What’s So Fun­ny?: A Car­toon­ist’s Memoir

  • Review
By – July 11, 2022

The New York­er car­toon­ist David Sipress endeav­ors to answer that oft-asked ques­tion of how a car­toon­ist gets his ideas in his mem­oir What’s So Fun­ny?; he mas­ter­ful­ly accom­plish­es this by show­cas­ing a sam­pling of his car­toons and their back­sto­ries in this enter­tain­ing, poignant, and some­times painful book.

David grows up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s with his father who is the proud own­er of the pres­ti­gious Revere Jew­el­ers, his migraine prone moth­er, and his moody, mean-spir­it­ed sis­ter, Lin­da. They chal­lenge his sense of self and shape his views. Sipress finds solace in his draw­ings dur­ing his child­hood. He delights in his innate tal­ent and knows instinc­tive­ly he will one day be a cartoonist.

Sipress’s fea­tured car­toons res­onate with insight and wry humor and the images com­ple­ment his pow­er­ful sto­ry­telling. In a straight­for­ward and engag­ing man­ner, he relates his ten­der and dis­tress­ing mem­o­ries with tru­ly laugh out loud repartee.

The author relates sto­ries of his father’s con­stant lessons, and how he divest­ed him­self of his immi­grant sta­tus to forge a new life. His moth­er, once an inde­pen­dent woman, now lives only to serve her hus­band and seems to be in a state of con­stant wor­ry and angst. His sis­ter antag­o­nizes and bul­lies him. It is a house of secrets, rules, and taboo sub­jects. Laugh and cry through the nar­ra­tives of toys going out the win­dow, absurd Safe­ty Songs,” The JFK assas­si­na­tion, a Har­ry Bela­fonte birth­day par­ty, deal­ing with elder­ly par­ents and a chal­leng­ing sis­ter, and so much more.

His life expe­ri­ences push David to find his own ways to per­se­vere and rebel, but also give him inspi­ra­tion for his draw­ings. David aces the Hunter Col­lege Ele­men­tary School admis­sions exam, grad­u­ates from Williams Col­lege, and attends Har­vard as a Russ­ian Schol­ar. Yet he seeks inde­pen­dence and attempts to dis­tance him­self from his dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly in order to suc­ceed and real­ize his ambi­tions. Sipress drops out of Har­vard to the great dis­may of his par­ents, and pur­sues his car­toon­ing, strug­gling in his field for years before get­ting his first New York­er car­toon pub­lished. He achieves suc­cess, but too late to pla­cate his doubt­ing father.

What’s So Fun­ny? is an hon­est and enjoy­able read by a brainy, often self-dep­re­cat­ing, author. Sipress dis­cuss­es over­com­ing his anx­i­eties, calm­ing his men­tal fluc­tu­a­tions,” and let­ting the read­er into his artist’s mind by dis­clos­ing how the insights gleaned from his life find their way into his per­cep­tive car­toons. He uses car­toon­ing to tem­per and clar­i­fy the trag­ic and bizarre events of his life and every­one else’s lives. As Sipress says, when he cre­ates the per­fect car­toon and cap­tion, he expe­ri­ences an Intense phys­i­cal plea­sure that feels like pure joy.”

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

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