We asked Shawn Hitchins five questions about the vulnerability of his work and what he’s been reading. A Brief History of Oversharing will be launched through Toronto Lit Up on Saturday, September 16th and it’s free to attend!
IFOA: Nothing is sacred in A Brief History of Oversharing. What led you to the decision to be so publicly vulnerable?
Shawn Hitchins: Oversharing has become my career and this book is just an extension of my onstage practice. To stand on stage as a gay man and as oneself (not playing a character or an archetype), is to be vulnerable. It’s threatening. The gay male voice has been neutered by the desire to blend in, to be accepted. I’ve never been able to blend in. I’m hyper aware of my neutral state of being. A state is the exact opposite of the current trend of documenting and framing and filtering our experiences through a lens of perfection. Perfection is so boring.
I wrote a book, not an Instagram post. Do I feel the pressure to present myself as muscular, strong, middle-class gay man, with abs who is constantly on vacation? Maybe. Do I give into it? No. Because that’s simply not my reality. What’s a vacation?
IFOA: How did the vulnerability play into your creative process?
Hitchins: This work is about chaos and it was written during an extended period of turmoil and change, so the vulnerability naturally comes through. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would live to see the book published –– okay I knew I’d live, perhaps more maimed. What’s that Norse saying? “Thor doesn’t give you more herring than you can handle, but sometimes he cuts off both your hands with his Ginger sword and expects you to fish with your mouth.”
I had a very compassionate editor (Crissy Calhoun) who encouraged me to write through each and every crisis. There were many crises. Even when I was nearing the finish line, I got in a bike accident, smashed my hip, thought I was dead for three days and finished the first draft of a manuscript with a concussion. The next book…I’m just going to go into a bunker with one of those automatic pet food feeders then come out with an experimental collection of haikus.
IFOA: What or who influences your sense of humour?
Hitchins: I’m terrible. I don’t watch, read or see anything that could influence me while I’m creating. When someone comes up to me and says “you need to read or watch so and so because it’s so close to your work.” I immediately bookmark their suggestion as something to immediately avoid. I don’t believe that comedy trope “everything has been done once, so just do it again but better.”
“Blah,” I say. “Blah”
My humour comes from my early beginnings, from the drunken stories that were told between Ontario farmers around Sunday night roast beef dinners. It’s a crocheted way of thinking that balances horror and circumstance, life and death, then concludes that everyone is a fucking asshole. It’s about creating a breaking tension. For me, that’s all good comedy is.
Oh, and David Sedaris.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Hitchins: Right now, I have a stack of books by my bedside that I’m about to destroy with a left to right eye movement. I’m devouring Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter. I had my birthday dinner at Prune in New York while attending BEA. The meal was extraordinary, but what’s more brilliant is that you can actually taste her food in her writing. Reading her book gives me a greater understanding of her cooking. (If my books tastes like Domino’s pizza, it’s because I’ve discovered a Monday Night 50% off coupon.)
Next up: David Bowie Made Me Gay, then Sedaris’ latest.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Hitchins: Well, I’m getting back on stage. The next exciting step is to adapt the book for the stage and start touring again.
Best known for sparking the global wave of Ginger Pride by marching hundreds of redheads through the streets of Edinburgh, Shawn Hitchins is an award-winning entertainer who has toured throughout Canada, the U.S., and the U.S. Hitchins was raised in a hayfield, educated in a swamp and still has all his own teeth. He resides in Toronto, Ontario (a city he’s tried to escape since Y2K).