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Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?

Whenever anyone asked me what I was reading when I had this book with me, I would say “cripple jokes” and that always set the discussion off on the right foot. Callahan is a quadriplegic cartoonist and is syndicated in many major newspapers. He is also controversial because he talks about what he knows, living with quadriplegia, and how society treats the disabled generally. While I wouldn’t say he is an activist per se -- sometimes he just seems to have his mind in the gutter -- his cartoons make you think, even if it’s only thinking “wow, that joke isn’t funny.” or “that joke is totally disgusting.” and then thinking about why it is that maybe you think that.

Included in this book of cartoons are stories about the cartoons and about himself. Callahan waxes poetic about how he used to be able to get laid much more before he turned 40. Callahan talks about meeting Bob Dylan and Robin Williams who had optioned his story to do a movie. He includes some of his more controversy-inspiring cartoons such as the one with the 13 year old Martin Luther King standing shamefully in pj’s in front of his mother, a small puddle in his bed, saying “I had a dream.” Personally I thought it was funny, many many people didn’t. Callahan includes a lot of letters to the various papers that run his comics reacting and responding, often angrily, at his sense of humor. If he or the papers respond to those letters, he does not print the responses. A point the book makes is that other disabled people often seems to find his jokes funnier (he uses the example of the church choir singing “you’ll never walk alone” loudly next door to the Home for the Paralyzed) than the able-bodied people who write in terribly offended. Callahan does seem to be an equal opportunity offender, he makes fun of the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly, women, men, the pope, his attendant, the government etc. I don’t think everything he does is hilarious, certainly, but enjoyed the chance to see mor of his work and hear more about the man behind the comics.