December 24, 1958- Bob Smith
“The world is a king, & like a king, desires flattery for a favor; but true art is selfish & perverse, it will not submit to the mold of flattery.”
The quote is from the dedication page in Selfish & Perverse (2007) Bob Smith’s fun, witty, sexy, romantic novel, re-read recently to prepare for this tribute on his birthday. Smith is one of my favorite people on the planet & I am proud to be his friend on The Facebook.
I celebrate what I claim is the very worst possible day for a birthday, January 3rd. The tree is dead in the corner, the credit cards are maxed out, everyone has made a resolution to diet, stop drinking & go the gym. Not a single person is interested in partying. Other Capricorns complain about holiday birthdays, but I think it would be swell to have been born on Christmas Eve. The house is beautiful, everyone is dressed up, spirits are high, children are delighted, & if you have been a good boy, there may be something special for your birthday & for Christmas, just for you, under the tree.
Lucky Smith, with a birthday on December 24th, plus he is pretty, witty & gay.
Smith is the first openly gay comedian to appear on The Tonight Show & the first openly gay comedian to have his own HBO comedy special. I very much enjoyed his entertaining, droll memoirs Openly Bob (1999) & Way To Go, Smith (2000). But nothing had prepared me for how much I would go zany for his first jump into fiction with his novel Selfish & Perverse (2007), or his next, the eccentric & hilarious, Remembrance Of Things I Forgot, which was my favorite book of 2011. It is cathartic to read a book that makes me laugh & cry as much as this satire of the terrible G.W. Bush years, with lines like this:
“It’s safe to say your relationship is in trouble if the only way you can imagine solving your problems is by borrowing a time machine.”
Smith disclosed that he suffers from ALS in a brave, heartbreaking 2011 interview in the Canadian Global News. Smith says the progression of the disease has been slow:
“If you’re going to procrastinate, do it when you get a terminal diagnosis.”
I guess laughter actually is the best medicine:
“I’m not in a wheelchair or dead. Most ALS patients die 2 to 5 years after diagnosis. I’m also not on anti-depressants. Laughter is a good daily vitamin but love is the best medicine. I feel loved by Michael, loved by family & friends, even strangers who see me struggling to swipe my subway card & offer to help.”
Smith is a first-rate stand-up comic & he also was one of the writing team for the sketch show Mad TV. His comedy is always fearless. After 3 & a half decades, Smith gave up on performing in clubs because of his ALS, but he has always spoken openly about his condition.
“People thought I was drunk. I’ve never drank before any performance & realized my ALS had slurred my voice. After that, I always prefaced my sets with an announcement that I hadn’t been drinking but had a neurological problem.”
Smith writes this about his love of nature:
“Since my diagnosis of ALS, I feel a particular kinship with Thoreau. He enjoyed walking through the woods while wolf packs of tuberculosis bacteria ripped out his lungs & I dreamily hike among pine trees while my own body becomes a graveyard of dead & buried motor neurons. It took a life threatening illness to make me see that the reason most of us love the natural world is that it’s a visual & vocal echo that we’re alive. Every mosquito bite is a painful pat on the back that we’re still fresh enough to be lunch. We focus on the green in a forest, while gently ignoring that every fallen leaf is a brown post-it note from Mother Nature that someday we’ll all be dead.”
Smith has posted on The Facebook about the promise of a new novel, The Third Actor, a satire of our own times set in Ancient Greece. I am looking forward to this one.
I highly recommend his essay in the terrific collection about gay life in NYC, Love, Christopher Street: Reflections Of New York City (2012), published by Vantage Point Books.
If you know him personally, & many of my friends do, give him my very best on his birthday.
Smith lives in NYC with his husband, Michael.