Toronto-born, Vancouver-based Jacob Samuel is launching his second book of cartoons, Slinky Hell, on June 26 at Toronto’s No One Writes to the Colonel bar (7-10 p.m., 460 College St.). In 2014, at age 26, Samuel became one of the youngest Canadian cartoonists to be featured in The New Yorker. He’s since been published in Harvard Business Review, Barron’s, Geist, The Feathertale Review and more. He also wrote and illustrated The Daily Snooze webcomic.
Are there Jewish influences in your humour?
Yes, because I’ve had Jewish influence in my life (Hebrew school, summer camp, parents). It’s part of my identity. Many of my favourite comedy writers and comedians are Jewish, but many aren’t. It’s hard to be in comedy and not be influenced by Jews. It’s also hard to grow up around Jews and not have a sense of humour, but some people manage to pull it off.
Name your influences.
I got hooked on humour by a beat-up, old Woody Allen book. I’m influenced by other cartoonists in The New Yorker and web cartoonists. I watched The Simpsons daily growing up. Everything by Steve Martin, any show created by Armando Iannucci and Flight of the Conchords. Cartoonists Saul Steinberg, Paul Noth, Sam Gross and a talented contemporary of mine, Liana Finck. Cartooning/joke-writing is really an act of desperation… just trying to find anything that works.
Are you a millennial?
I was born in the late ’80s and doubt I’ll ever own property. If I could identify as a millionaire, I would. Due to demographics, I’m stuck being a non-millionaire millennial. (First-wave; I don’t use Snapchat.)
What’s “Slinky Hell”?
Being a millennial is like being a Slinky at the bottom of the stairs while, on social media, all our Slinky friends post pictures of themselves at the top of the stairs. I’ll let the Slinky Hell cartoon speak for itself. It’s whatever you want it to mean. Embrace the mystery.
Are you an old soul?
I’ve been told that by every girlfriend I’ve had because of how much I like watching Second World War movies. I get along great with middle-aged, divorced dads.
What does getting published in The New Yorker mean?
I was cartooning for years before submitting to The New Yorker. I sent them almost a dozen “batches” of cartoons, Googling how to mail a letter. Luckily, they were open to young, new cartoonists. Finally, they bought one that I never expected them to. Until I saw it published, I worried that it was a mistake and they’d change their mind. Seeing it published was a very happy moment, followed by probably the deepest depression I’ve ever had. No one warns you, but that’s what happens when you accomplish a lofty goal; you feel utterly empty inside. Turns out getting into The New Yorker wasn’t the answer to all my problems. But that’s a good thing, because you then focus more on enjoying your work than earning accolades. It taught me to love what I do for the sake of doing it rather than getting some trophy. Having said that, being published in The New Yorker is great at dinner parties.
‘Joking about people is an intimate act of affection. Worry about the family and friends who aren’t making fun of you’
Is standup related to cartooning?
Writing jokes is my passion. Whether they’re suited for standup or cartoon is an issue of translation. Joke-writing is about finding things within yourself to which other people can relate. My jokes feel personal to me but also make other people laugh. It’s challenging because you have to translate your own weirdness and warped world view to strangers.
How is a joke born?
Often, the best ideas just pop into your head. You have to work hard for this to happen, though. The best jokes feel like a gift that just showed up. Sometimes you chip away at something for a long time until you suddenly have a breakthrough. Sometimes you never figure it out. Like life, it’s a giant puzzle that’s never solved. It’s a great way to live, because you channel your anxiety into creating jokes, as opposed to issues like relationships and death.
Where are you heading?
That’s very hard to predict in comedy, which is why I enjoy pursuing it. It’s an adventure. I might move back to Toronto eventually. Hopefully I’ll meet the right woman, settle down and earn the right to dress and act like a dad and watch Second World War documentaries.
Is humour therapeutic?
A hundred per cent. The world is ridiculous. People are crazy. How can you not point that out? We are also dominated by social media broadcasting everyone’s happiest versions of themselves. I feel the need to check in and make sure they’re also generally disappointed with existence. Writing jokes feels true to who I am. I hope it’s made me a better person. I can’t imagine not having it in my life.
Your first book title is I Can’t Believe We Had to Die Just to Make This Pointless Book. Is humour pointless?
I’m not a scholar on the psychology of humour. I believe humour comes when we expose the lies we tell ourselves. We live a tenuous reality – so much of life out of our control – so we tell ourselves lies to keep the terror of existence at bay. It’s funny to point out how delusional we are. Being self-deprecating comes from trying to wrestle with your own ego, rather than ill-feelings towards yourself. The best humour is both silly and profound, simultaneously having a point and pointless.
Are friends and family fair game?
Joking about people is an intimate act of affection. Worry about the family and friends who aren’t making fun of you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.