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Genius, Granted
Comedy writer Nate Dern exhibits unique imagination in book of short pieces that mostly hit their marks
By Michael Shashoua; photo by Mindy Tucker

Funny Or Die and Upright Citizens Brigade comedy alumnus Nate Dern said when writing his first book, “Not Quite a Genius,” published earlier this month, that he set out to emulate B.J. Novak’s “One More Thing.”
Novak’s book (see review) is more literary in its comedy, in the vein of Woody Allen’s essays, while Dern’s book is purely comedy for its own sake, like the video pieces he has written for the Funny Or Die website.
However, when Dern is writing comedic pieces rather than producing them as video, his longer-form material works better than shorter, high-concept bits. In “Predator Prey,” “Chap Sticks in a Mailbox,” “How Many Farts Measure A Life?” and “Handjob at 20,000 Feet,” where Dern stretches into storytelling, and full-fledged scenes with characters on a journey of some sort, it’s more satisfying. The first two of those pieces are stories about childhood and teenage experiences. The latter two feature very adult, if very odd, interactions between characters. It’s experimental and conceptual.

The shorter pieces in “Not Quite A Genius,” which typically run from three to no more than 10 pages, are a mixed bag. Their length usually only allows enough space to relate the comedic premise and tack a punchline onto it. The short pieces that fail are the ones that get a little too precious or indulgent of nerdy fastidiousness about a topic, such as “HonestJuice Juicery” and “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate.” The ones that work better strike a chord with their premise and execute it sharply, such as “Letter To Christopher Columbus From Leif Eriksson,” “Glengarry Glenpot” and “As The Toothbrush You Just Threw Away, I Have Some Questions…”

All of these, both hits and misses, play on or parody some familiar element, bit of history or pop culture. The contents of “Not Quite A Genius” are admirable for their creativity and imagination. Despite a few duds, Dern’s book is more wheat than chaff. He has a comedic tone that is unique and all his own.













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