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Review: The Lowbrow Reader Reader

In 2001, Jay Ruttenberg founded “The Lowbrow Reader.” Lined with covers dedicated to toilet gag and filled with works by professionals in music, cartooning, television and journalism, “The Lowbrow Reader” is a charming comedy zine that has included contributions from Neil Michael Hagerty, David Berman, Gilbert Rogin, Shelley Berman, Lee Hazlewood and more.

On May 22, Drag City Books released “The Lowbrow Reader Reader.” Funny, to say the least, “The Lowbrow Reader Reader” is a collection of the most-praised drawings and writings published in the eight issues of the publication, as well as some new material.

A textbook on comedy zines, the book features:

  • Bizarre up-close encounters with Muhammad Ali, the White Stripes, Judaic comedian Jackie Mason, and, in one of his final interviews, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
  • The late singer, record producer, and raconteur Lee Hazlewood filing a unique dispatch from Berlin.
  • Articles by The Howling Hex’s Neil Michael Hagerty about Don Knotts, Wings, circus clowns, and Lou Reed’s comedy tour de force, Take No Prisoners.
  • Illustrations by David Berman, Carson Ellis, Doreen Kirchner, John Mathias, Mike Reddy, and Tom Sanford.

The Spec editors had the opportunity to check out the release, read our thoughts below…

Words by Alexis Getscher

I was sucked into “The Lowbrow Reader Reader” the moment I finished the introduction. In it, founder Jay Ruttenburg describes his struggle to find work in New York and how he believed if he were to stay in the city, “it struck me as vulgar not to contribute something, however slight, to the city’s cultural ecosystem.” Naturally, I applied this to my own life and how I felt when we began The Spec in August 2011.

As a whole, I enjoyed Lowbrow for the variety it offers. Through interviews and personal narratives, the book allowed me to get to know and understand artists in all realms — actors, comedians, authors, musicians and so forth.

One of the pieces I found the funniest, was an account written by freelance writer Michaelangelo Matos titled “18 Stories About Chris.” In this piece, he includes recollections of Chris, his mother’s husband, who he writes “wasn’t bright, and he demonstrated this on a regular basis.”

An excerpt: 1. Chris drank a great deal. In fact, he was basically a drunk. So one day, when he and my mom were arguing, she told him so: “You’re an alcoholic!” she yelled. “I’m not an alcoholic,” he replied. “I’ve been drinking every day since I was 15—I’d know if I had a drinking problem!”

The Lowbrow Reader is a recommended read for individuals in the fine arts field and seems fitting for the coffee table of any modern household.

Words by Dee Wallace

I like that “Lowbrow Reader Reader” offers an assortment of pieces. Some made me blush, some made me smile in amusement, and others showcased the true sport of the zine: entertainment. The book includes telling interviews, short profiles, humorous anecdotes and more. Although the focus is never entirely on music, there are musings on artists such as Lou Reed, Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, the White Stripes and Michael Jackson.

On the music front, one of my favorites from the collection is an interview with Margeaux Rawson about her interview with Ol’ Dirty Bastard. In “A Visit with Ol’ Dirty Bastard,” readers are offered a different perspective, the one of the journalist. Rawson shares how she had to pull teeth, no pun intended, in order to get answers from the late rapper.

The interviewee thwarted Rawson’s open-ended questions and so the final product, published months prior to Bastard’s accidental death via drug overdose, was sparse (an excerpt is included in the book). Nonetheless, the journalist’s recollection is humorous and telling.

Overall, the book is a fun(ny) read that, like Alexis said, is ideal for the coffee table.

Purchase “The Lowbrow Reader Reader” through Drag City for $19.95.

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