Joel Warner is an award-winning former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times who’s been published in Esquire, WIRED, Newsweek, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, and Slate. He’s co-author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny published by Simon & Schuster in 2014 and author of the forthcoming The Curse of the Marquis to be published by Crown Publishing Group.
Listen to Episode #65 here:
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Searching For Magnificent Obsessives with Joel Warner
Our guest is Joel Warner. He is an award-winning former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He’s been published in Esquire, WIRED, Newsweek, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Bloomberg, Popular Science and Slate. He’s the coauthor of an outstanding book, The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, which was published in Simon & Schuster in 2014. He’s the author of the forthcoming, The Curse of the Marquis to be published by Crown Publishing Group. Welcome, Joel.
Thanks for having me.
This is long overdue clearly. I don’t know if you’ve done your homework, but I always start with the same question, which is if you weren’t working as a writer, what would you be doing?
Maybe I’d want to be an architect. I’m always fascinated by architecture, especially after spending some time in Barcelona. Like most younger Barcelona, I fell in love with Gaudi and all that funky stuff.
This is fitting because we’re at your home and you gave me a tour.
It looks just like a house from Gaudi. It’s crazy in here. It’s some surrealist nightmare.
It looks like a house that you’d find in the highlands in Denver, but you did a renovation. Did your architectural desires come out?
No. I know enough to trust the experts in all things other than writing. I let the experts do it and I said, “Make my house slightly larger and I’ll pay you an obscene amount of money to do it.”
They did a lovely job. I’m headed to Barcelona. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard about Barcelona’s museums and art, but I am ignorant about architecture. Can I get a quick primer? What should I be looking for?
It’s the obvious thing. Everyone will mention to go see the work by Antoni Gaudi. It’s like their patron saint of architecture. The Sagrada Familia is that massive cathedral that he started and still being built because it’s so huge.
I heard you need to sign up for this thing. It’s such a big thing.
He designed this surrealist park and there are these houses, you’ll see it. You won’t miss it. He’s pretty celebrated.
I like architecture also. I’m a late bloomer in that sentence. Have you done the architectural boat tour in Chicago?
Yes, I did it when we were in Chicago. You went off to do something by yourself.
I’ve done it too at a different time and thought it was outstanding. I’m not suggesting that Chicago’s architecture rivals that of Barcelona in any way, but it’s one of those things that when you get the inside info, it’s magnified.
The sheer scale of that place is fascinating.
I remember being on the boat and thinking just for a moment, “I could live here.”
Getting off the boat and realizing, “No, I don’t want to live here.”
I lived in the Midwest and liked it, but I’m happy here. I want to talk to you about interviewing. I’m now as a podcaster, interviewing people. For better or for worse, most of what I’ve learned about interviewing I’ve learned from you. I sat in a lot of interviews. We talked a lot about interviewing so I want to say thank you. Think about how bad this podcast would be if you didn’t exist.
It would be a shitshow.
It would be me doing both monologues. As someone who had a lot of experience being interviewed and working that muscle, getting used to and getting pretty good at that, it was a challenge and certainly a shift to start to interview. You are a writer. You’ve always been a writer and a lot of what you write about is these colorful characters. You have a model of the ideal character.
Let’s talk about that first and let’s get into the blocking and tackling of interviewing. Why magnificent obsessives?
This is a term that’s been attributed to my former editor at Westword. Her name is Patricia Calhoun, and she’s an icon in the Alternative Newsweeklies space. I think just the newspaper space. She’s always been the editor of Westword. She’s an incredible human being, a writer and editor. She was attributed to having coined the term magnificent obsessives. This idea that you want to find people who are so obsessed or so passionate about one unique subject that by writing about them, you can draw readers into their magnificent world. The writer who is probably most associated with this concept even if she doesn’t use the term is Susan Orlean. She’s a New Yorker staff writer who wrote the book, The Orchid Thief that became the movie adaptation. It was about a magnificent obsessive who was obsessed with collecting and stealing orchids. That’s what that term means.
We might as well just jump into it. You are writing a book about the magnificent obsessives.
