YOU may know him from the US version of The Office, or from films such as Saving Mr Banks and Inglourious Basterds.
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ASSEMBLY, GEORGE SQUARE
But did you know that BJ Novak has a degree in English from Harvard, that he was one of the writers of The Office, and that he’s published an anthology of short stories entitled One More Thing?
He also directs, produces, and does stand-up. It’s a wonder how he found time to come to Edinburgh – but how delightful for us that he did.
Novak is amiable and adorable and his audience excitable. Luckily his first story, about a rematch between the tortoise and the hare, made famous by Aesop, is the weakest of the evening, because the crowd nervously bellowed laughter at every full stop.
Yet once everyone settled into the rhythm of the evening, Novak’s witty work began to glow and his skills at mimicry came to the fore. (He makes a very convincing airheaded girl out on a first date with a war lord.)
Between stories he’s friendly and while there are no deep personal revelations, he conveys approachability nonetheless.
His prose is reminiscent of Simon Rich (who made Novak a character in one of his pieces) and also David Sedaris. Their satire works because it depicts recognisable human emotions, albeit set against backdrops that are just a bit surreal.
While the stories – some, a la Lydia Davis, are one or two lines long – are airy and bright, seeming to skim lightly over a glittery surface like skaters on ice, they make an impact by shining a light on humanity’s foibles. Undoubtedly they are fun to read in the privacy of your home, but if you have a chance to hear Novak bring them to life during this short visit, you should grab it.