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WeHo Book Fair Part II: Cracking Up: Women on the Verge of Laughter

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I made my way to the yellow covered tents at the far end of the WeHo Book Fair fifteen minutes early, for the panel that had made me cream when I read about it. Moderated by Hilary Carlip, “Cracking Up: Women on the Verge of Laughter” was a discussion with five female writers whose work ostensibly falls under the heading “comedy”: Beth Lapides, Cathryn Michon, Meghan Daum, and Erika Schickel.

I’ll be frank – sitting in the audience for that panel made me feel like a complete stalker. When I’m trying to ignore my to-do list at work, I read the work of writers that I admire. They’re usually women, and since I live in L.A., I sometimes try to figure out the who’s who of people that I like to read locally. This habit meant that I was able to identify two of the five panelists on sight, well before they sat down in front of their paper nameplates.

As I slumped down in my chair, Carlip let us know that we were going to get a thank you for being there rather than at the neighboring panels with Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold or sex expert Midori -- we were going to play Bingo. Whoever won would get a prize, one of which each of the authors had brought.

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After introductions and mentions of their published books both past and present, the panelists began discussing what it means to be labeled a comedic writer, what it means to be funny, and of course, what it means to be a funny woman versus a funny man.

Cathryn Michon and Beth Lapides stayed mostly in comedienne mode, breaking to make serious comments about performing comedy versus writing comedy. Meghan Daum looked a little dazed, or like a writer-deep-in-thought at the beginning, but wound up being possibly the funniest one there. Hilary Carlip stayed on track, maintaining her quirky persona. And Erika Schickel once or twice let on that she didn’t think she belonged on a panel with comedy writers, but backed up quickly each time by immediately self-deprecating.

Following the panel, all the authors were signing books at a nearby booth. It was also where Bingo winners selected their prizes. As I hovered there awkwardly, wondering if I should approach anyone or just go home, confusion about something ensued in front of me. I finally realized that I was standing behind two women who were arguing over who, as their prize, would get to take home Meghan Daum’s fan mail. Why I did not leave at that moment, I may never know.

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Instead, I went and introduced myself to Hillary Carlip to tell her I enjoyed the panel, then headed over to Erika Schickel, feeling very uncomfortable. The book signer/signee interaction has always seemed painfully awkward to me -- knowing way more about someone than they do about you creates that separate and unequal dynamic, and then you ask them to write their name down for you to take home. I've never been good at it.

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With that in the back of my mind, once in front of Erika, I immediately hit my head on the cardboard sign that hung above the table where all the authors sat.

Schickel was friendly but cool, and jumped on the chance to let me know that my favorite article of hers was in the book she was selling. I stuttered a few more compliments, and finally decided to just buy a book and be done with it.

Rather than cut my losses and leave, though, I took my new book and went over to talk to Meghan Daum. I promptly hit my head on the cardboard sign again.

“This is the most awkward thing in the world,” I said, holding the sign out of the way with my hand.

“There are more awkward things,” said Meghan. I’m not sure whether she thought I was talking about the sign, or about my meeting her, but either way it had certainly just become the most awkward thing in the world. Daum politely made small talk before I finally asked if I could buy her book too.

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So, I now have signed copies of both Erika Schickel’s book, You’re Not the Boss of Me, and Megham Daum’s book, My Misspent Youth. I started reading them both and I must say, they really are funny.

The literary world finds a natural home in Los Angeles, where story-telling is the city's lifeblood. I’m looking forward to next year’s WeHo Book Fair, although next time I may try to get there on time, and will probably skip the signing.

Photos by Jessica for LAist