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Ames, Jonathan (b. 1964)  
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Ames's reputation as a significant comic writer was cemented by the publication of What's Not to Love, the collection of his columns in The New York Press. Described by Ames as a "comic autobiography" and as "exaggerated nonfiction," the book is extraordinary for its frank honesty as well as its hilarity.

Ames has the ability to make comedy out of what in lesser writers would be merely embarrassing. His frankness about such topics as his masturbatory habits, his adventures with enemas, his breast fixation, his obsession with germs, and his self-consciousness about his receding hairline is disarming.

Some of his comic essays cross the bounds of what might be considered good taste, but they never cease to amuse or hit a truthful sort of poignancy, even if they leave the reader in slacked-jawed disbelief. Ames says, "I might be a little more disturbed than normal. But I'm not sure I qualify as a pervert. I do act on more things than the average person. That's my problem."

One of Ames's most telling essays is entitled "Breasts and Transhistories." In this piece, he segues from a confession of his obsession with breasts to a story about his being asked to write a blurb for a transsexual's memoir (Aleisha Brevard's The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey). Ames's description of "transhistories," as he describes the genre of transsexual memoirs, is acutely observed and generous in spirit.

Ames's third novel, Wake Up Sir! (2004), is a gentle parody of P. G. Wodehouse's Wooster and Jeeves novels, interwoven with the obsessions that are Ames's signature as a writer. As in The Extra Man, the young protagonist's most fulfilling emotional relationship is with an older man.

Alan Blair, the narrator of Wake Up Sir!, is dependent on the calming emotional presence of his valet, Jeeves, whom he is able to hire after winning a sizable settlement when he slipped on the sidewalks of New York. Jeeves counsels him through his picaresque adventures in Montclair, New Jersey, a Hasidic enclave in Sharon Springs, New York, and, finally, at a writer's colony in Saratoga Springs.

The novel begins shortly before Blair's aunt and uncle evict him from their home in Montclair when they discover he has fallen off the wagon. A man beats him up in Sharon Springs after Blair calls the man's girlfriend when he sees her telephone number on a bathroom wall. He falls in love with a woman at the writer's colony after being smitten by the size of her nose, but ends up giving her scabies acquired from a hotel bed in Sharon Springs. He then has to shave his body to rid himself of body lice. The body shaving is, no doubt, an allusion to the psychological humiliation Ames felt because of the late onset of puberty.

During all of his misadventures, Blair, a writer, struggles to create the novel that will become The Extra Man, thus strengthening the similarities between Blair and Louis Ives (and Ames himself). As in The Extra Man, the narrator sees himself as a young gentleman. Moreover, he is obsessed with many of the same psychological issues that define Ives as queer.

In The Extra Man, these issues are seamlessly woven into the story. However, in Wake Up Sir!, the protagonist's queerness--including fantasies of being imprisoned and raped--are used primarily as comic asides in his dialogues with Jeeves, a character who may not even exist and who, in any case, lacks the curmudgeonly qualities that make Henry Harrison so engaging in The Extra Man. Wake Up Sir! is interesting as an exploration of the creative process, but it is not as fully satisfying as The Extra Man.

A performance artist and storyteller, Ames appears frequently at nightclubs and theaters. His one-man show Oedipussy played off-off-Broadway in 1999.

Ames has jokingly described himself as "bald and ribald, I'm like Rabelais and Danny Kaye, sometimes I'm straight and sometimes I'm gay." Only to add "Well, not really. I'm almost never gay, but it rhymed nicely with Kaye, and also I tend to be depressed rather than gay." He has also written that he strongly believes that the "need for labels is going to lessen." Until that happens, however, the best label to apply to him is not straight or gay, but queer.

George Koschel

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Flamm, Matthew. "Talking with Jonathan Ames: Polymorphously Prolific." Newsday (August 30, 1998): B11.

Lemons, Stephen. "Onan's Delight." New Times Los Angeles (September 20, 2001): Calendar/Highlights.

Rosen, Jody Beth. "Review: Jonathan Ames' The Extra Man."


    Citation Information
    Author: Koschel, George  
    Entry Title: Ames, Jonathan  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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