Smith, Bob 1958–
Smith, Bob 1958–
Born December 24, 1958.
Home—Los Angeles, CA.
Stand-up comic and author. Member of Funny Gay Males comedy team; writer for television shows, including Saturday Night Special, Roseanne, MAD TV, and the MTV Video Awards.
Lambda Literary Award for Openly Bob.
(With Jaffe Cohen and Danny McWilliams) Growing up Gay: From Left out to Coming Out (humor), illustrations by Michiko Stehrenberger, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.
Openly Bob (autobiographical), Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Way to Go, Smith! (autobiographical), Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Selfish and Perverse (novel), Carroll & Graf Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Bob Smith, who holds the distinction of being the first openly gay comic to appear on the Tonight Show, has written two very different kinds of humor books. The first, Growing up Gay: From Left out to Coming Out, celebrates the little differences that make gay boyhood both challenging and fun to look back on; the second, Openly Bob, bears a much more personal, autobiographical stamp, and is more a humor book written by a gay man than a gay humor book.
Growing up Gay, which Smith wrote with his cohorts from the Funny Gay Male comedy team, takes on everything from conception ("Homosexuality is not caused by your parents' having watched a campy TV show on the night you were conceived") to coming out to your family ("1. They don't want to talk about it. 2. They want to talk about it. 3. They want to talk about it on Oprah.") Advocate critic Christian McLaughlin called Growing up Gay "the literary equivalent of a Jell-O dessert—light, fruity, attractively swirled together, and virtually guilt-free." The reviewer appreciated the absence of the heavy messages about "psycho trauma, suicide, sex abuse, and deadly disease" that dominates the media's perception of gay childhood, and praised the book's light-hearted wit, including a sample "gay ‘Baby Book’" with date-entry spaces for "Raised Head" and "Raised One Eyebrow."
Smith's next literary foray was Openly Bob, which recounts Smith's own experiences to humorous effect, rather than generalizing about gay culture. Its thirteen essays relate anecdotes about a range of topics, from introducing his boyfriend to his family ("There are times when having an uncommunicative, repressed family can be a real benefit") to the pleasure his therapist takes listening to his problems (in an essay called "Schadenfreudian"), and many places in between, including L.A. acting auditions and New York catering halls. The final essay, which impressed critics as both funny and tender, is about Smith's father, "a heart patient, [who] gives him driving tips while suffering chest pains as Bob motors him to the hospital," according to Booklist reviewer Whitney Scott.
The critical reception of Openly Bob was generally positive. More than one critic noted that, rather than being a book of specifically gay humor, this is a humor book whose author happens to be a gay man. As Eric Bryant, writing for the Library Journal, put it: "While his homosexuality is a constant—and a constant source of humor—it is treated ultimately as just another quirk in one man's view of life." Bryant especially appreciated Smith's description of a bird-watching expedition in Central Park for its "subtle and generous" wit, while he felt that some bits on his family's "dysfunctions" might serve a stand-up format better than a literary one. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "hilarious and touching," crediting Smith for "successfully cross-[ing] over [from stand-up] to the comic essay." And Booklist reviewer Scott called Openly Bob "definitely amusing."
Smith continued his autobiography with Way to Go, Smith! A Publishers Weekly writer found this volume less compelling than the first, but remarked that the author is at his best when describing "small emotional moments: his descriptions of bonding with his widowed mother over being single have a resonance missing from the rest of the book."
Smith's first try at fiction, titled Selfish and Perverse, is "mordent and irreverent," a "sly, witty debut novel [that] tells what happens when love gets in the way of art and sex threatens to derail love," reported a reviewer for the Curled Up with a Good Book Web site. The main character is Nelson Kunker, an aspiring novelist who works as an assistant on a television comedy show. Like so many creative people in Los Angeles, Kunker feels his job is only temporary, until he's able to break out with a book. Nonetheless, he hasn't written a word in months. Kunker's love life is similarly stagnant until he meets a charming fisherman from Alaska, Roy Briggs. His attraction for earnest, sincere Roy is muted a little when he meets Dylan, a gorgeous young star who is making a guest appearance on the show for which Kunker works. "Moving effortlessly between urban Los Angeles and the Alaskan wilderness, Smith laces his novel with broad humor, in the process encapsulating the absurdities of modern gay life," stated the reviewer. That writer also found the book more than merely entertaining, saying that it is "ultimately a novel about the sacrifices artists must make for their art."
Other reviewers were also enthusiastic about Selfish and Perverse. "There's simply never a boring moment—and what more could you ask for," wrote John de la Parra in the Lambda Book Report. A Publishers Weekly writer also praised the book, saying: "A simple yet sexy plot line and camera-ready prose combine with panache in this immensely entertaining story."
In an interview for the Curled Up with a Good Book Web site, Smith said that his inspiration came from many writers: "Barbara Pym, Jane Austen, Isherwood, Waugh and Ackerley. But I also love Mark Twain, Ronald Firbank, Charles Dickens, Stephen MacCauley, Armistead Maupin and James Wilcox. And the plays of Joe Orton and Oscar Wilde had an enormous influence on me when I first read them. I underlined Orton's jokes trying to figure out how they were constructed. And then there's a whole generation of gay humorists whom I've read. It's interesting that no one's really commented on that literary phenomenon."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Smith, Bob, Openly Bob, Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Smith, Bob, Way to Go, Smith!, Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Advocate, September 11, 2007, review of Selfish and Perverse, p. 60.
Booklist, October 15, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of Openly Bob, p. 377; December 1, 1999, Whitney Scott, review of Way to Go, Smith!, p. 663; August 1, 2007, Whitney Scott, review of Selfish and Perverse, p. 39.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, March 1, 2008, "Slut for a Soul on Ice."
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of Selfish and Perverse.
Lambda Book Report, fall, 2007, John De La Parra, review of Selfish and Perverse, p. 40.
Library Journal, August 1, 2007, Stephen M. Sposato, review of Selfish and Perverse, p. 74; October 15, 1997, Eric Bryant, review of Openly Bob, p. 62.
Publishers Weekly, November 1, 1999, review of Way to Go, Smith!, p. 64; June 4, 2007, review of Selfish and Perverse, p. 25.
Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (July 2, 2008), Michael Leonard, interview with Bob Smith; review of Selfish and Perverse.