gonna do is I’m very, I’m video recording this this event tonight, heaven forbid something should happen to me. You people watch the tape, you’ll know what to do.

Gary Gulman 27:10
That’s so good. So

Jimmy Tingle 27:11
I had many, many of those nights. But Gary, it’s great to see you. I will see you on March 14, my wife and I will be there. And we I can’t thank you enough for doing the show today. We’re going to be on. We’re going to be obviously it’ll be on the website, Jimmy But it’s also going to be on W O Mr. Down in Provincetown. It will be one in the first week, second week in February, down there. And anything we can ever do for you. Anything else you want to tell us gab before you leave?

Gary Gulman 27:40
Oh, no, I think I think I’m good. It’s just it’s so great to be able to catch up and to be able to see Katherine. And I’ll see. I’ll see you in March.

Jimmy Tingle 27:51
All right, great. I have my final question, though. Was it cathartic? And was it helpful to do this? Are you glad that you did this book this process?

Gary Gulman 27:59
Yes, I think it really was helpful. And I would say to anybody, it doesn’t matter if anybody ever reads it, it is therapeutic to write down memories and and analyze them. And sometimes things that I would dredge up would upset me. And luckily, I have a very good therapist, and I was able to discuss that with with him. And we were able to get some perspective and some insight into it. So I think it’s a, it’s a very healthy activity. And I think people think that if they’re going to do an art, whether it’s painting or writing, or memoir or novel, that it has to be a big success, in order for it to be any success. And I think most most art is best enjoyed by by you on your own or by a close friend or family. It’s it’s just, it’s the act of creation. And crafting is an end in itself. And I just hope people won’t, won’t be deterred from doing something because they don’t feel that it’s going to be universally embraced because you have no control over that. And so even if you just put it in a drawer at the end and never show anyone, it’s it feels terrific.

Jimmy Tingle 29:21
Gary, you got me excited. I’m spending four hours tomorrow morning with the opening chapter. Well,

Gary Gulman 29:29
up to the four hours you don’t eat, nobody can do it. Just set a timer for an hour and sit there and make some sentences and then build up to it.

Jimmy Tingle 29:39
I’m starting tomorrow with the four minute introduction. Started four minutes. Right. Thanks, Jim. One minutes, 14 minutes. 28 minutes. Yeah, great to see you. Very. Congratulations. Thank you so much. We’ll see you in March and continued success.

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