#743 The umbrella of comedy
So You’re A Little Sad, So What? Nice Things to Say to Yourself on Bad Days and Other Essays
by Alicia Tobin
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019
$17.95 / 9781551527871
Reviewed by Natalie Lang
A delicate manner must be found in comedy to deal with the sad and unfortunate events in our lives. Every line delivered must walk a razor’s edge between the sad reality and the light-hearted joke based on it. When it works, hilarity can result — not just because something is funny, but because we start to see ourselves in the story being told.
In So You’re A Little Sad, So What? Nice Things to Say to Yourself on Bad Days and Other Essays, Alicia Tobin, a Vancouver-based comedian, writer, and podcaster, delivers sharp anecdotes about her life. With Jessica Delisle, Tobin is the co-host of Retail Nightmares and, with Kevin Lee, of Super! Sick! Podcast! She is also the creator of her own comedy show, Come Draw With Me. This collection of essays, with a foreword by the comedian Charlie Demers – known from the CBC radio segment, The Debaters – offers a fine example of Tobin’s refreshing and honest comic ability. It offers a quick read through self-contained yet beautifully-connected anecdotes filled with all-too-familiar moments that soon you’ll be sharing with everyone.
Tobin starts with a childhood story about shopping with her mother. Here, she plays on her lifelong insecurity caused by her wide feet, her “Iguana” shaped body, and her childhood horror of having to wear an eye patch. The premise of this essay, aside from a deep-seated physical shame, concerns Tobin’s desire for Velcro shoes, which all the cool kids had. After her mother conceded, Tobin found that the shoes were entirely too small for her. Instead of admitting this, she wore them despite the pinching pain as she performed a ribbon dance to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Completely unaware of the meaning in the song, Tobin danced her little heart out until her teacher promptly stopped the music. More shame.
The Velcro essay sets readers up for who Alicia Tobin was at the start of her life: headstrong, odd, a little bit neurotic, self-conscious, brave, and hilariously unaware of life’s little nuances. With clues from the other essays, we soon develop a solid picture of Tobin as she is today. Her essays are funny, as when she compares riding in a city bus to “sitting in a can of shared misery and smells,” and occasionally involve a practical pointer. “If you’re going to cry in public, do it on a bus,” she advises (p. 131).
Tobin’s fourteen essays – ranging from light complaints over Vancouver rental housing, to sympathetic reactions to rude customers and sales clerks, to food as a gateway to love, communication, and comfort – allow her to draw a roadmap through her life and over a bridge spanning troubled or frigid waters into which she herself has made a few dips and splashes. She is frank when discussing the physical and mental health of her friends and herself, including the trials of diagnosing Hashimoto’s disease, and she is witty when describing the trash fire of traversing the Vancouver dating scene — a valley of broken hearts and broken people. Yet above it all, Tobin is laugh-out-loud hilarious when instructing readers how to talk to city animals, and how to convince yourself that you are not a “dirty diaper garbage bag” (p. 77) as you march down to the corner store to buy all the junk food you can eat, while the guy behind the counter can’t hide a silent, knowing, and judgemental glance.
Tobin’s book is more than a collection of essays. It is also a series of love letters to her friends and family, to a lonely child, to a desperate pet, to cities that are both cold-hearted and home. Sharp, witty, and real, her essays are road markers for how to get through the variety of human tragedies that plague us in our own personal paths of pain.
Tobin seems to sit with us and drink a cup of tea while we read So You’re a Little Sad, So What? and consider our own stories and reflections. She left me confident that in spite of a landscape of family drama and trauma, failed loves, depressing jobs, grey cities, sick pets, and sick selves, with a little bit of humour and good friends we may ease our suffering just enough to remember to grab our umbrella as we step out into life’s torrential downpour.
Natalie Lang is a teacher at Rick Hansen Secondary in Abbotsford. She graduated from the University of the Fraser Valley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology and then completed the PDP (Professional Development Program) and Bachelor of Education at Simon Fraser University. She is now a master’s student in the GLS (Graduate of Liberal Studies) program at Simon Fraser University. Natalie lives to the beat of her own drum, allowing experience and life circumstances to help determine where she goes, what she does, and how she lives. As such, she has lived in China, walked across Spain, and travelled to many areas of the world. Natalie now lives in a renovated barn in the Fraser Valley where she can be found studying for her GLS classes, designing lessons for her students, listening to records, and dabbling with her own experiments in writing.
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