Misfit: Growing Up Awkward in the '80s (Hardcover)
Gary Gulman has long been one of my favorite stand-up comedians. He is witty and insightful. If you are not familiar with his work, I urge you to take a minute and check him out. What if there had been a committee assigned to create the two letter abbreviations for each state? Just Google: Gary Gulman State Abbreviations. I promise you it will be worth your while. I’ll wait…….
………………………………………………………….. Was I right? I thought it was pretty hilarious.
Even if you aren’t a fan of his stand-up, there is still a good chance there is something relatable in his memoir, Misfit. It’s a childhood walk down memory lane for the Gen X readers, and yet even this Boomer remembers mall culture, big bangs, and our general disdain of sunscreen.
Gulman has given us his childhood as a young Jew in suburban Boston in 283 pages. His memoir is formatted by school years and he has a remarkable memory. Each chapter is so detailed, they are each riotously funny and painfully poignant. He loved his first first grade, and hated his second first grade (yep, he was retained). His grade school years were filled with scented markers, themed lunch boxes, Hebrew school, bullies, rec rooms, and insecurities.
High school brought “the girl thing” and even more insecurities. His self talk about dating is priceless and I’m sure has provided more than a few bits for his stand-up repertoire. The only things that really made him feel good about himself were jokes and basketball. He discovered at an early age that joking was his key to acceptance with his peers (the adults, not so much). In high school he also discovered that comedy as a chick magnet was a tough gig. Basketball players, however, had an easier time with the girls. Even better than basketball? Football. His story about being recruited for football in his senior year was one of the funniest in the book.
Besides being laugh-out-loud funny, Misfit is also important. Funny people can be depressed people. Gulman wrote his memoir during a year of recovery from crippling depression and anxiety. The hilarious episodes of his youth are interspersed with accounts of his daily life as he was writing the book, back in his mother’s home, living in his childhood bedroom. These pieces of the book give us a vivid picture of the depression he suffered. When it’s too much to get dressed. When getting to your psychiatrist appointment is an overwhelming ordeal. When you break into tears watching reruns of The Match Game. As the memoir progresses, these brief vignettes of his depression and anxiety become more hopeful.
Gary Gulman has given us a heartfelt look into his past and present. It’s worth reading. He ends with some advice to all the young misfits still traversing childhood:
You will always be the same person the bus driver was so happy to see on the first day of school.
If you’re scared about something you’ve never done before like reading or multiplication or dating–say this: “I’ll figure it out.” Then remind yourself of everything you’ve figured out so far.
As you grow, so will your world, and the bigger your world, the more people will hear your story and say, “I know how you feel.”
— Luanne Clark
“One of my favorite books of all time.” ―Amy Schumer
A tour de force of comedy and reflection about the perilous journey from kindergarten to twelfth grade and beyond―from the beloved stand-up comic and creator of The Great Depresh
For years, Gary Gulman had been the comedian’s comedian, acclaimed for his delight in language and his bracing honesty. But after two stints in a psych ward, he found himself back in his mother’s house in Boston—living in his childhood bedroom at age forty-six, as he struggled to regain his mental health.
That’s where Misfit begins. Then it goes way back.
This is no ordinary book about growing older and growing up. Gulman has an astonishing memory and takes the reader through every year of his childhood education, with obsessively detailed stories that are in turn alarming and riotously funny. We meet Gulman’s family, neighbors, teachers, heroes, and antagonists, and get to know the young comedian-in-the-making who is his own worst―and most persistent―enemy.
From failing to impress at grade school show-and-tell to literally fumbling at his first big football game―in settings that take us all the way from the local playground to the local mall, from Hebrew School to his best (and only) friend’s rec room, young Gary becomes a stand-in for everyone who grew up wondering if they would ever truly fit in. And that’s not all: the book is also chock-full of ‘80s nostalgia (Scented Markers, indifference to sunscreen, mall culture).
Misfit is a book that only Gary Gulman could have written: a brilliant, witty, poignant, laugh-until-your-face-hurts memoir that speaks directly to the awkward child in us all.
About the Author
Gary Gulman is one of the most popular touring comics, selling out theaters nationwide including Carnegie Hall. He has been a guest on every major late-night comedy program. Gulman’s four comedy specials include HBO's The Great Depresh, a highly acclaimed look at mental illness. In 2019 he appeared in the international blockbuster Joker. He has a recurring role on the Hulu comedy series Life & Beth. A product of Boston, Gulman was previously a scholarship college football player, an accountant, and a high-school teacher. Misfit is his first book.
Praise for Misfit
"The comic who laid bare his depression struggles in HBO's The Great Depresh returns with a poignant, hilarious memoir." ―People
"Gary is thoughtful and funny in a way few others are." ―Seth Meyers
"Having also grown up in the 80’s, Misfit is the book I definitely would have written if I was a brilliant, depressed, honest, deranged, master wordsmith/storyteller like Gary Gulman." ―Judd Apatow
“This is a very special book―an exquisite, love-affirming, generous book. It is also a portrait of an extraordinary American artist as a boy, using the tools of his trade to become a peace-loving, honest man. That the American art he practices is standup comedy gives us a rare glimpse into the ideals of democracy, because Misfit invites us to see how originality survives hierarchy. I found it galvanizing.” ―Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, New York Times bestselling author of Random Family
"In this book, Gary Gulman retells a story that’s one of my favorites we’ve put on This American Life - about how a soft, football-hating kid like him ended up playing the sport – and tells lots of other stories too. One thing I especially love in here is his astonishing recall of the jokes he and others told through his childhood; he really was a little boy destined to become a comic." ―Ira Glass, host of This American Life
“Gary Gulman’s Misfit is one of my favorite books of all time and you will feel the same. Laugh out loud funny and heartfelt.” ―Amy Schumer
"Funny and poignant, this will satisfy adrift adults looking to reconnect with their inner child." ―Publishers Weekly
"A good-natured, hilarious memoir from a gifted comedian." ―Kirkus
"Gulman's stories are shared with humor but also a heartfelt empathy for his young self and many of the people in his life.... A must-read. for Gulman's comedy fans and fans of Sure I'll Join Your Cult, by Maria Bamford (2023) or The Hilarious World of Depression, by John Moe (2020)." ―Booklist
"[A] gem of a book.... The characters of Gulman’s youth, from his unusual parents to the teachers and coaches who denote the best and worst of the profession, and the bullies and classmates who both tormented and inspired him, come alive with such exactitude that they leap from the pages and inspire emotional reactions." ―Library Journal, starred review