“The world is a king, and 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 (1958- 2018) fun, witty, sexy, romantic novel, re-read recently to prepare for a tribute on his birthday, Christmas Eve.
Lucky Smith, with a birthday on December 24th, plus he was pretty, witty and gay.
Smith is the first openly gay comedian to appear on The Tonight Show and the first openly gay comedian to have his own HBO comedy special. I very much enjoyed his entertaining, droll memoirs Openly Bob (1999) and 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 and hilarious, Remembrance Of Things I Forgot, which was my favorite book of 2011. It is cathartic to read a book that makes me laugh and cry as much as this satire of those terrible, but so bad compared to now, 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 was a first-rate stand-up comic and he also was one of the writing team for the sketch show Mad TV. His comedy is always fearless. After three and 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 and I dreamily hike among pine trees while my own body becomes a graveyard of dead and 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 and 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.”
Bob Smith was taken on January 20, 2018 by ALS in his Manhattan home. He would have been, should have been 60 years old today.