Colorado comedian Sam Tallent offers stand-up the literary therapy
AURORA | Billy Ray Schafer is unlucky. Schafer, an aging stand-up comedian, used to have a chance at fame but long ago burned his chance for fame along with the goodwill of many people. Schafer is divorced, estranged from his ex-wife and children, and is fighting a violent cocaine addiction. He’s on a stand-up tour of the American Southwest, selling his jokes to confused crowds across Colorado for an envelope with cash and free liquor.
Schafer is the hard-to-love protagonist of the debut novel by Colorado comedian Sam Tallent Let the light runwhich he himself published in the pandemic. It’s not a real story, but it could be: All of the gigs described in the Tallent book say he performed at least once.
The chaotic world of getting up has received a lot of attention in memoirs and autobiographies, but has rarely been treated in literary terms. “Someone’s Self-Published Novel in Another Art Form” doesn’t have the ring of literary genius, but Tallent defies expectations there. (Denver Post Critic John Wenzel called it “surprisingly good”.) What could only be another Fear of revulsion in Las Vegas Knockoff is a touching novel that doesn’t shy away from the mistakes or the bleak future of its protagonist.
“I like very high stakes with very little reward,” Tallent said of his spelling.
The book accompanies Schafer for seven days on his journey through the small and large cities of Colorado. Schäfer doesn’t make much sense other than where to get his next score of cocaine, but he’s still drawn to reconnecting with family and friends along the way for mixed results.
Centennial State plays a big role in the book, almost as present as Schäfer himself. Tallent said the book is as much a love letter to Colorado as getting up. He started writing it when he was living in Las Vegas with his wife, who was studying medicine there. As a born and raised Coloradan who described Vegas as “an empty, desolate place with no culture,” the story grew partly out of homesickness.
While there, he wrote thousands of words and let Schafer’s story develop organically with no end point in mind. The book’s final destination won’t surprise readers, but you have to pick it up to find out.
Let the light run is a kind of odyssey. Schafer is “a man of twists” who channels the muse of comedy but drives most of the other parts of his life. Separated from his family, he travels from place to place and experiences adventures that range from bizarre to life-threatening. Even in the comedy scene, he’s a man without time and stands still while the world turns around him (at some point he asks a young comedian what a podcast is).
“I regard this book as a cautionary story,” said Tallent. Schafer is “the guy I don’t want to turn into”.
Although he wouldn’t want his life, Tallent said he had a lot of fun writing Schafer.
“I like books about broken men driving around in pickups drinking whiskey,” he said. He cited Denis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy as his greatest literary inspirations, as well as comedian Norm MacDonald (who along with several others from the real world makes a cameo in the book).
It was a disappointment not being able to tour the book, but Tallent said the book he sells on his website samtallent.com exceeded all expectations. He wonders if the lack of real comedy during the pandemic has boosted sales.
“Maybe it was like morphine to the heroin addict who missed the live wake up,” he joked.