On the eve of the release of comedian Rob Delaney’s collection of autobiographical essays, it’s incredible to reflect on the turbulent road that brought Delaney to where he is today. If you only know him from your Twitter feed, where @RobDelaney effortlessly barrages his ever-growing list of followers with offbeat humor, cheeky inquiries to major corporations and poignant thoughts on hot-button issues in under 140 characters, you probably don’t know that he was a different person a mere 10 years ago when he drove his car into a building while driving drunk. Due to the years of alcoholism which ultimately led up to that moment, he had to spend a lot of time in the hospital and then a halfway house. This isn’t hard-hitting investigative journalism; he’s pretty damn open about it.
“I love telling jokes, of course, and I love making people laugh, but I would say having survived two things that kill people every day, [alcoholism and depression,] and having figured out and thought about how I did that, of course with incredible amounts of help from other people, I do feel duty-bound to share the things that I’ve learned because I like people and I don’t want anybody to kill themselves or feel that they have to get drunk or get high all the time just to feel some facsimile of peace,” Delaney explained when I called to chat about his first book. “There are better books in the world than the one that I just wrote, but what I did do well is when I talk about things of a sensitive nature that were dangerous to me, I’m doing it with the years in between and so it’s not therapeutic for me. I’ve already been through formal and informal therapy surrounding these issues, so I didn’t feel in danger when I was writing about them and I don’t think it would’ve been a very good book if I had.”
If you are a fan of Delaney, this news doesn’t come as a shock to you, since he has taken to his Tumblr account about these issues before, most notably in his 2010 entry “On Depression & Getting Help,” and covers these themes frequently in his stand-up. But don’t think for a second that this is some bizarro Angela’s Ashes; the book is called Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage., so it goes without saying that it’s full of the amusing autobiographical stories you’d expect. “I don’t know if any factoid will pull a Mackenzie Phillips, there’s no massive bombshell fact, but hopefully people will say, ‘Oh, look at that, this guy can write a book!’ I would love for people to say, ‘I didn’t think this jerk could write a book, but look at that!’ That would satisfy me on a deep fundamental level.”
It’s not the first time Delaney has tried his hand at writing. Aside from his comedy special Live at the Bowery Ballroom, scripts for TV shows and awards ceremonies, Delaney has made a name for himself on the subject of civil rights with his very frank op-eds on abortion, feminism, alcoholism, health care and, since we’re a culture fascinated by celebrities, most notably a Vice article on suing Kim Kardashian to stop her divorce from Kris Humphries. Unlike most writers, Delaney tends to self-publish the opinion pieces on his own blog. “I don’t want to wait for those to come out, because a lot of those come fast and furious out of my fingertips. Like if it’s a health care thing. So I don’t want to wait for them to post it, and I also don’t care about their editorial ideas. So that is the reason [I don’t reach out to magazines], otherwise I would wait. Sometimes I do; Vice has been wonderful to me, The Guardian has been wonderful to me and I’m thrilled to put stuff up there. Sometimes I just don’t want to wait. And of course I’ve been conditioned: it’s the double-edged sword of Twitter where you can get stuff up there quickly, and once you’re used to that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to wait until nine A.M. Eastern for them to post my letter to Kim Kardashian! Who could wait for that!’ So that is why I do that sometimes.”
As with his stand-up, Delaney is candid on his past: years of bedwetting, illegally bungee jumping off the Manhattan Bridge, his year studying in Paris and exploring an abandoned hospital with his mother. While the humility and humor we’ve come to enjoy from Delaney shines through the circumstances addiction and depression have got him into, like the unnerving paragraphs describing his friend jumping from a capsized boat to swim to shore in freezing temperatures, there are a lot of moments in the book where Delaney steps back into situations he found himself in with no humor whatsoever, showing his knack for the written word. But one memoir is enough, says Delaney. “After writing this book I am not interested in myself in any way, shape or form, so if I did write another one it probably would have to be fiction.”
Even before the book hits stores, it’s earned great praise from a colorful range of personalities. “Margaret Atwood has said some very nice things about it, and that is an absolute heart-stopping surprise. I’m shocked, and it’s a source of pride. Jimmy Kimmel, who gave me a quote for it, wrote a book report on it! You would think that Jimmy Kimmel would scan it, maybe, or at the very [most] be like, ‘Hey, good book!’ But no, he literally analyzed it and would tell me which parts he loved. He read an early uncorrected proof, so would say things like, ‘Just so you know, in two chapters you described this one thing in sort of a similar fashion.’ Unbelievable! Or he’d say, ‘This part made my wife laugh out loud in bed when I was reading to her!’ So that was super cool to think that he didn’t just read it, he studied it. That was very kind of him.”
Over the next few weeks Delaney will be incorporating some readings from the book into his upcoming appearances all over the United States. “Because I’m a stand-up, my book tour shows are actually going to be in theaters with a mix of stand-up and guests. It’ll be a lot less fussy than your normal book show thing where somebody reads a passage, and then some bookstore owner fellates them on the stage with silly questions. Mine will be more fun.”
Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. is available in stores tomorrow. For tour dates, online orders and everything else Delaney, head to robdelaney.com