Colin Jost has been a writer for “Saturday Night Live” since 2005 and co-anchor for the variety show’s “Weekend Update” since 2014. Most recently, Jost has also become an author. His memoir “A Very Punchable Face,” released July 14, is composed of essays on formative — and, of course, humorous — life experiences.
The memoir is understandably about Jost, but he goes about his centrality very carefully. In the introduction, he speaks on his heritage and comically points out that “it’s never a good sign when your German side is the less repressed one.”
The truth of the matter is that Jost is white, male and of affluent upbringing. As a person of privilege, he inherently stands apart from many disadvantaged groups, and lays this out point-blank. Jost writes of himself, but also knows his place. This recognition is valuable in connecting with readers who may be skeptical of his awareness.
The essays that follow range from more ordinary events (“I Apply To Every TV Show in America”) to quite ridiculous ones (“Okay, so Maybe I’ve Shit My Pants a Couple Times”). All the way through is a thread of self-deprecation. At some points, it’s lightly sprinkled. At others, it’s straight-up dumped.
An example of the latter is Jost’s inclusion of less-than-fantastic reviews he received when starting out on “Weekend Update.” One comment, per USA Today, is particularly glowing. It reads: “I rarely use the word ‘hate’ and I rarely put words in boldface and underline them and italicize them, but I hate Colin Jost.”
Jost puts this forward shamelessly and discusses how motivation came of it. “You get punched and it snaps you into focus,” he says.
Another central thread in the memoir is gratitude. For instance, Jost explains that he wasn’t able to speak as a 4-year-old until his speech therapist was able to “put voice into” him. He also acknowledges his mother in “Why I Love My Mom,” which touches on her supportive qualities and role in 9/11 as a chief medical officer.
Jost’s willingness to frequently acknowledge the role others play in his life endears him to the reader and adds a sense of humility — a less-than-punchable quality.
Current sociopolitical movements are raising a lot of questions about speech: Who should speak? What should they say? How should it be spoken? As these calls for change make clear, it’s increasingly important to amplify voices that have a history of silence, through both written and spoken art forms.
In light of this, Jost takes up space thoughtfully. “A Very Punchable Face” models the well-rounded perspective one should adopt if they are of privilege and unsure of how to contribute to a climate of social progress. Jost’s memoir commendably attempts to make such a consideration the norm.
Moreover, Jost employs comedy skillfully. He’s capable of not taking himself seriously, lending admirable space to his shortcomings while still offering a personal narrative that is quite the success story.
His humor is also able to communicate very real sentiment, whether it be through the inclusion of embarrassing details or perhaps aggressive caps lock — such as the moment in “Top Banana,” in which he reflects on a “strange cycle of guilty” he experienced, then follows with “HAVE I MENTIONED I WAS RAISED CATHOLIC?”
A flaw, however, is that the book departs from memoir on occasion. One such occurrence is the essay “SNL Sketchbook,” wherein Jost recounts dozens of his sketches. He includes interesting, entertaining details on the sketches’ production and what he enjoyed about the process. But this content reads more like a career summary than memoir — particularly because the blurbs are numerous and have a much less personal effect.
Nonetheless, readers will find Jost more likable on the last page than they did on the first. “A Very Punchable Face” is a unique memoir in that it’s centered around an individual very enmeshed in the fabric of American comedy and, in part, American politics. He uses his persona as a platform to ally with valuable ideas.
Jost is still the guy you see on the cover. “A Very Punchable Face” does not change him into someone else. But the awareness in his writing, of both politics and himself, coupled with his absurd, intelligent wit, will make you want to punch that clean-cut face a little less.
Contact Kathryn Kemp at [email protected].