Baran-Unland: Let’s start with “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories,” which introduced me to your writing. What inspired that book?
Garner: I wrote the first few stories in that book to read at a cabaret show I was hosting in Chicago. It was a waitress at the club who gave me the notion to try to sell a book of them.
It was inspired by news accounts of my alma mater (Univ of Michigan) instituting a speech code, though I don’t remember in what situations. Also, The New Republic printed a story of PC efforts in certain kindergartens, like talking through Cinderella’s life choices with the kids to see if she wouldn’t be more fulfilled as a high-powered executive.
I just started thinking to myself, "Can you write a bedtime story that doesn’t offend anybody at all, and how funny could you make the verbal gymnastics?" This article’s concepts were very tame by today’s standards.
Baran-Unland: Is it still relevant today?
Garner: I think PC is still relevant, though the word has been weaponized by the right wing, so that any effort at all to include marginalized people or listen to their feelings is branded PC, and therefore ludicrous and civilization-threatening.
This was even going on to some extent in the mid-90s when I wrote the book. If someone came up to me and said, “You know, this isn’t PC to say, but...” I braced myself for some bigoted nonsense. It never failed.
Baran-Unland: Which came first, your love for comedy or writing?
Garner: They always existed together, but it wasn’t until I gave up trying to write “serious” fiction and embraced my humorous side that I felt good about any of my efforts. This was in my 20s, when I took improv classes and started performing with other comedians in bars.
Of course, I loved funny things from my earliest years — MAD Magazine, the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges — probably because my house was always so silent.
Baran-Unland: How did your love for satire develop?
Garner: Undoubtedly when I discovered the National Lampoon at the age of 13. The fact that the magazine appalled my mother made it even more irresistible.