Gary Shteyngart is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed literary novelists of his generation — but he isn’t just that. The New Yorker “20 Under 40” list author is also New York literary society’s most beloved clown, the dark comic undertones of his novels extending into his public persona. Over the years, he’s exaggerated the excesses of his own personality to create for himself a bumbling, lecherous nebbish character who can’t even speak (much less read) English.
It was that character who hobbled onto the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night, conspicuously overdressed in a black suit with a bow tie, for a Friars Club-style roast to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Shteyngart’s debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. Joined by host John Wesley Harding, his roasters included fellow authors Sloane Crosley, Kurt Andersen, and Edmund White, along with New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman. Although, at under an hour, the program felt a bit too brief and — as Harding suggested at several moments — the ribbing was often too gentle, Shteyngart’s colleagues still managed to get in a few entertaining jokes. We’ve collected the best disses below, with apologies for excluding White’s, which were excellent but which we just couldn’t manage to transcribe because he was reading them very quickly from prepared notes.
Before Gary Shteyngart, “who kept the polyester shirt industry in business? Who harassed the cute young staffers at Barnes & Noble?” — John Wesley Harding
“Later, we’ll be selling rare, unsigned copies of Gary’s work.” — Harding
On Shteyngart’s love of dachshunds: “Like dachshunds, he was originally bred to flush badgers out of their underground lairs.” — Kurt Andersen
“His nipples are like buttons on a fur coat.” — Sloane Crosley
On Shteyngart’s employer: “You describe Columbia as Ivy League: really?” — Andersen
“Gary Shteyngart may be a James Franco performance art piece.” — Andersen
“You are so famous that you are known only by one name — and it’s not ‘Gary.’ It’s ‘hack.'” — Crosley
“I used to think the best description of writers is that they’re shy megalomaniacs. Gary taught me that you don’t need to be shy.” — Andersen
“I’ll just repeat what Gary’s father said at his wedding, when I asked him if he liked Gary’s books. He said, ‘Uh, I like the first one.'” — Deborah Treisman
Photo credits: Beowulf Sheehan