My guest today is New Yorker Magazine cartoonist, Roz Chast. I’ve seen her speak here in Washington DC, and on May 13, Chast will appear in Reston, Virginia to discuss her graphic memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”
As an only child, Roz Chast found herself as the sole caretaker for her parents, George and Elizabeth Chast, when they reached old age. As she cared for her parents, and following her father’s death, it became clear Chast wanted to, and needed to tell their story.
If you’ve never seen Roz Chast, but have seen her cartoons, you might imagine her to be one of the cartoons she so ably draws: frizzy hair, frazzled demeanor, eyes crossed, with exclamation points swirling around her head inside the cartoon bubble she’s drawn for her clever one liner response. But, the real life Roz Chast is a lovely, generous, sincere, funny, observer of life, which she depicts brilliantly in her cartoons.
After talking with her for this interview for nearly an hour, even more appealing aspects of her personality are revealed: for one, she has many comic voices.
As you’ll hear in today’s wonderful interview, many of Roz’ impressions sound like she’s poking fun at her very challenging up-brining, as only child of quirky parents, when in reality she’s very nobly caring for her parents at a time when they truly needed her.
Roz very much personalized our interview and conversation, asking about me, my parents, my father’s illness and my own children. And, unlike, other interviewees, who want to portray themselves, themselves, and oh, by the way, themselves, Roz genuinely cares about the connection, which likely deepens her understanding of her touching, and hilarious cartoons.
Roz Chast’s cartoons exude warmth and whimsy, but often share more in common with the dark humor of cartoonists like Charles Addams or Gahan Wilson than they do with “Peanuts.” I mention that my own parents owned the Charles Addams book “Monster Rally,” which I loved, and apparently influenced Roz, too.
When she broke into a regular gig as a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine in the 1970s, at age 23, she had already cultivated the eccentricities that became the hallmark of her work. As proof, an adult Chast drew a cartoon that shows a woman holding what is clearly a very “war torn” oven mit, saying to her mom, “Mom, what is it with this oven mit? It’’s from year one!” “It’s disgusting! It’s all burnt and cruddy. And, it’s got patches on it! Oh my god, these patches come from a skirt I made 40 years ago in Home Ec! Directing her comments to her mother, at the sink, washing dishes, she says, “Please let me buy you a new over mit.” Without missing a beat or in this case, a frame, her mom replies, “Why waste your money? That one still works.”
Chast has illustrated more than 800 cartoons for The New Yorker, as well as a number of books. Her book,“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?,” is a New York Times best seller and a National Book Award Finalist, and is a sharply-observed memoir of her parents at the ends of their lives.