It’s hard to know what to say about Eddie Sarfaty’s Mental: Funny in the Head. I had never heard of Sarfaty, nor am I a frequent visitor to Comedy Central’s Premium Blend show - or even the channel.
This might sound like the start of a scathing review (or at least one written by a humorless person). On the contrary; the first few chapters – “Second-Guessing Grandma,” “Lactose Intolerant” and “Helter Shelter”
- had me laughing hysterically, coming to a crescendo with the story of Sarfaty’s well-meaning adoption of a rather psychotic cat, aggravated no doubt by her/his sudden name change from Giselle to Oliver.
The climax (pun intended, which cannot be repeated or explained here) comes with Oliver’s holiday-themed attack of Sarfaty’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, which sends Jeffrey to the emergency room and Oliver back to the no-kill Helter Shelter otherwise known as Pound of Love. Sarfaty’s overly-dry-in-a-good-way descriptions of the mayhem (Sarfaty has been likened to David Sedaris, he of Me Talk Pretty One Day), had tears of laughter flowing from my eyes.
So why is it so hard to know what to say about the book? A blanket testimonial of “I loved it! Couldn’t stop laughing! Can’t put it down!” could send men, women, children, and my grandmother out to buy the book, and while that’s what a good review should do, this book absolutely must come in plain brown paper wrapping and/or not be sold to anyone too young to smoke.
That’s about the most PC, delicate way to say THE BOOK IS FULL OF FOUR-LETTER WORDS. I’m okay with that if you’re okay with it. And, like Eddie’s very Jewish grandmother, whom he conveniently puts in chapter one, it may take you awhile to accept that EDDIE IS GAY, but like his grandmother, you may just love him anyway.
So with those two advisories for anyone with particular reading restrictions, requirements, or reticence, we can now proceed with the review of this very funny book.
The main detractor, if any, of Mental is that Sarfaty’s chapters are a bit herky-jerky, moving from mad-cat mayhem to near-maudlin with the description of his trip to London and Paris with his parents, his father rapidly failing in health and suffering from dementia and Pick’s disease.
Sarfaty handles the serious business of dementia with aplomb, but it’s hard to find it terribly funny, especially if the reader has witnessed the same ravages in a loved one. Or maybe that’s the point: when in doubt, add more humor.
The jerkiness continues when Sarfaty moves back and forth in time to spend a great deal of the second half of the book on his conquests in love and loss and blind-dating - bad boyfriend adventures we can all relate to, but I would have preferred more cat-and-grandma stories.
Besides ho-hum chapters on the students in his humor class, ranging from a kid to a grandma, and another about his efforts at managing and directing an off-color play, Sarfaty shines when he describes the full spectrum of the aging gay crowd at the club where he bartends and manages. The bit about 65-year-old Wendell Briar was bittersweet, as well as dead-on (for anyone who has had a first-generation gay family member) out and over-the-top.
I picked up Mental having no idea what it was about, and although I was fairly surprised by it, that is not to say unpleasantly so. It lags a bit at the end, but all in all it is delightful. If you like your wit dry, you will like Sarfaty.
Eddie Sarfaty is an alumnus of Vassar College and has appeared on “The Today Show” and Comedy Central, has been featured at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, and is one of the subjects of the documentary Laughing Matters. He teaches stand-up and comedy writing at The Theatre Lab in Washington, D.C., and at New York University. His Web site is