It’s been only a year since Rob Delaney released his first comedy special – the stellar Live at the Bowery Ballroom – but the workhorse comedian has gifted the world with yet another gem: his first book, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. The book is funny, of course, but it’s liberally infused with darkly serious recounts and ruminations on Delaney’s pre-comedy life, which found the Boston native battling alcoholism, suicidal thoughts and surviving a car accident that most certainly should’ve killed him.
Lucky for us, Delaney is very much alive—still entertaining his more-than-963,000 Twitter followers on a daily basis – and, as you’ll see below, working on even more ways to bring joy to our lives. Check it out.
I feel like an alternate title to this book could be Rob Delaney: I Should Be Dead.
Yeah, that’s not unreasonable. It really isn’t.
Was it frightening to have to relive all those harrowing moments in your life?
It wasn’t that bad because I sort of waited long enough and sort of processed all the things that were really difficult before I wrote the book. For me the book was not therapeutic, nor did I want it to be. Nor do I think that a book that is therapeutic for the author is a book I’d necessarily want to read— because the reader wants to be in sure hands with the writer. You want to know that they’re not in danger.
So you don’t want to read a book where the writer is at the same time working through the things he’s writing about?
Exactly. It’s like when I spoke to you after my show Naked and Bloody in New York [in January of 2011]. With that, I waited years before I did it, because I knew there was funny stuff in there but I knew that I had to approach that show from a place of mental health and from a place of emotional safety. And if I then showed you that stuff through somebody who was clear eyed, cogent and compassionate – and not trying to titillate or anything like that – then it could be a good show.
And, of course, I learned that through trial and error earlier in my stand-up. Earlier in my stand-up career, you may have been more nervous watching me because I would do half-baked stuff or material about things I didn’t really even know how I felt about yet.
The book recounts a lot of your life in incredibly vivid detail. Did you do anything special in order to call back so much?
I don’t think so— nothing formal. Not that I’m aware of anyway. I may try to activate other senses. Which is to say, I might ask myself, ‘ What did that smell like? What did that feel like?’ So I might use senses that you don’t necessarily associate with memory. I think a lot of us think it’s all visual, but that’s not really the case.
The chapter you wrote about the visit to the mental hospital was especially amazing. I really felt I was watching the scenes on television.
Well, thanks. That was one of my more favorite memories. That may have stuck in my memory a little more because I had wanted to go there so much so there was an anticipation that maybe made my memory more fertile or let that memory live there for longer. And then not long after that story, I spent my own time at a mental hospital so that probably hammered it in there a little better.
During the writing process, at any point did you feel like you couldn’t physically write any more?
I think that my experience from having talked to other people who have written books is pretty similar to theirs. Actually getting your butt in the chair to write about your own life can be daunting. But once I did, I found that I was able to write at a reasonable clip.
What type of emotions do you want to elicit in people with your book?
Rather then have them laugh all the time – which I know they won’t because there’s portions of the book that are very much not funny at all – it would be great if they put my book down and picked up another. How great would it be if my book was the joint that got them into the heroin of Toni Morrison or Cormack McCarthy or Balzac?
Are you saying you’re exactly like Toni Morrison?
The only way you can compare me to Toni Morrison is to say that we’re both bipeds who have lived during the 20th century.
As you were writing the book, did you talk about your progress with your wife and/or did you ask her for guidance?
I really did not talk to her much about it while I was writing it to the point where – and this is no joke – there were times when she was worried that I actually wasn’t writing the book. My wife is extremely funny and very smart; she’s an English teacher. I highly value her opinion on all things creative and funny. But I knew it wouldn’t behoove either of us for her to [talk about the writing process].
It would be like, ‘Hey, watch me paint this chair.’ There’s going to be parts that look shitty and that I’ll have to redo; there were going to be parts in the creation that were messy, since it was my first book. For example, I hated writing the first draft but I loved doing the revision. So for great portions of it, I was like, ‘Wow…this is just garbage!’ Then, the last time I read the book – and I read the whole thing out loud over three days recording the audio version – I was really happy with it.
Not that the book and the book tour and doing stand-up all over the country isn’t enough, but what else are you working on?
I’m delivering scripts to networks now to see about making television in 2014. I wrote a few pilots. And I’ll record another special in 2014. And I’d like to write another book.
How do you envision book number two?
I don’t know. I’m really not that curious about myself anymore. That said, I think I have a better idea on how to cull stuff from my own life. So we’ll see. It would be different from this book. It wouldn’t be a collection of comedic essays that forms one narrative arch about me.
How’s parenthood treating you? [Rob’s got two sons, nearly 3 and nearly 1].
I fucking love it so much.
What’s so great about it?
I think having kids and doing stand-up is fantastic for lazy people. Because you recommit to it daily and it kills your laziness— you burn it out, you cauterize it with fire. I love it. I care about things more. I’m angrier; I’m happier; everything is brighter. I see things through their eyes, which is just ridiculous. Last night it was windy out and there were trees shaking and I said, ‘Oh it’s windy and my two-year-old goes, ‘The tiger will stop it.’ And then the wind stopped. And that’s insane and amazing. How do I know that he’s not literally magical? How do I know he didn’t commune with The Tiger. He’s more magical than me, he’s better than me in a thousand ways and it makes me so happy.
Does he get along with his brother?
Yes, he’s very sweet to his brother, which is my favorite thing in the whole world— to see him be kind for no reason. If he wanted to, he could just step on his face or put sand in his mouth but he doesn’t. He’s very sweet to him and I don’t know why, but he is and that makes me so happy.
Yeah, it warms your heart. But it’s awful when they’re not nice to each other.
Yeah, I mean I don’t think it’s going to last. I’m sure they’ll eventually beat the hell out of each other. But that’s good, too. It’s good for your sibling to punch you in the face for no reason because then you don’t even have to leave your house to find out the world is a toilet. It’s a major act of kindness for a child to do that to another child. He’s preparing his brother for life.