William Novak has co-authored the memoirs of Nancy Reagan, Magic Johnson, Oliver North, and Tip O'Neill. His co-written Lee Iacocca book broke sales records and triggered a revolution in non-fiction. These days, Bill Novak has turned his attention from celebrities to the lighter side of life.
The release of his latest book -- Die Laughing: Killer Jokes for Newly Old Folks -- gave us a chance to talk about one of our favorite subjects, laughter.
Q) Have you always told jokes?
A) I would love to tell you that I was one of the class clowns, but I wasn't. I was the guy who really appreciated the class clowns and wanted to be their friend. I just loved to laugh. I adored MAD Magazine as a kid. I was crazy about Saturday Night Live, especially in the early years. And I loved the comedians on Ed Sullivan. Of course I'm hardly unique in this respect. Most of us love to laugh.
Q) Were jokes better back then?
A) We seem to be losing jokes from our national culture. Today's comedians are often talented and funny and just about all of them write their own material. But jokes, which used to be a staple of comedy, especially when we were younger, have almost disappeared from public culture. When was the last time someone told you a joke? I write these books to keep jokes alive.
Q) But you can still find plenty of jokes online, can't you? Why do we need a joke book?
A) First, because I rewrote virtually all the jokes. They've been improved, curated, and carefully inspected. Did you ever try to give somebody a gift of a hyperlink? Joke books, if they're any good, do all the work for you. Many of us still read books and magazines because we like to handle something physical. I'm an old fashioned guy. I like to hold a book and turn the pages. But if you don't, you can buy Die Laughing as an eBook.
Q) Die Laughing collects jokes for "newly old folks." What does that mean?
A) On the first day of 2016, the first wave of baby boomers started turning seventy. And every day for the next eighteen years, another ten thousand baby boomers will turn seventy. So, if you call 70 old, a lot of people are about to be "newly old." But this book isn't only for aging baby boomers. These are jokes and quite a few New Yorker cartoons for and about older people of all ages. And any adult who was born before you were qualifies as an older person.
Q) This seems like a good gift for parents and grandparents.
A) I certainly had that in mind -- what a great Hanukkah or Christmas or Father's Day gift this would be for anyone with has a sense of humor or likes jokes. I love to give it as a gift. And I've heard that people who have received copies as birthday gifts are having lots of laughs.
Q) Why the title Die Laughing?
A) I worried that older people might be offended by that, or that younger people might be afraid to give a book with that name to their parents or grandparents. But I think older people know the score. We know how the story ends. We know that death is waiting somewhere out there, and we hope it's still in the far distance .
Q) You've included a few short essays. Why did you choose to do that?
A) Because jokes don't always tell the whole story, I wrote a few short essays to put them in context and to tell some of the good news about getting older. Along the way, I learned that older people are, generally speaking, happier than their younger counterparts. That's good news, isn't it? And I never would have guessed it. But most of the book is about sharing the best jokes and cartoons I could find, because people love to laugh. And laughter, the researchers are telling us more and more often, is really good for you.