Misfit: Growing up Awkward in the ‘80s By Gary Gulman

Review by Luanne Clark

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.”