I Don’t Mean to Sound Dramatic But
a review of Mr. Funnyman, Shawn Berman, by Jay Miller
The joy of watching made-for-TV movies alone in the dark, the rose-coloured self-pity of nostalgia, the fleetingness of id: this is Mr. Funnyman, Shawn Berman’s chapbook début (independently published, 2021), in a nutshell.
Mr. Funnyman is what you get when you cross improv, automatic writing, and what I can only describe as a drunken karaoke Bo Burnham impression vis-à-vis a Bob Dylan acid flashback, with leitmotifs of Adam Sandler and Guy Fieri struck wholesomely throughout.
His brand of humour feels quintessentially New Yorker millennial: sardonic, wry, self-aware, deadpan, and maudlin, composed like text messages left on read, like voicemails left on the message machine of a quarter-life crisis that can’t come to the phone right now because it’s screening calls from you.
Some of my favourite titles include: I’m All About That GTL Life: Gym Tan Love Me for Who I Am, Kinda Jealous that Shrek Still Managed to Get Married Despite Only Taking Mud Baths His Whole Life, and Question: Is Nic Cage My Favorite Actor of All-Time?
Remember that Homerpalooza episode of the Simpsons where the disaffected hipsters go “oh, here comes that cannonball guy,” “he’s cool,” and then the first one responds to the second one “are you being sarcastic, dude?” and he retorts, defeated, “I don’t even know anymore”? Yahtzee, baby.
I can’t really make it any clearer than that.
If you’re unfamiliar with Berman’s verse, here’s a DIY breakdown of how to write your very own Shawn Berman poem, or Bermanet (a poetical term I just coined based on the familiar term “sonnet”):
1. Open the notes app on your phone or Microsoft Word on your computer and set the font size to 22, center alignment, and type a sentence without a period, with caps lock on
2. Hit enter twice and go back to default font size, turning caps lock off (and automatic capitalization, if you haven’t already)
3. Write roughly a dozen and a half lines, two or three spaces in height, single-spaced, with added space after each stanza
4. Make it make sense
5. If you’re millennial, memes come second: rely on your instincts to fill in the blanks, like pop cultural ad libs, justifying things with phrases like “and his name was john cena” or “you got it, pontiac”
6. Embrace the character arc of your poetic voice, nobody else is going to do it for you
7. Liberally sprinkle in a quarter score of em-dashes for dramatic effect
8. 3-5 full stops MAXIMUM
9. 3 pages maximum, but ideally in Word it should appear as one and not quite a half page in total
10. Whatever you do, submit the result to The Daily Drunk in Word format, but never as an attachment—copypaste it into the message body of the submission email and hit send!
Nevertheless, within this illusive framework, Berman manages to expand upon his formula and add inspired flourishes with every poem in the book. I don’t know how to explain it exactly but every page is perfect. In the way that enduring literature is described as generous, enlightening, vindicating. This is it.
With the amount of work he’s curated through his Daily Drunk lit mag, it’s hardly surprising that his wordsmithing comes out so rich and taut. Between the daily publications, the anthologies (A Drunken Midsommar and Nostalgic AF), his social media presence, podcasting and Zoom readings, he has in short order become the people’s de facto keeper of zeitgeist during this pandemic. And with his commitment to comedic writing and poetry, served alongside his signature cocktail of slice of life and pop culture references, it shows. I cherish the moment I can reopen this book in a decade from now and enjoy it like fine whiskey, have a solitary laugh and a humble moment of reminiscence.
Berman puts the pedal to the metal then hits cruise control for cool. Pop quiz, hotshot. He’s a smooth operator, and his work, much like the bus in 1994’s Speed, shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a gas.
Jay Miller is a poet, reviewer, copywriter and translator. He also co-edits The Lit Quarterly magazine and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @sootynemm. Jay lives in Montreal.