By Jenn Shenouda
You have endless choices…but few real options. Hungover and stuck at a job you hate, will you show up for your big presentation, or duck out with Debby, the HR rep with an FDR fetish? Play the weird lump on your back for office-wide sympathy, or dive into an internet spiral that can only end in “ten kinds of cancer”? Tell someone about the weird genital-fondling that’s happening at the crystal healer’s, or just accept that this is the best substitute you’ll find for love, today…or maybe ever?
Such is the premise of Jilly Gagnon and Mike MacDonald’s hilarious new book Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure; it’s a work that implores us to laugh in the face of life’s tiny tragedies, no matter how close to home they hit.
We invited the two comedy writers to our office to tell us about their intriguing new book.
CYOM follows in the footsteps of iconic series’ such as Goosebumps, Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley High–all of which featured game book options. Why do you think that the ‘choose your own…’ structure works so well for Millennials? Is it purely nostalgia from childhood ‘choose your own adventure’ books or something else?
Jilly Gagnon: Nostalgia definitely played a huge part in this–we’re both Millenials, so not only were these books a huge part of our childhood, we’re a generation that’s mildly obsessed with nostalgia in all its forms.
Mike MacDonald: Beyond that, though, we’re the first digitally-native generation, and the modern attention span isn’t what it used to be. Interactive books are so well-suited to that; you only have to go a page or two before you get to make another choice!
Who first came up with idea for the office setting for the book, and in what ways do you believe the office lends itself to comedic material?
JG: Mike had the initial idea for the book, he brought it to one of our regular “let’s share some ideas” meetings, and I latched on immediately.
MM: As far as lending itself to comedy, in my opinion, if the subject matter is inherently silly, it’s harder to parody. Offices are exactly the opposite of that–they’re all basically the same, with the same features and hierarchies, and they’re almost always boring.
JG: And even if you’re not in a traditional office job, the gripes you face there—“difficult” bosses, annoying coworkers, the fear that you’re totally wasting your life–are things anyone can relate to.
What are both of your personal most insane (or insanely funny) office experiences and did they make it into the book?
MM: I come from a newsprint background, so a lot of my office memories are of people crying and lamenting the state of the industry. There was a lot of despair at my workplace–that definitely made it into the book.
JG: The most insane thing that ever happened in my office…honestly, I’m with Mike. Specific moments of awful that happened were much less memorable than this general sense of malaise. I’m pretty boring. I’ve never even had inappropriate office-party sex with a coworker.
What other ‘choose your own misery’ books are you toying with? Do certain themes have a wider appeal than others?
JG: We’ve actually already written the next book, which we’re tentatively calling “Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays.” That’s one, like the office, where I think almost anyone can connect with the misery.
MM: Beyond that, we have a lot of ideas we’re tossing around. There will be a third book, but whether it’s weddings, online dating, high school reunions, or something else entirely is still up in the air.
What TV shows or comedians do you find most funny?
MM: Failure, in all of its many forms of iteration, will never cease to be funny. Whether it be a friend taking a hit on the stock market, a person falling, or having to put back a few items at the grocery store checkout — it’s all a laugh. As for TV shows or comedians that I find funny — it would have to be folks that do the whole ‘failure’ thing well — Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Flight of the Concords, Kristen Schaal, to name just a few.
JG: I’m a huge fan of absurdist comedy. I love things that are unexpected, and very dark–so much so that sane people might question whether you’re actually watching a comedy or a tragedy. Tim and Eric are personal favorites–their brand of humor is so 100% theirs. I rewatch the entire “The League of Gentlemen” series at least a couple times a year–that show is BRUTALLY dark. I love it. And I think Rick and Morty is the funniest show on TV right now.
What do you find funny that you “shouldn’t find funny” (like laughing in church)?
JG: Obviously it’s all about context, but I find the most brutal things that happen to people hilarious–death, violence, emotional bereftness. In real life those are obviously personal tragedies, but take them and twist them, and you have a release valve for some of the hardest stuff you have to deal with.
So really everything that I shouldn’t find funny, I probably do. I’m always the person in the movie theater laughing out loud at the “big emotional moment.” I mean, we take ourselves so. Seriously. There’s nothing funnier than that.
MM: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Laughing in a church? You’ve gone way too far. This interview is over.