The Guy Who Never Grew Up
An Interview with Steve White
by Joyce Dixon
There's a lot to be said for not growing up. I'm not talking about the Peter Pan Syndrome, because Steve White has dealt with life's tragedies in a very grown up fashion. What I am talking about is hanging on to boyish charm, creative spirit, fearlessness, and a sense of fun. Steve White takes the most mundane items and turns them into moments of hilarity. His memoir Family Vacations & Other Hazards of Growing Up is "Leave it to Beaver" meets "The Wonder Years".
Steve White splits his times between advertising and writing projects. He is an independent contractor, who has built quite a reputation. His advertising campaigns for Pro Skate Shop, Pratt Corporation, the Indiana State Fair, Hoosier Lottery and FUZE Design have won Addy Awards. His own site FamilyV.com won a Gold Addy Award and the Judges' Award.
He has also done successful campaigns for philanthropic organizations. White created a record-setting United Way television/radio campaign, which raised $32,000,000 ($250K over goal). His print campaign for the Governor's Council on Drunk Driving was awarded the Citation of Excellence. Literacy is an important issue for him. He has been a literacy volunteer, and while on his book tour, encourages others to become involved.
Steve White was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and lived a time in Memphis, before his family settled in Kansas City, Missouri when he was six. Steve was lucky to have parents who encouraged creativity and nonsense. Being allowed to let his imagination flow, with the drive of his late wife Jennifer, has made Steve White a writer to watch.
You seem to find humor in every situation. I have never laughed so hard reading the copyright/legal page of a book. Is it hard for you to be serious, or do you naturally see everything from the funny side?
-- First, thanks for laughing at the copyright page. I put that stuff there as a little reward for folks who venture so close to what is usually boredom. Yes, I try to find the humor in life where possible. Even dark humor -- I sometimes call myself a widower just to see how people react. It's kind of hard for them to laugh, because they're really laughing at me, at my situation. But I try to show them that I can have a sense of humor about it, too, as tragic as it is. And widower is such an old term, it's kind of lost in modern language. No, it's not hard for me to be serious when I need to be. But again, I do try to find a smile where I can.
In your book, it is clear that your sense of humor is a trait from your mother. Besides plastic ants in the food, what did she do to set you on this twisted course?
Ha, yeah, I get a lot of humor from my mom. My dad can be funny, too, but my
mom has the Goof License. It's really fun to watch her (and join her) in
messing with really serious people. Her sister, my Aunt Connie who is also
in the book, in the story about where my mom asks her "Does he have hair
under his arms yet?" -- my Aunt Connie is the type of person who always
blushes at these types of questions. They're not even about her, but they
make her blush, so it's just a lot of fun to watch that or simply watch her
wheels turn (and spin) as she tries to decipher whatever practical joke
we're playing. It's also fun because I see a lot of my dear grandmother in
Connie's expressions of "Ohhh -- you guys!" -- my grandmother is also in
the book's dedication along with my wife.
Like "Can you please describe the ring tone? What kind of buttons are on the phone?" We had her going on that for like three minutes before she realized we were just being REALLY obnoxious. Turns out the phone was in her purse the whole time, which made it all the more uproarious.
On that note, Deb was married [to my mom's and Aunt Connie's brother],
Denny, for nearly 20 years. Besides being close to them from the family
connection, Deb and Denny both also have a wacky, witty sense of humor which
fortunately has also been inherited (indoctrinated would be closer to the
truth in my family) by their two kids. Denny is the kind of person who can
walk into a room and make you laugh just by looking at you.
My screenplays are features. Only one is a comedy, and a dark one at that.
The other two have some comedic moments, but one is a suspense sci-fi and
the other is a historical drama. Yeah, I'm all over the place with my
scripts, but I like those other genres, too. I haven't written any sitcoms.
Nope, with one exception: I did co-write and act in a couple of comedic
shorts about 15 years ago. One was a Monty Python-esque thing; the other was
an Entertainment Tonight kind of send-up. I'm sure they were funny, but only
to my friends and I who put them together! But when I speak on my book, I
try to throw in some humor, even outside of the reading.
