After building a solid reputation as a comedian, cartoonist, screenwriter and comedy actor, Joaquin Reyes (Albacete, 1974), debuts as a novelist with ‘Rush ‘ (Blackie Books), a hilarious and tragic book like the Russian novels that have fed the reading vocation of its author in which a week in the life of Emilio Escribano is recounted, a comedian from a town in Cuenca who with the arrival of success and the fame loses the papers to the point of giving a lot of “cosica”. “The first existentialist novel of La Mancha“says Reyes
-What are those eyes on the cover (which are also punched out and move)?
-The protagonist, Emilio, is a man confused by the things that happen to him, who has lost perspective, and these eyes thus a little crazy reflect his confusion in front of the world. And also, they look at the reader when he handles the book. They question him.
-On that cover, below the author’s name and title, it is specified that this is a novel. Was necessary?
-I like this a lot. Let things be clear from the beginning. On the other hand, as I come from the world of comedy and television, putting “Novel” helps the potential reader to know what kind of book this is. That it’s not a book of scripts or monologues or anything like that.
-A humorist who publishes a novel is expected to have made a comic novel, and this undoubtedly is, but it is also many more things. Has that expectation conditioned you?
-Well, for me humor is not an end in itself, but a means, the language that I use to explain a series of things. This novel does not pretend to be a humorous novel, but rather a novel in which humor, which is my natural environment, is at the service of a story that I felt the need to tell. In fact, there has been a job of lowering the humorous tone of the book, of eliminating jokes so as not to lose sight of what I wanted to narrate.
-The back cover talks about Dostoyevsky and you yourself have cited Gogol on occasion as a reference. What does ‘High’ have in common with the nineteenth-century Russian novel?
-Of course, not the extension [‘Subidón’ tiene 159 páginas]. But I was interested in adapting that kind of novel in which a number of things happen to a character who doesn’t quite find out about anything very well. The reader will not associate ‘Subidón’ with Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’, but he has been an important influence, with that protagonist who thinks he is smarter than he really is and who travels and experiences adventures. Of course, that is mixed with other things, like Jardiel Poncela or Gómez de la Serna … I am a very reader and in the end everything leaks out.
-The protagonist is a comedian from La Mancha who makes monologues. I can’t imagine where he got his inspiration from.
-Emilio Escribano is not me and I don’t know if I need to say so. But it is true that choosing him as the protagonist allows me to write about things that I know well, because they have happened to me or because I have seen them or they have told me about them. But I suppose that writing about what you know is done by all writers, except perhaps science fiction. Although I do not know, because there are many science fiction novels about breakdowns [ríe]…
-A Emilio’s fame makes him a pretty sorry guy. How did you handle the matter?
-I have also felt a bit confused when I have reached a certain level of success or popularity. Let’s see, we are not Leonel Messi, but it is true that one can fall into foolishness quite easily, although I have a fairly bearable fame. The dangerous thing is not the success itself, but what one does with the success. Emilio loses his papers and enters a loop of guilt and justification and I do identify with that because at times I have been able to feel that way too. Then you gain perspective and you see that things are not so bad.
“I’ve also felt a bit confused by fame. The dangerous thing is not the success, but what you do with it”
-The other great character in the story is Cousin Fede, who is Emilio’s anchor with reality. Have you had a cousin Fede on hand?
-The cousin is fundamental, yes. He is that kind of squire who, by contrast, helps to understand the protagonist and at the same time reminds him of who he is, the kid of the town. In my case, I have a partner that I know from before I was more or less known and that has been very important to get rid of the nonsense. Maintaining relationships prior to, let’s put it that way, success is a good way to stay grounded with reality.
-One of Emilio’s weaknesses is that he often confuses making people laugh with being truly loved. Is it an evil that can be extended to the species of comedians?
-The comedian in general is usually very appreciated. I feel like this. Another thing is to get them to take you seriously or to understand that you don’t have to be in funny mode all the time. The way in which Emilio’s fans relate to him in the book is taken from my experience. And there you find everything. Like those people who feel the need to be on the edge with you, who I suppose they do to lower your fumes, so you almost have to thank them.
