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Arts and Entertainment

Book Review: 'Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox'

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"Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox" by comedian and television writer Greg Fitzsimmons


"Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox" by comedian and television writer Greg Fitzsimmons
Comedian, radio host and television writer Greg Fitzsimmons has written a memoir, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox. We've had many chances to enjoy the talents of Fitzsimmons over the past 20 years, whether it was his standup, his writing for "The Man Show," "Lucky Louie," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," his radio show on Howard Stern's Sirius Satellite Radio (on Howard 101) or his bi-weekly podcasts, he's now provided a tremendous amount of insight on how he came to be a comedian and the perseverance, against many odds, to be successful at it.The story of how this book came to be is remarkable in itself. The title of the book, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons, refers to the very real origins of the source material for the memoir. Fitzsimmons' mother had literally saved every piece of correspondence between Greg's teachers and school administrators, and virtually every photograph, press clipping and assorted detritus that is associated with one's passing through life and it was this treasure trove that Fitzsimmons mined in the creation of this book. This material combined with additional papers from Fitzsimmons records as well as a bundle of letters discovered in the desk of his deceased father, the well-known New York radio and television host Bob Fitzsimmons, back up and illustrate every anecdote and point that Fitzsimmons makes in his book. We wondered as we read this book, whether or not this could be one of the last books where such examples could be included as we are rapidly moving to a world where virtually all correspondence is taking place electronically and if the value of an email from a teacher is any less than a physical note angrily scribbled or hammered out on a typewritten form, in triplicate.

When Fitzsimmons says that he habitually "challenged authority figures" he has the disciplinary notices to prove it. For example, an 8th grade teacher at his school by the name of Dewey Ekdahl sent Mrs. Fitzsimmons an incident description complaining about his name being mocked by Greg in the halls of the school, i.e. "The grass looked very Dewey this morning", "Dewey have any homework?" and "Are we going to learn the Dewey Decimal System?" There are countless such hilarious documents, photo-printed into the text throughout the book.

Fitzsimmon's descriptions of growing up in Tarrytown, a suburb of New York City, during the 1970s seemed like a wild time as the entire country explored the depths of excessive alcohol, drug, and sexual consumption. Fitzsimmons does discuss his Irish heritage quite a bit, perhaps even making a connection between his alcoholism and the Irish stereotype but from what can be determined from his stories is that everybody was drunk. This doesn't diminish Fitzsimmons difficult decision to stop drinking in his early 20s, a time when most young American adults and their friends are still in "party mode" and as a result, he received very little support or understanding from anybody, including his parents.

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As you might be able to tell, this story of the comedian's journey is not always comical but it doesn't descend into self-pitying navel gazing either. Yes, tragic events did occur in his life, as it happens to everyone, but Fitzsimmons' drive to be productive and successful, to constantly be creating, to entertain audiences and to create his own identifiable brand of comedy seemed to be his mechanism to survive the premature death of his father, at the young age of 53, as well as the deaths of friends and family from substance abuse and suicide. His ability to move on with his life doesn't diminish the poignancy of his correspondence with his father and his family, with pages of letters that are incredibly moving. Interestingly, Fitzsimmons includes these many letters and notes but he doesn't call up specific passages within his own writing - he lets these documents speak for themselves and they do just fine on their own, thank you.

The book is not only a review of Fitzsimmons' personal growth, it also puts the evolution of comedy from the late 1980s to the present into context. Greg's inside view of the Boston comedy scene, the most competitive venue in the country for comedy in the late 1980s, is very enlightening. Every TV network and film studio that currently produces comedy in the United States has employed talent from that era, whether as on-screen personalities, or as writers, directors, and producers.

From playing on softball teams with David Cross, Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K. in the Boston scene, Fitzsimmons journeyed to New York to get on the comedy circuit that was then ruled by the likes of Dave Chappelle and Dave Attell. Let's be clear that Fitzsimmons is only putting his personal experiences into the context of the times. He's not interested in name-dropping or relating pithy stories like splitting a box of donuts with Louis C.K. - he was there, his name was on the marquee and he felt privileged to learn from contemporaries that he admired and respected.

Fitzsimmons' work ethic got him noticed and made him successful. From hosting the MTV show "Idiot Savants," to getting picked up by Howard Stern, to winning four daytime Emmys, his perseverance paid off but it isn't something that he gloats about as he is able to find fault in himself but this isn't Irish Catholic guilt we are talking about. Particularly after his work brought him to Los Angeles, Fitzsimmons recognizes that the rage that has fueled a lot of his comedy can also cause him problems in other areas. After becoming a father, some incidents of his own road rage (always told with humorous details) prompt him to pursue therapy.

Becoming a parent was an obvious watershed moment for Fitzsimmons. In relating his relationship with his own two children, Fitzsimmons brings his book full circle, even printing a couple notes from their teachers outlining their anti-authoritarian behavior. The saying: "Chip, meet block" immediately came to mind when reading those notes. Genetics is a powerful thing.

This is a great book for many audiences: If you are Irish or know or love anyone of Hibernian extraction, this book is a no-brainer. Of course there's the Howard Stern crowd, always eager to gain any additional knowledge about the comedians and personalities the King of All Media has supported but this is well worth the the read for the average comedy fan, not even requiring a preference for the Boston, New York, or LA entertainment hubs. But on an even more fundamental level, this is a must-read for anyone who has struggled with authority or who has witnessed that struggle as a friend or family member. While Fitzsimmons does have a philosophy for life, it's neither preachy nor treacly, rather it's both evocative and entertaining.

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Greg Fitzsimmons invites you to share your own disciplinary notes and tales via www.DearMrsFitzsimmons.com - there are already some great reader-submitted posts up there to check out.

Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox is availableat Amazon and most fine book purveyors, including Book Soup where it is on the Top Ten list. Watch for our video interview with Greg Fitzsimmons coming here in the next week. To learn more about Greg Fitzsimmons, visit his website, listen to his show on Howard 101, and listen to his podcasts.