Author Interviews
6:03 am
Sun August 4, 2013

Jack Handey Revels In 'The Stench of Honolulu'

Originally published on Sun August 4, 2013 10:39 am

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. If you watched "Saturday Night Live" in the 1990s, you might remember this:

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As announcer) And now, deep thoughts by Jack Handey.

JACK HANDEY: Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself, mankind. Basically, it's made up of two separate words: mank and ind. What do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.

MARTIN: The voice behind "Deep Thoughts," those profound, philosophical adages, isn't just another "SNL" character; it is Jack Handey, a real guy. A writer, responsible for years of Saturday night laughs. Now, he is the author of a new novel - his first - called "The Stench of Honolulu." Jack Handey joins us from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Welcome to the program, Mr. Handey.

HANDEY: Hi, Rachel. Nice to be here.

MARTIN: So fun to talk with you. A lot of your writing is short stuff, right, like writing a book is different.

HANDEY: Yeah. I don't know why. I had been thinking for a long time about just sort of getting the "Deep Thoughts" character out in the field, see what kind of destruction he would cause. And Hawaii seemed like a good place for him to go 'cause it's so beautiful and pristine. So, at first, I was thinking, you know, the deep thoughts character and Don would just go on vacation to Hawaii but then...

MARTIN: Don is his friend.

HANDEY: Don is his friend. But then I thought that wasn't ominous enough, so I sort of made them go on a treasure hunt. And then I thought I had to make it more ominous, so I just sort of changed the whole nature of Hawaii to make it very stinky and dangerous.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I would love if you could read us a little bit.

HANDEY: OK. (Reading) When you have a real treasure map in your hand, all sorts of thoughts go through your head. The first is: don't lose the map. The second is: hey, what happened to the map? The third is: oh, yeah, I gave it to Don. The fourth is: hey, where'd Don go? The fifth is: oh, there he is.

MARTIN: You mentioned that this was your excuse to get the "Deep Thoughts" character out into the world. I mean, let's just back up a second. The "Deep Thoughts" character - I mean, it was deep thoughts by Jack Handey, right? It's you. aren't you the deep thoughts character?

(LAUGHTER)

HANDEY: Well, I hope not. He's sort of a borderline psychopath. I mean, he's like a dangerous person who thinks he's normal. I hope it's not exactly like me. Maybe a little bit.

MARTIN: It's kind of uncommon on "SNL" to get you perform your own writing with a byline like that though, right?

HANDEY: The ironic thing is people think Jack Handey's a made-up name, so, they didn't really give me a byline after all. Sometimes I'll go, like, check into a hotel or something and the guy at the hotel - Jack Handey - there used to be this thing on "Saturday Night Live," you know, with that name. And he'll go, yeah, that's me. And they'll go, no, this was a thing on "Saturday Night Live." And they still don't believe you, even when you're standing there, you know.

MARTIN: Do you just go into, like, a riff on some tangent to prove that...

HANDEY: You just go, oh, you're right. That was a different thing.

MARTIN: Can you talk about another sketch that's a particular favorite of mine? Why don't we dispense of the introductions. Let's just play the clip.

HANDEY: Oh, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Toonces, the driving cat, the cat who could drive a car. He drives around all over the town. Toonces, the driving cat. Toonces, the cat who could drive the car.

MARTIN: So, I've played Toonces clips off YouTube for a variety of different people and I get different reactions. I mean, some people find this absolutely hilarious and other people just look at it and then look at me and think, why is this funny? What to you is funny about a driving cat?

HANDEY: I don't know how two neurons connect and driving cat comes out. But it went through a read-through and it was a big hit at read-through and a big hit on air.

MARTIN: Read-through is when you kind of test out jokes and...

HANDEY: Yeah. It's like on "Saturday Night Live" every Wednesday we would have a read-through with the cast of all the sketches that had been submitted by the writers. But, you know, sometimes just the weirdest, quirky things are, those are the things that people like. I don't know.

MARTIN: Did you have a particular favorite sketch of yours that never made it through, that never made it to air?

HANDEY: Probably one. It was called "The Zombies Versus the Bees." It started out as sort of, like, a zombie movie with the teenagers parking, and zombies. And then like, oh no, they're being attacked by bees. You know, the town is trying to - whose side are we on? Well, the zombies are more like people. We should be on - no, well, the bees are more of a natural thing though and, like, it was just - then a zombie comes to the sheriff's office door and he's being attacked by bees. And they're going let him in. No. He'll bring those bees in with him. But, anyway, it just sort of died at dress rehearsal. But that was a personal favorite that never got on. Someday, I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Your jokes don't have a lot of pop culture references in them, and I thought that was kind of interesting. Is that intentional on your part?

HANDEY: You know, for me, the best stuff is sort of mythical stuff. I mean, that's the best comedy is riffing off of mythical things like cowboys and flying saucers and, you know...

MARTIN: Cavemen.

HANDEY: Cavemen, there you go. I'm actually not very good at talking about things and also I tend to, like, just go for the little boy's stuff, you know.

MARTIN: Fourteen-year-old boy humor.

HANDEY: That's probably when people have about their best senses of humor when they're, like, 14 or something, I think. I don't know. Maybe.

MARTIN: Well, we mentioned caveman, and this is another classic "SNL" skit, "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer."

HANDEY: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

PHIL HARTMAN: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just a caveman. I fell in some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW and run off into the hills or whatever.

MARTIN: Phil Hartman was genius in that role.

HANDEY: The late, great Phil, yes.

MARTIN: And, Jack, what is your daily writing routine? Do you write every day?

HANDEY: I still use a technique that I used in writing "Deep Thoughts," which is just laying on the floor and throwing a football or a rubber ball or something against the ceiling over and over again. You know, and for some innate reason, that seems to kind of makes your mind drift or something, you know. I'm actually writing some more deep thoughts I hope to put out some time or another, yeah, after a long hiatus. And...

MARTIN: Well, they'd better be really deep after that one.

(LAUGHTER)

HANDEY: I know.

MARTIN: There's no pressure.

HANDEY: There should be indecipherable or something. I don't know.

MARTIN: The new novel is called "The Stench of Honolulu." It is written by Jack Handey. Mr. Handey, thank you so much for talking with us.

HANDEY: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.