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Lucky us: Julie Klam missed the memo on self-sufficiency and had to learn the hard, funny way
on April 16, 2008
"A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
That was Samuel Johnson, writing in the unthinkingly chauvinist 1700s.
If he were writing now, he'd be noting the rash of memoirs by women, especially ones that try for humor. Because there's money in funny, and publishers and writers know it --- why else would a writer as talented and sophisticated writer as Nora Ephron feel bad about her.....neck?
Ms. Ephron condescends. Julie Klam, in contrast, is genuinely funny. The difference is not in the writing; both women are deft storytellers. It's in the truth of the tale, the sense that the events described actually happened even though they are crazy and wrong and life ain't supposed to be like that.
In other words, I buy Julie Klam's premise.
That premise is simple: She's a Princess, not born but bred. Her father has achieved a house in Bedford (the Westchester town that is the weekend home to Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and a legion of WASPs) that comes with many acres and the appropriate assortment of animals. But Dad's busy. She's her mother's daughter. And her mother, no feminist, spends her time reading, yakking on the phone and shopping.
Does Mom care that Julie is flunking everything?
Me: "Wow, Jenny Doe is doing really well. She's a Rhodes Scholar, studying theoretical mathematics and counterterrorism and is very close to discovering the cure for cancer."
My Mother: "Yeah, but she has those hairy arms."
Julie drifts and stumbles through school. She applies to 26 colleges. She gets into two. After a year of actual study, she transfers to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, where she majors in film, has me for a teacher and escapes without visible scars. She interns for David Letterman. Life's good.
And then she hits the wall.
In movies, a young woman goes to a job interview and says, "I'm not afraid of hard work."
Julie Klam's truth: "I wasn't afraid of hard work. I just didn't want to do it."
As we have seen, Julie is not lazy. She just hasn't been raised with a work ethic. And they don't seem to stock them at Bloomingdale's.
Humor requires pratfalls and reversals. Once it's in gear, Please Excuse My Daughter has more than you'd expect. Bad jobs. Taking money from Dad. (When the American Express clerk asks Julie's occupation, her father says "Parasite" and only after a beat adds, "Like from Paris.") Working for Dad as a service clerk in his insurance business --- for six years. And there's the obligatory bad boyfriend, only in her case, he's a sociopath and an ex-con.
And then, the big break. She gets a job as a writer for VH1's "Pop-Up Video." And an even bigger break: She nabs the boss as a boyfriend. This leads, of course, to her firing. Along the way: an abortion, her boyfriend's diabetes, Rod Stewart walking through the rented beach house. (Yes. Rod Stewart.)
Marriage? Paul isn't ready. But Julie is patient. In her way: "Some days I'd sit at my desk and send Paul e-mails that said, 'Are you ready now? How about now? Now? How about now? Are you ready now?'"
When Paul finally crumbles, he mutes the Yankee game first.
Inside every funny person, we know, is a serious person fighting tears. In Julie Klam's case, the tears are for her astounding downward mobility. She was born with a silver spoon. She missed the memo about self-sufficiency and her parents decided not to coddle her. Unprepared for life, she hit some nasty speed bumps: no job, no money. Rather late, she woke up. The joke's on her.
Reading Julie Klam is like overhearing a funny person tell stories on a bus. It seems effortless. Don't be fooled. The little asides --- the observations about people --- are the product of much therapy and hard thinking. And the stories are seriously crafted. So what seem artless is really quite artful.
And what seems slight and funny and a throwaway turns out to...linger.