Jonathan Ames and the Sweet Science

Broken noses, fat lips, and cauliflower ears. No one said comedy was pretty. But, hey, it's still surprising to learn that one of our funniest writers is also a practitioner of one of our most violent sports. Acclaimed author, performance artist, and screenwriter Jonathan Ames is also a part-time pugilist. Ames, better known in boxing circles as the Herring Wonder, has appeared in the ring exactly twice, breaking his nose three times. No one said boxing was funny but maybe it is. Ames is more elusive outside the ring. Either a slippery post-modernist or an archetypical trickster, the Brooklyn-based wordsmith enjoys parodying the writing life and he does so to great effect in his novel Wake Up, Sir and Bored to Death, the HBO sit-com starring Jason Schwartzman as a writer-turned-detective named Ames. In the following interview, Steven Lee Beeber trades comic punches with the real Mr. Ames.


conduit: You mention having suffered more than one broken nose in the ring. Do you see your nose as hampering your career? Sort of like an Achilles Heel? Or is it actually part of the reason you box? I'm reminded of Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises: "[Cohn] cared nothing for boxing...but...learned counteract the feeling of inferiority...he...felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton."

johnathan ames: My nose is very vulnerable because it sticks out. And it's also very Semitic. It has a bump and a curve and goes with my Shylockian face. Interestingly, I went to Princeton and with this one rather snobby graduate student, whose approval I craved, I hid my Jewish identity because he was vaguely anti-Semitic, which must have been why I wanted his approval? Or I wanted his approval, because aside from his mild anti-Semitism (vague dismissive remarks about someone's "Jewishness") he was exceedingly bright, which shows that anti-Semitism is not a marker, necessarily, of ignorance, unfortunately.

conduit: What about Norman Mailer, another tough guy writer? Think you could take him?

ames: He was a smallish man; I would probably have an advantage. But he was a great writer and a fascinating human being.