To anything but the most persistent comedy geek, the term “boat hack” will mean nothing. Boston comic Jimmy Dunn defines it as a terrible slur, aimed at comedians who work cruise ships for a living. “It implies not only are you a shi**y, unoriginal entertainer,” he writes, “you are also so desperate for work and approval that you’ve sold out your soul and have gone to work for the nit-wits and moronic masses that vacation on the ‘Whatever of the Seas.’” Which is why the book opens with Dunn sabotaging his cruise ship career by telling “The Aristocrats” joke, the vulgar, improvisational routine that inspired the movie of the same name, to a cruise audience.
“Boat Hack: A Stand-Up Comic’s Farewell to The Cruise Industry” is Dunn’s gruff exposé of cruise-ship comedy, his farewell letter, and a bit of a travelogue. He offers a sarcastic disclaimer to start, claiming that, despite his 12 or so years telling jokes on boats, none of the stories are true. “So don’t bother calling your lawyers,” he writes, addressing some anonymous cruise-line employee. “Or mine. I made it all up.” The book doesn’t read as false, so take the disclaimer with a gain of salt the size of Lot’s wife.
“Boat Hack” isn’t an in-depth, journalistic look at the industry. The chapters are short, usually only a couple of pages, some no longer than a couple of paragraphs. Dunn is no Bill Bryson, and offers no analysis of his observations, no Sociology 101. He treats almost everything as if he were writing it for the stage: focus on the laughs and the sarcasm, hit the punchline and get out. As a result, some of the stories seem a little incomplete.
Some things make him angry—he wants to free a bear from his chains so it can eat the guy who’s charging tourists to pose with it, and he runs into an obnoxious waiter in France who wants to know why America won’t chip in financially to rebuild Iraq. Dunn also provides some genuine travel tips, like eating the fish at the beginning of the cruise when it’s fresh and not waiting until the weekend. He notes that, despite the fact that the boat is at sea, no one is doing any fishing. Another bit of trivia: when someone dies—and he says this happens frequently—most ships don’t have morgues. So grandpa winds up hanging out in the ice-cream freezer until the ship makes it to port.
On the upside, Dunn got to see some beautiful places, surf all over the world and make good money. But the comics also get the worst rooms, have to deal with clueless cruise directors and sometimes perform with an oven sitting onstage (for tomorrow’s cooking demo). Dunn writes of one comedian friend who was approached by an audience member who said the comic’s jokes couldn’t be any good because the passenger hadn’t heard any of them before. Which is what led Dunn to tell “The Aristocrats” and get escorted off his last boat by security a week early. He makes it seem like a good choice.
We also got some other great events coming up featuring other author/comedians that you should check out:
TOMORROW! Sunday, November 4 I Sleepwalk With Me – Platteville and Spring Green, Wisconsin Directed and starring Mike Birbiglia, this dark comedy follows a burgeoning stand-up comedian as he struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore. This is part of the Driftless Film Festival.
TOMORROW! Sunday, November 4 I 215 Festival: John Hodgman – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania John Hodgman-bestselling author, ‘The Daily Show’s “Resident Expert”, minor television celebrity, and deranged millionaire-brings us the third and final installment in his trilogy of “Complete World Knowledge.”
Friday, November 30 I An evening with Joe DeRosa at Valley Forge Casino – King of Prussia, Pennsylvania Joe DeRosa performs constantly, making appearances of all kinds. Recently he had guest roles on HBO‘s “Bored to Death” and IFC‘s “Z-Rock” and became a regular on “The Opie and Anthony” radio show and Fox New‘s “Redeye.” Joe also taped a half-hour “Comedy Central Presents” special which aired in the winter of 2009 and his first-ever stand-up album “The Depression Auction” was released on Comedy Central Records in June of 2010. This year, he made his directorial debut with the film “Shooting Angels,” which starred himself, Bill Burr, Robert Kelly and Colin Quinn. Joe is currently writing, directing and producing a series of web shorts for Atom.com, co-hosting the podcast “Uninformed” with comedian and friend Bill Burr, and touring clubs around the country.