My brother, David Heti, is a stand-up comic. He is five and a half years younger than me, so he’s in his mid-thirties now, and for the past five years or so—ever since he quit being a lawyer (which lasted one unhappy year)—he has been on the road, or at least without a home. He teaches a class in comedy writing and theory at McGill University, once or twice a year. Mostly he lives between Montreal, Toronto and New York.
David studied philosophy in school, and has always been drawn to the comedic—Monty Python, Gary Larson, Woody Allen (our dad is a huge fan). The door to his childhood bedroom was papered in Garbage Pail Kids stickers. I am drawn to the comedic, too, but more in literature than comedy (I write novels).
We talked as we sat on my bed in Toronto while he was in town for Passover. A few follow-up exchanges were added later.
Sheila Heti: If a person looks at the books you own, they’re either books of philosophy or books of self-help. So where does comedy fit in, for you, between the books of self-help, like Feeling Good, which is about trying to make yourself feel happy, and the books of philosophy, which are mainly works of existentialism—Camus and Sartre?
David Heti: I think for me, the comedic impulse comes from the same place as the philosophical one. They’re both in response to something more fundamental, which is a sense of the absurd, or disquietude, or a feeling that something is off or is not as it should be or as you want it to be.