The first time I heard Gary Gulman’s stand-up was on Spotify, and his bit “Undone by a Semicolon” grabbed me: I wish I knew there was going to be this much typing! He regrets horsing around in typing class because his whole life is the computer. Appearing on countless late night talk shows, he recalls the “harrowing” tale of how the states came to be abbreviated with two letters. Who does that? Listen to Gary Gulman States' Abbreviations Bit to appreciate Gulman’s wit, command of language, and ability to turn a phrase that rivals another wordsmith and Pulitzer Prize winner, David Foster Wallace. Gulamn is in DFW’s league. He’s that good.

Randi’s (Gibson) new book suggestions brought me to Gulman’s memoir misfit. Praise for the book that chronicles his life from first grade through twelfth grade—with a page or two inserted between grades chronicling his years-long struggle with crippling depression provide context for his awkwardness, quirkiness and humor—is heaped on the funny man from comedy greats themselves including Amy Schumer, Judd Apatow, Seth Meyers and This American Life host Ira Glass, who said of Gulman's memoir, “[misfit] is about how a soft, football-hating kid like him ended up playing the sport—and tells lots of stories, too…he really was a little boy destined to become a comic.”

In the 80s, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was an early reality TV show featuring windbag Robin Leach sucking up to rich people who showed off their lavish (read: gaudy) homes. Gary parodied that show narrating descriptions of his own home (he wasn’t rich, and he detailed the amount of stuff in his house that his mom lifted from various jobs) called “Lifestyles of the Broke and Hopeless.” His narration is funny and clever: “Let’s visit the bathroom, where this bar of soap is actually a sliver of Dial [soap] fused to a bar of Ivoryyyyyy. This bottle of Prell’s life has also been extended through an infusion of shower water. It’s now certain to last these losers another ten shampoooooos.” The cassette tape of that parody went viral at his school way before the virality of YouTube and Tik-Tok encouraging the stand-up hopeful to make people laugh. But it was first grade where he made his first joke that cracked up the class—and the teacher. During story time Mrs. Burns asks: “What is a chick?” The smartest girl in the class, Lori-Ann McGloughin, answers: “It is a baby chicken.” Future joke writer Gulman pipes up, too: “Or a girl!” Everybody laughed, including the teacher. Gary decided then that he would spend the rest of his life “chasing that high!” And I’m amazed at his memory! He remembers all his teachers’ names, random classmates, and people that he hasn’t seen since age five.

But he was not a happy-go-lucky kid. Suffering from undiagnosed depression, he acted out and struggled to make friends. He loved basketball and played for hours at the end of his driveway. He began eighth grade with two ambitions:

  1. Make the basketball team.
  2. Don’t get murdered.

He succeeded, but playing on a team proved problematic and escaping classroom and schoolyard bullies was a daily thing. During practice, scoring baskets was easy but come game time and Gary choked. A bully, whose name he doesn’t reveal for fear of retaliation even some 40 years later, warned he would “kill him,” so Gary never walked alone in school and took varied routes home from school, but eventually he took the beating, and to this day he has no idea why the kid was after him. Of growing up in the 80s, he quips, “One way to look at my childhood is to think of Charlie Brown…if Snoopy had died.” His signature sad sack story that ends with a punch. He amuses audiences with his HBO special “The Great Depresh,” and while relating his struggles he’s at once dark and funny, “I look at the sunset and think: Yeah, you gave up, too.” And dryly reports that “eating ice cream with a fork is an unofficial symptom of depression.” His clever syntax reminds me of the genius filmmaker Charlie Chaplin who said: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” To wit, Gulman’s suffering was tragic, but with time, perspective, therapy, and medication, he’s found a way to laugh through it. And talking about depression openly and reaching thousands of people is way more helpful than hiding from the mental illness that a quick Google search reveals affects around 280 million people worldwide.

Listening to and watching Gulman’s stand-up isn’t a prerequisite for reading this wonderfully-remembered, hilarious, and candid memoir, but it does remind the reader that he recovers from his depression, as well as the hell of school where his father insisted on holding him back in first grade because “he’s not mature enough to move on.” misfit is a quick read, especially if you were a kid in the 70s/80s because his minutiae-like recall of Ralph Lauren, IOU, and Air Jordans will have you pining for the good ol’ days, even if for Gulman they weren’t so good.

Watch his CBS Saturday Morning Interview "Misfit", and I dare you not to wanna pick up his memoir that talk show host, Seth Meyers claims of Gulman, “Gary is thoughtful and funny in a way few others are.”

Thanks to Randi at SAC who sent me a text announcing Gulman’s stand up tour, Scott (my husband) and I will experience Gulman’s live show at the Terry Theatre in Jacksonville on Friday, September 20, 2024! Interested?

Get tickets here:

Cover ArtMisfit by Gary Gulman

ISBN: 9781250777065
Publication Date: 2023-09-19
"One of my favorite books of all time." Amy Schumer 
A tour de force of comedy and reflection about the perilous journey from kindergarten to twelfth grade and beyondâe*from the beloved stand-up comic and creator of The Great Depresh For years, Gary Gulman had been the comedian's comedian, acclaimed for his delight in language and his bracing honesty. But after two stints in a psych ward, he found himself back in his mother's house in Boston--living in his childhood bedroom at age forty-six, as he struggled to regain his mental health. That's where Misfit begins. Then it goes way back. This is no ordinary book about growing older and growing up. Gulman has an astonishing memory and takes the reader through every year of his childhood education, with obsessively detailed stories that are in turn alarming and riotously funny. We meet Gulman's family, neighbors, teachers, heroes, and antagonists, and get to know the young comedian-in-the-making who is his own worstâe*and most persistentâe*enemy. From failing to impress at grade school show-and-tell to literally fumbling at his first big football gameâe*in settings that take us all the way from the local playground to the local mall, from Hebrew School to his best (and only) friend's rec room, young Gary becomes a stand-in for everyone who grew up wondering if they would ever truly fit in. And that's not all: the book is also chock-full of '80s nostalgia (Scented Markers, indifference to sunscreen, mall culture). Misfit is a book that only Gary Gulman could have written: a brilliant, witty, poignant, laugh-until-your-face-hurts memoir that speaks directly to the awkward child in us all.