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November 2010

Overheard on the sidewalk: 'He’s quite the comedian'

The fact that I can never predict who I’ll be listening to next continues to amaze me, and the November stop on the Laugh More Tour was no exception.

You see, I’ve had the ticket for this show in my wallet weeks in advance. I think I stopped using cash to buy things in Oct. 2003, so I might as well use my wallet for something useful.

Anyway, when I heard this guy was coming to Portland, something inside of me (probably the same voices that prompted me to go see Weird Al) said, “Jim, this is the show. Do not miss this show.”

Now, here’s one of the amazing parts of the tour I was talking about. This event was not billed as a comedy show, and this person doesn’t tour around the world as a comedian, per se.

But, I went anyway.

What this person does for a living, is write.

And usually, when he writes, it’s funny.

Now, notice I say “usually.”

I bring attention to this, because when I dove into this author’s latest book, called “At Home,” I could tell that some aspects of his “humorous” writing was there, but this new book was way more serious than some of his previous works.

In fact, this new book was more like a historical research novel, with a side of humor.

Only this writer could mention things like the bubonic plague and 16th century European agricultural disasters, and leave you with a slightly humorous bent.

When I got three-quarters of the way through the book, I started to wonder, -- what will this lecture be like? I mean, if he talks about this book for an hour, will this really qualify as a stop on the Laugh More Tour?

Well, let me tell you, fortunately, thankfully, and most of all, humorously with rapt attention for over an hour, my fears of this event not being funny were quickly laid to rest.

As I headed out after the show, I stopped to take a photo of the marquee. And I managed to overhear someone on the sidewalk say, “Boy, he’s quite the comedian.”

And I laughed to myself, “yeah, that’s right.”

And it was a pretty good book, too.

Bill Bryson

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Portland

Nov. 18, 2010

I’m pretty sure that I need to thank my mom for getting me a copy of Bryson’s “ A Walk in the Woods.” It’s been many years since I read it, but it still sticks in my mind as one of the funniest books ever. If you enjoy outdoor hiking/backpacking, you absolutely must read this.

Bryson grew up in small town middle America in the 1950s, a period of time he calls “the best time ever to grow up.” Since then, he has lived on the East Coast, England for 20 years, and presents an amazingly funny view of the world and his travels in it. He joked right away about travelling in the state of Iowa:

“Talking about the scenic route in southern Iowa is like talking about a good Barry Manilow album." (It really stems from your perspective on things.)

Bryson’s books range from memoir style to travel stories, to in-depth history of ordinary household objects. His latest book, “At Home,” is a bit more research-orientated in the latter, but in a few hundred pages he manages to give details on who exactly was responsible for many of the architectural, domestic, medical, agricultural and industrial inventions that shaped the course of history.

And he does that, with some of his trademark dry humor.

(Note to Bill: Your next book should be about the history of humor, so go ahead and write that – I’d trust you!)

Anyway, this lecture was a great mix of “one-liners,” readings from a few of his books like “Down Under,” “African Diary” and “Thunderbolt Kid,” a segment called “10 Rules to make the World a Better Place” (all cars would have gas caps on BOTH sides of the car, and gas hoses would be made 6 ft longer), a story about a much smaller stop on his current book tour (he spoke to five people in Scranton, PA where one of the attendees was ALSO named Bill Bryson), Bill’s famous “Bear Story” recounting some of his time spent hiking the Appalachian Trail (and more importantly, how to distinguish bear scat from other animal scat), and a question and answer period at the end.

Probably the most poignant thing he said all night came from the end of the question and answer session. When asked what books inspired him, he said that overall “the most important thing is to go and randomly discover books to read.”

On that note: I’m SO WAITING for the library to reopen!

(P.S. If I understood correctly, this lecture was taped for rebroadcast on NPR, or OPB. If you find it online, let me know. And I’m sure, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear me laughing.)

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