– Towards the end of the novel, a supposed admirer tells Emilio to put the batteries in his own because “there are young people out there who are incredible.” I wonder if humorists live with that permanent fear of being out of date and being overtaken by new ways of making humor.
-Yes, totally. That is a fear that always accompanies you. I have come to the conclusion that comedians must grow old with their audience. I’m not saying it’s not okay to try to evolve and change, but generally humor works from shared codes and it is very difficult to attract a younger audience from there. Getting to skip a generation is already a great success. And beware, some have managed to do it, such as Faemino and Tired, but it is something very rare. In general, few comedians have long careers. We are already lasting a long time …
-There is now also a questioning not only of the forms but also of the topics on which humor is made.
-Let’s see, I mean that “you can’t do humor about anything anymore” speech, because I haven’t just seen it. Today there is more humor than ever: on television, in the cinema, on social networks, and people consume it and ask for it. Humor unites us, perhaps more than anything else. And humor, when shared, is the best there is. Another thing is that we do not have to amuse the same things as 20 years ago. The world has changed, society has changed, and I don’t think it’s bad that the comedian has to rethink things that he didn’t think about for a while. I think that says something good about us as a society. You can make humor of everything, the question is the focus. There are jokes that I no longer do, things that I did in the past and that I would not do now. It’s okay for everyone to take responsibility for the jokes they make and the jokes they tell.
“Society has changed and it is good that the comedian has to rethink things that he did not think about a while ago”
– “The influence of the people is relentless and infallible unless you flee from there,” he says at one point in the book.
-Well, that is what Emilio Escribano says, not me. I was born in Albacete, which is not exactly a town, but, well, I went to Madrid. So, in a way, I share a bit that belief that in certain cases, in order to fulfill yourself professionally or in any way, you have to go to the city. Now there is a discourse that praises the return to the people and to certain values that are a bit romanticized, and it seems that it is wrong to vindicate the metropolitan thing, which after all is the place of mixing, of meeting, where that difference that is normalized in the villages, it is sometimes highly penalized. All Almodóvar’s cinema comes out of there.
-You went to Madrid but you took with you all those Manchego linguistic twists that have been an important pillar of your career as a comedian and that today already have almost pop culture status.
-That makes me very proud, of course. Pop culture is very important to me and I don’t understand that sometimes people look down on it. For me that distinction between high and low culture does not make sense. Culturally, we are the product of everything that we have absorbed and then each one uses it as they see fit.
-In ‘High’ include some of those terms with their corresponding explanation.
-Well, in the book I have tried not to include many idioms from La Mancha, because that has already been studied well, and instead put neologisms, invented expressions that we use among friends and that make me very funny.
-I am especially fascinated by the definition of ‘trofollata’. “When in an Italian restaurant food is asked for more deliberately.”
-The ‘trofollata’ thing comes from ‘trofollo’, which is an expression that Raúl Cimas used and which basically means “fat”. And Ernesto Sevilla, who is very greedy, took it out one day when we went to an Italian restaurant: “What? Shall we make a trofollata? ”. And there it stayed.
-Makes sense. And it even sounds like an Italian word.
-Yeah, that makes it funnier. That day we were at La Tagliatella and, of course, at La Tagliatella his thing is to make a ‘trofollata’.
Joaquín Reyes and Russian novels
“I like Russian authors that they take literature very seriously, although later they don’t take themselves too seriously. And they mix tragedy and comedy as if nothing else. They tell some tremendous things but in the middle they put some hilarious passages. Like that novel by [Venedikt] Erofeyev [‘Moscú-Petushkí’] in which some drunks go on a train and suddenly one says: “Now we are going to talk about love, as in Turgenev’s books”. I really like those things. Turgenev, by the way, loaned money to Dostoevsky Why pay some gambling debts and he thanked him by putting it to broth and ridiculing him in ‘The Demons’. What uncle. I like it a lot too [Serguéi] Dovlatov: ‘The suitcase’, ‘The foreigner’, ‘The zone’ … ‘The zone’ is very good: a history of the concentration camps but from the point of view of the camp guards. Well, Dovlatov was the guardian of a concentration camp. Everything has happened to those people”.