Comedian Jordan Doll on hobo tales, comic books and childrens' classics
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
People who follow Denver comedy closely know Jordan Doll, whose unique perspective and magnetically jovial stage presence have set him apart from the bearded hordes of joke-mongers. As one of the rotating emcees of Kinga's Lounge open mic, Doll has developed the kind of Colfax-sharpened comedic chops to sell even his most whimsical jokes. Off the stage, he shares his enthusiasm for paranormal investigations -- leavened with zingers -- on Werewolf Radar, the podcast he co-hosts with a murderer's row of local comedians. This week, Westword nerded out with Doll over tales of Americana hobos, comic books and classic children's books from Britain.
Westword: What are you reading these days?
Jordan Doll: I'm jumping between a few books right now. I've been having trouble finishing books. I just started reading a book called Ironweed, by William Kennedy that was given to me by Sam Tallent. It's a really cool kind of magical realistic look at homelessness in the '30s and '40s. Maybe even the '50s. Anyway, it's really cool; the main character talks to dead people and he's got a dark history. There's a lot about forgiveness, and really cool characters. Hobos! Old-timey hobos! I know I said that in a funny voice, but the book really is a stark look at homelessness.
I've heard a lot about that book, but I haven't read it yet.
It's kind of been making the rounds in our scene here. It's a good read. It's like a stern, dusty reminder of a hard past.
I think I asked Sam if I could borrow it and he said, "Oh yeah, I loaned it to some asshole."
That's me! I am that asshole! But I'll give it to you next. I'm about halfway through it. I put it down for a bit to read something else.
What makes you put a book down?
A lot of it is laziness. And I'm way quicker to just give up on books these days. When I had more time, I tried to read for a good while and wait for something to grab me and compel me to finish the book, but I'm not the reader I once was, so now it has to grab me much sooner. I want writers to get to the point sooner. Like, hey, let's stop sitting at the top of the slide and jump right into it. I put Ironweed aside for a bit to read a fantasy book by Stephen R. Donaldson called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever. Have you heard of that series?
No, but I generally enjoy chronicles. What's it about?
It's a fantasy about this writer who's written his first J.K. Rowling-level smash hit. It explodes. Shortly thereafter, he finds out that he has leprosy. He's a leper. This is set in like 1990, so leprosy is unusual. His wife leaves, she takes the kids because she doesn't want them to get leprosy. Like a real bitch. Then a little bit later, he gets Narnia'ed, basically. He gets transported to a fantasy realm, and he's part of this prophecy.
Does Narnification cure his leprosy? It wouldn't much of a fantasy wonderland if his skin was still rotting off.
Yeah, he gets cured. It would really take the sting out of the fantasy if he still had it. Or in this case, it puts the sting back in, I guess. He's a dark protagonist, though, and this book really sets the tone for the rest of the series. He commits, you know... deeds. Just because he's angry. So right off the bat, you're like: This dude is a son of a bitch.
Is it written in the first person?
No, it's a third-person narrator.
That's good, because I always hate being put into first-person headspace of a character who does evil things. First-person perspective invites the reader to identify with the character, so when that character is evil, I always feel weirdly implicated by it.
Lev Grossman started off a series with a book called The Magicians that sort of explores that idea. The premise is basically, what if Harry Potter was a huge asshole? I also recently read R.A. Salvatore's Streams of SIlver, and the whole Icewind Dale trilogy. He's not a great writer, Salvatore, but he is a great storyteller.
So fantasy is your go-to genre?
Yeah, I like fantasy, but I like when it starts out in a contemporary setting, or has some sort of twist on it. I remember when I was a kid and I discovered the Lord of the Rings books, my parents were worried about me. "He's reading! What does that mean?" They'd try to get me to take breaks, like, 'Jordan, your old friend Mario is here!'"