Literature Society: Mike Sacks' Randy: The Full and Complete Unedited Biography and Memoir of the Amazing Life and Times of Randy S.!
The high concept of my friend Mike Sacks’ Stinker Lets Loose!—which was adapted into a blockbuster audiobook that you may have heard of starring Jon Hamm, Philip Baker Hall, Andy Richter, Rhea Seehorn, Andy Daly, Paul F. Tompkins and James Urbaniak, basically a murderer’s row of everyone who’s awesome and has talked into a podcast microphone over the past ten years—is that it’s a novelization of a very 1970s drive-in movie rooted in the cartoonish machismo of Clint Eastwood’s Clyde the Orangutan motion pictures and Burt Reynolds Smokey and the Bandit films that never existed, and should never have existed, but is fun to contemplate.
The conceit of his follow-up is even more audacious and inspired. As laid out in the introduction to Randy! The Full and Complete Unedited Life and Times of Randy S.!, Sacks is supposed to have discovered a crudely self-published biography at a garage sale and been so mesmerized by its outsider art obliviousness and its author's manly, musky anti-charisma that he decided to share it with the world by re-publishing it through his Sunshine Beam imprint.
But it goes beyond that. Though the titular grubby dreamer fancies himself a writer and a poet as well as an inventor, ladies man, filmmaker, patriot and national treasure, he is not the actual author of the book about his poignantly unremarkable life and cockeyed makeshift philosophy.
No, that unenviable task has been left to Noah B, a struggling poet and novelist who has embedded himself in the life and home of the titular morbidly fascinating narcissist but even more alarmingly inside Randy’s mind and fractured psyche. Noah is being paid to create a heroic portrait of a life utterly devoid of accomplishment, let alone heroism.
In his thirty-four years on the planet, Randy hasn’t achieved jack shit beyond getting arrested an impressive number of times for impressively idiotic reasons and being a regular, regularly mocked caller to a local sports talk radio show. Yet that has somehow only strengthened his conviction that the sad details of his friendless, jobless existence need to be disseminated to the general public for posterity.
There’s a bit of Rupert Pupkin’s grubby hunger for fame and public recognition in Randy’s ferocious belief that he has a gift that must be shared with a world that’s understandably and rightly deeply uninterested in anything he might have to say, and really only tolerates him out of a grudging sense of politeness.
The world grudgingly tolerates Randy partially out of politeness but more so because he inherited a sizable amount of money from his beloved Mam-Mam that he uses to bribe neighbors, fellow Spring Break revelers (as part of his commitment to remaining forever 21 in his mind, he goes down South every year to party and take advantage of inebriated undergraduates with low standards), a prostitute named April who Randy thinks of as his girl even if their relationship seems destined to never transcend the “Prostitute/Regular Customer” level and, perhaps most importantly, the author of the book, who is either suffering from a world-class case of Stockholm Syndrome that leads him to genuinely admire someone with zero admirable qualities, or he’s embraced the responsibilities of a paying gig that requires him to recreate his subject’s bloated self-image in literary form for an audience of, at most, one.
Randy! follows Randy as he holds court in places that are special to him, like the American Girl Doll Cafe, and tries to transform a lifetime of losing and failure into an inspirational story of winning worthy of Kid Rock or Donald J. Trump.
Randy is intent on re-writing history to make him seem like less of a pathetic nobody and more of a Han Solo-like maverick living according to his own badass moral code. If they were to make a movie or a TV show about Randy, Danny McBride would be perfect casting; like Kenny Powers, he's a raging asshole you can't help but kind of love.
Sacks has this character nailed. He knows exactly what he smells like, what he talks like, what he dreams about at night and what he regrets in the rare moments when he is being honest with himself instead of writhing in self-delusion. He’s an American through and through, God help us, but he’s also a type of oddly, regrettably relatable creep who is also unique to the Maryland area from which he hails. Randy! is a broad satire but it benefits from a welcome and essential specificity. This isn’t just any asshole. No, he’s a very special, very distinct asshole.
Guys like Randy are the reason Two and a Half Men was the most popular show on television for a length of time that reflects terribly on humanity, not just the television industry. They’re the reason Axe Body Spray has enough money to pollute our culture with their odious, misogyny-and-horniness-based advertisements the way their products pollute our public spaces with their hideous odors. They’re the reason Matchbox 20 went diamond. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe I’m selling Matchbox 20 short and I’ll somehow find a way to champion them the way I do Insane Clown Posse, Phish and Uwe Boll. For the sake of symmetry, I’m thinking about doing a project called 20 on 20 where I will spend twenty years listening to nothing but the band Matchbox 20 in an attempt to try understand what makes them so smooth.
By the end of the two-decade-long project I’ll be in sixty-two years old, and will have experienced no music not written and sung by Rob Thomas for a fifth of a century. You know, I don’t want to seem like a wimp but I’m bailing on this idea in embryonic form before it goes any further. Sorry, Rob Thomas. Someone else will have to drink the Kool-Aid and then proselytize on your behalf.
There are a whole lot of guys like Randy out there helping make terrible things crazy popular, but he’s also an American original, an outcast, an oddball, an iconoclast. That’s the crazy thing about mainstream culture: stuff like Big Bang Theory, Nickelback and Donald Trump might be incredibly popular with a distressingly vast portion of the American public yet, to be honest, it still seems weird and kind of unbelievable that anyone genuinely likes this super-mainstream crap because it’s so transparently, unforgivably terrible. Reading Randy! made me feel like I understood this type better, that spending an entire book inside Randy’s skin allowed me to empathize with him despite, or perhaps because of his rampant jackassery.
Randy! reminded me of two of my favorite oddball humor books of the past decade: the novelization of Todd Rohal’s giddily surreal mumblecore mindfuck Uncle Kent 2 and my The Onion colleague Maria Schneider’s Jean Teasdale tome, A Book of Jean's Own.
Like the Uncle Kent 2 novelization, Randy filters the egomania of a random-ass dude through the admiring, endlessly enthusiastic prism of a writer tasked with having to transform the non-events of a random-ass life into a form of contemporary mythology, urban folklore, non-history as written, or at least commissioned, by a huge loser.
And it reminded me of the character-based columns of The Onion of old in its genius for transforming the mundane banality of everyday life into tragedy and hilarity by treating the fundamentally, perversely non-newsworthy as important, even epic.
Like A Book of Jean’s Own, Randy!’s greatness lies partially in its hilarity and partly in its underlying sense of sadness and loss. In the book’s most heartbreaking and hilarious passage, the titular jackass traumatizes the object of his adolescent affection and everyone watching during a high school magic trick gone hilariously, tragically awry involving a deceased animal, a horrified young woman and a dude-bro seemingly incapable of experiencing shame even over things that should fill him with guilt and regret.
The world is not kind to satire, particularly of the literary variety. Literary humor is invariably a tough sell even when it’s done well. Heck, it’s a tough sell particularly when it’s done well but that only makes it more essential.
Randy! is a hilariously, unexpectedly poignant and eminently worthy addition to Sacks’ sociological/anthropological exploration of the American Jackass and his curious ways.
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