Q&A: Jack Handey on his new novel 'The Stench of Honolulu'

A nationally known comic writer has a new book out, set in Honolulu. But wait, this isn’t the Honolulu we know.
For more information, and to buy The Stench of Honolulu, visit deepthoughtsbyjackhandey.com.

Remember Jack Handey? Maybe you’ve encountered his Deep Thoughts, such as: “If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is ‘God is crying.’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is ‘Probably because of something you did.’” Or maybe you’ve seen Saturday Night Live sketches he’s written, like “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” and “Toonces the Driving Cat.”

The comic writer is back with his first novel, The Stench of Honolulu. The story follows the Hawaii adventures of its narrator, the same wistful sociopath who thinks up those Deep Thoughts, and who goes only by his self-given nickname, Mister Slurps.

A travel guide this is not: The Honolulu in the book is almost completely different from the real thing. With his extremely patient friend, Don, Mister Slurps boats through the deep, dangerous pirate- and philanthropist-infested jungle of Honolulu to the erupting Mount Regina volcano in search of an elusive golden monkey. It’s silly. We wrote Handey to find out more.

James Cave: Why the jump from Deep Thoughts and sketch comedy to novel writing?
Jack Handey: I basically have one character—the Deep Thoughts character. I wanted to do the novel to see what the Deep Thoughts character would do out in the field, what kind of destruction he would cause. I thought about him and his friend Don going on a vacation to Hawaii. But there didn’t seem to be enough danger. So I sent them on a treasure hunt. But to provide the danger, I had to create a more ominous, scary Hawaii. Some writers like to give a fake name to a familiar country. In The Stench of Honolulu I did the opposite—kept the real name but made up the reality.

JC: How much research went into writing The Stench of Honolulu?
JH: Little to none. Most of my knowledge of Hawaii is probably incidental.

JC: we have to ask: Why us?!
JH: It’s your turn.

JC: Have you ever been out here?
JH: Yes. Back in the early 1980s. My wife and I went with another couple to Kaua‘i. We rented a fancy house right on the beach at Hanalei Bay. Beautiful setting, amazing snorkeling. Then, as we started opening food to prepare dinner, huge cockroaches started coming out from everywhere! It was like a horror movie. The real estate agent moved us to an even fancier place just down the road. Other than the cockroach incident, we had a great time.

JC: How long did the book take you to write?
JH: I think 3 to 4 years.

JC: How does it feel that it will take people a lot less time than that to read?
JH: Yes, what can you do? Jokes take a long time to come up with. Woody Allen once said that writers will do anything to avoid writing good jokes, because it’s so hard—they’ll create odd characters or weird plot twists, etc. I am always amused and annoyed at reviews of humor books on Amazon.com, where readers complain that they didn’t get enough pounds of comedy for their $3.99.

JC: Some of Mister Slurps’s misadventures take him through places in the fictional Honolulu that actually ring closer to the truth than a tourist might assume. He encounters prostitutes, an Appliance City. The rich and sparkling city of Diarroa could be similar to [insert WASPy Honolulu suburb here]; bums get used as dart targets. Did you know that some of these inventions might sneak in as bitter truths to locals?
JH: No. Any satire is purely accidental.

JC: Do you have anything that you might like to say to the real people of Honolulu?
JH: I hope people in Hawaii and Honolulu are not offended by the book. For me, the best humor plays off of mythical archetypes—the cowboy, the outer-space alien, the James Bond spy. Hawaii is a mythical place.

James Cave is the co-founder of TheOffsetter.com. This interview was excerpted from a longer version on that site.