Jen was and is my inspiration, along with a few other close people in my
life. She was my sounding board. When I finished an essay -- and I wrote the
book an essay at a time, in one essay per sitting -- I'd always have her
read it. She'd say, ehh, this doesn't work for me, or this, this is good,
etc. Sometimes she would also hear me working. I might be giggling in my
office at some story, and she'd go, "Working on your book again? Hurry, I
want to read what your writing!"
Laughter is definitely a great tool for grief;
I think the words healing force for grief fit better in my situation
because both laughter and love have allowed me to continue with my life. I
know that for me -- and this might sound corny but it is just how I feel --
my goal in life is to make other people smile. I feel that is why I was put
on this Earth. The more people I make smile, the closer I feel to my wife
and to my Creator and to my fellow man/woman. Think about it; when you're
having fun, time passes quickly. When you're angry, upset, depressed, the
clock does not move. The faster time moves for me, the more fun I can have,
the sooner I will be with Jen again. Sometimes I feel selfish (I even feel
selfish giving you my outlook on this) because it's so much fun to make
people smile, and if it's so much fun, how can it be good? Well, I just know
it must be good to try and brighten someone's day.
Thanks, that is also
among my favorite essays in the book. I wondered about the Catholic humor
thing, it isn't new, but I decided if I can put my own twist on it, it can
still be fun. I think everyone can relate to going to church or religious
training as a kid and at some point NOT wanting to be there, so I don't know
that it's so much a Catholic humor thing as a religious humor thing...people
remember the revivals, the Sunday School, the temple, bar-mitzvahs, whatever
the religion, organized religion can be overbearing at times -- especially
when you're a kid. And everyone knows someone Catholic with crazy stories,
or perhaps has been to a Catholic wedding or funeral wherein the
non-Catholics try to follow along with the sit-stand-kneel gig.
My mom's side of the
family gets together en masse at Thanksgiving, and has since before I was
born. Today, that makes for about 40 or 50 people. Family reunions are a lot
of fun. There is a lot of silliness that goes on; for instance, the past few
years have seen dinner-roll vandalism. That is, one of my cousins (and this
40-year-old could have easily written Chapter 5 -- How to be Annoying) buys
about a hundred extra rolls and surreptitiously decorates the home of
whoever is hosting TG that year -- with the rolls. They find rolls for
months afterward. He's going to have to find a new gig, though; people are
onto him. He also has two teens who are witness to this activity, but I
haven't seen any mischief from them yet. My sister's kids, though, yes, I
think they will make fine jokesters if not actual entertainers. The
five-year-old, Savannah, insists on performing song and dance numbers at any
family and/or public gathering. I think she was in vaudeville in a previous
On your book tour, you are promoting literacy volunteerism. How did this become a cause for you? What has the reception been so far?
I've been doing
literacy work for about five years now. As a writer, I cannot imagine what
my world would be like if I couldn't read. We live in a written-word world.
For those who are functionally illiterate, life is a series of compromises.
You become totally dependent on luck, survival skills and the kindness of
strangers, who aren't always that. The closest comparison I can come to is
remembering bits of your Spanish or French language you took in high school
-- and then living in a world where all you see are those few words you can
recognize. You know those few words, MAYBE, but what about the rest?
I come from a wacky
family, even besides my mom, but outside of that...I grew up reading Lewis
Grizzard. I thought he was pretty funny. His articles were the ones my mom
used to rip out of the paper and save for me. Jean Shepherd is another
writer who inspired me...I didn't read his books until after I had written
mine, but he wrote the movie "A Christmas Story" which always enthralled me
and still does. I named characters in the book after Grizzard and Shepherd
and also mentioned them on the acknowledgments page. Gary Larson (creator of
The Far Side cartoon) was also an influence; My mom always had his cartoons
on our fridge and of course all his books. I also thank a few of my high
school English teachers in the book. Mrs. Berryman and Mrs. Page-Edwards
both encouraged me to write, though I certainly wasn't awake enough at the
time to realize it.
Selected Sites for Steve White
Laubach Literacy - Be a Literacy Volunteer this summer!
The more I read from Steve White about his late wife Jennifer, I realized that she was a muse that visited our world to inspire those she touched with her enthusiasm and motivational drive. She was a force behind Steve, and she continues to touch others with her business sense. Her book Work Less, Make More continues to inspire readers to find a balance of work and quality of life.
© 2003, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved