When it comes to grief, there’s no room for second best. Sure, there are other guidebooks aimed at helping you cope with the emotional and practical challenges of losing a loved one. None, however, have been written by a comedy writer whose “therapeutic training” went no further than an undergraduate degree in psychology, and who lived through this terrible experience and emerged intact enough to write a bunch of jokes about it. What The Daily Show’s America (The Book) was to civics and The Onion’s Our Dumb Century was to the history of the twentieth century, Jason Roeder’s hilarious (and often moving) Griefstrike!: The Ultimate Guide to Mourning is to death, mourning, and somehow getting on with your life.
Today, we’re happy to feature a short interview with Jason Roeder about his inspiration behind writing this hysterically funny book.
McSWEENEY’S: What was your inspiration for writing Griefstrike!?
JASON ROEDER: My mother died in August 2019, and I started to feel something like myself again right around the time the pandemic rolled into town the following spring. Like many people, I had time on my hands during quarantine, and I guess I wanted to be of use somehow to others going through what I was. And since I have one and only one skill, I sort of knew what I’d be doing.
McSWEENEY’S: There are jokes on every page, but the book also offers practical advice for coping with the loss of a loved one. Is Griefstrike! more of a humor book about grief, or a funny guide to help deal with grief?
ROEDER: It’s definitely a humor book about grief. Too many other people worked too hard getting credentialed as bona fide therapists for me to dare promote Griefstrike! as a legit resource. It’s a humor book for people who’ve lost a loved one and who might be ready for a laugh. You know, they’ve arrived at that place, however long it took them. But if a person puts down the book and discovers there’s somehow an insight lodged in their brain, I welcome it. Kind of like how there’s sometimes a valuable antique clock on the same yard sale table as a DVD binder and a baggie of loose Lite-Brite pegs.
McSWEENEY’S: Drawing laughs from death and depression is a tricky line to walk. How did you navigate it while writing the book?
ROEDER: I guess it started with realizing that the book wouldn’t be for everyone. For some people, sickness and death and grief are always going to be exposed nerves, so I didn’t need to cater to them. They’ll self-select out. The book is for people like me, however many there are, who are programmed to find the humor in things, even where it’s not necessarily in demand. And then it was a matter of checking in with myself to make sure I never crossed a line into callousness while also finding a way to talk about a casket with a lawn-mower-bag attachment.
McSWEENEY’S: Some of the more affecting parts of Greifstrike! are the vignettes about your mom during her illness. How did you come by the idea for these “Sincerity Corners,” and decide how to incorporate them into the work?
ROEDER: I didn’t want to write a memoir, but I felt like, for this particular topic, I owed readers some glimpse into my personal history. A little realness to confirm that I was approaching this with at least pertinent life experience if not, you know, valid professional education. The overall voice of the book is so weird and saturated with jokes that I thought some dignified little sidebars were in order.
McSWEENEY’S: A funny, recurring gag is the “Grief Journal” prompts that end each chapter. Is grief journaling a real thing, or was this just a device created by you to poke fun at the grief-industrial complex?
ROEDER: Journal prompts are kind of a mainstay of self-help manuals, in general. I’m way too emotionally rigid myself to work out my feelings on the page, and free-writing without self-judgment is definitely for other, far less inhibited people. But the prompts were fun to write, and I hope there’s at least one lunatic who tries to complete them all.
McSWEENEY’S: Now that you’re a bona fide author of a funny book about grief, is there any concern that you will be called on to help out and be funny for family, friends, friends of friends, and coworkers of friends of friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one? I imagine that would be a lot of pressure.
ROEDER: I’m so much worse at communicating in person, and that would be almost instantly obvious.
McSWEENEY’S: What five covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine” do you want to be played on auto-repeat during your memorial service?
ROEDER: You know, I think about this constantly:
- The version sung by seven-year-olds in a 2003 commercial for Lay’s Stax potato chips, which surprisingly not only retained the “no religion too” lyric but reused it three times.
- The 1985 “We Are the World” B-side where you can actually hear Quincy Jones trying to break up a fistfight between Kenny Loggins and Al Jarreau.
- The 2015 America’s Got Talent audition where the judges were absolutely floored by stunning vocals somehow emanating from the stanky lips of an unfuckable person.
- Lou Reed’s 1975 cover, arranged for guitar and retitled “Rock and Roll Vampire.”
- The original, but played at .90 speed to subtly convey a sense of unease.
Ideally, we’d allow enough time for all these tracks to be played at least once, but if the service is running behind, I’m obviously okay with them all being played simultaneously.
Griefstrike!: The Ultimate Guide to Mourning is out January 3. Click here to preorder the book at our store and use the discount code “griefslayer” to receive 10% off. You can also get the book as part of the McSweeney’s Humor Bundle.