Is Tragedy Or Comedy Harder?
Augusten Burroughs was born Christopher Richter Robison in Pittsburgh, PA on October 23, 1965 and raised in Western Massachusetts. Augusten's parents struggled with alcoholism and mental illness and they separated when he was twelve. Augusten stopped attending school and his parents' longtime psychiatrist became his legal guardian. At seventeen, he moved to the Boston area and graduated from Control Data Institute with a diploma in Computer Programming and System's Analysis and Design but never worked in the technology industry. Instead he moved to San Francisco and at 19 became the youngest copywriter in the city. His work attracted national acclaim and in 1989 he was invited by Ogilvy & Mather, New York, to work on their flagship American Express account. Augusten found great success in the Manhattan advertising community, eventually working for many of the top agencies where he created global ad campaigns for worldwide brands. Almost eighteen years after accepting his first advertising job, Augusten left the industry to pursue a career as an author. Two years later, his 2002 memoir, Running with Scissors, became a publishing phenomenon, spending over three consecutive years on the NYT bestseller list. It was made into a movie starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. All of Augusten's subsequent books — Dry, Magical Thinking, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table, You Better Not Cry & This is How — were instant NYT bestsellers. In 2013, Augusten married his literary agent and best friend, Christopher Schelling, received a Lambda Literary Award, and was honored with a Doctorate of Letters from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Augusten is also a self-taught gemologist with a special interest in jade. He collects and sells vintage and estate jewelry, photographs people, and recently directed his first music video. Augusten and his husband Christopher live in a 200 year old house in rural Connecticut with their three dogs.
Question: Is it harder to write tragedy or comedy?
Augusten Burroughs: Well, I probably should clarify my spoonful of sugar. The way with "Running with Scissors," the humor was like a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, that's true. Just as humor is a life raft in terrible, terrible circumstances. It can kind of float you to the next safe spot. With "Running With Scissors," it's not that I would sprinkle some sugar on to a bitter piece, it's that I would just leave out the bitter piece. Wolf at the Table is a much darker book, much darker book. Both books, though, are like icebergs: tiny, tiny, little chunk above the surface of the water, very small. But you kind of know what else is underneath the water. It's pretty much going to be the same but more.
For that reason, the period of my life in "Running With Scissors" was a lot more fun. It was absolute madness and I mean I didn't know how I was going to turn out from that oven but it was fun. But the time of my life before, with my father, was not fun. In order to write that "Wolf" book I had to go back in my head to that time in Shutesbury, Massaschusetts and I had to be with him again. Even though I am a lot older now and he was dead, that is interesting information that matters not at all because these memories are very vivid. So while I was writing that book, I was going through all the emotions you would go through during -- I wouldn't want to do it again. I wouldn't want to do it again; it was not fun. I did it. I kind of had to do it for me and then I decided to publish it because I thought, "You know, if I've learned anything from this memoir thing, it's that all the ways I thought I was a freak it turns out there are other freaks or people that have just experienced exactly the same stuff."
So I bet there are a lot of other guys, or I thought of guys, who had the same father, who went through the same thing. Even if there is only a few of them, this is going to be useful for them. So that was the story over there with that.
Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Augusten Burroughs has called humor the "spoonful of sugar" that relieves the bitterness of his work—sometimes. But does it come naturally?
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