This book’s a little different. It has a couple of different stories. The challenge with the book I’m writing, it’s nonfiction. It’s based on a story I wrote for Esquire magazine. It’s not as easy to describe simply as the humor code. We can say, “It’s the search for what makes things funny and the science of comedy,” and everyone gets it. With this book I’m struggling with the elevator pitch, the short description.
[bctt tweet=”People are constantly distracted, so you have to work hard to keep readers reading.” via=”no”]
You must have enough of a pitch that you have a book deal.
It worked for the publisher. That’s all that matters. It worked enough to get a good book advance and I get to go to France and all that stuff. When it comes over to the conversation, I’m like, “How do I explain this?” I think what I’ve landed on is it’s basically the journey of one of the world’s most valuable and notorious manuscripts. That’s the short description.
I’ve read the article, so I know the story.
It was basically the manuscript by this French writer named Marquis de Sade, which is how we have the terms sadism and sadistic because he was a horrible individual. He wrote horrible things, treated women horribly and the most horrible thing he wrote, he wrote it while he was imprisoned in the Bastille. The experts call it the worst thing ever written. This massive novel is the worst things happen.
Is it worse than the aristocrat joke?
It’s by far. The example I give was years ago, Penguin Classics Literary Pantheon decided to publish an English language version of it. They hired this friendly, proper British professor who was an expert to go and translate it. I got this guy up on Skype and I was talking to him and he said to me, literally, this is the worst thing ever written.
There are things I cannot unsee.
He could only spend two hours at a time translating it. He had to stop for the day. As he wrote in his blog at times, he said, “At times, I don’t know if I’m working on the manuscript because the manuscript is working on me.” It’s horrible. That’s the first thing. This manuscript ended up going on one of these centuries-long journeys all over Europe like the movie The Red Violin, where it kept popping up in these fascinating periods. It became this icon of the Gay Rights Movement in early twentieth century Berlin and it became a symbol for the surrealists like Man Ray and Dali in Paris in the 1940s. It was stolen. There were legal battles. Finally, it was bought for $10 million, one of the largest ever paid for a manuscript and brought back to France in 2014. A few months later, the company and the museum that purchased it was shut down by the French police because it was allegedly the largest Ponzi scheme in French history because he hasn’t gone to trial yet. The books are these three different narratives. It’s a narrative of the Marquis de Sade who was a complete asshole.
I’m curious, has he had willing “victims?”
No, that’s the thing. People associate him with the naughty sex, much more violence. He definitely assaulted if not raped prostitutes. What he wrote is much more like literary versions of movies like Saw than 50 Shades of Gray. It’s much more like torture porn. Good for me as a writer, he also happened to fall into this fascinating moment of French history. He was independently arrested by the last pre-revolutionary king of France, the architect of the reign of terror and Napoleon. He outlives almost all of them so he has some fascinating stories. There’s his story then there’s the story of his manuscript and it journeys through time all over Europe. It’s a story of this Ponzi scheme all based on some of the world’s most valuable books and manuscripts and all of the characters involved. They were these dueling booksellers in Paris and sabotaged high-end auctions and all interesting stuff like that. For me, it’s super fun and I got to go to France a lot.
I’m sure you’ve thought about, “Could a movie come out of this?”
Yes, there’s always that discussion.
It always has a possibility. It seems it has the things that it needs.
We’re throwing it back to you. When someone says to me next, “What’s your book about?” What do I say to them to not let their eyes glaze over or not force me to go on for five minutes about Marquis de Sade and Ponzi schemes?
The way that I immediately think about it is it’s the X for X. What does it feel familiar? It’s the logline for a movie.
The Red Violin probably isn’t well known enough. If you see the Red Violin and people know about Red Violin, “It’s the story of this object as it goes through history.” Most people probably don’t know that well enough.
As you’re talking about this, I’m curious. I assume that the Marquis is the main element and then you’re building what happens to this manuscript.
Originally, I proposed it with basically two intertwined narratives. The narrative of the manuscript and the narrative of this Ponzi scheme or alleged Ponzi scheme and all the people whose lives were thrown into turmoil by this Ponzi scheme. I proposed it as chapters with an alternate. My publisher said, “We love the structure but we want you to add a third narrative of the Marquis de Sade.” I was like, “That seems a lot of narratives for a book, but you guys are the bosses.” I have these three narratives and I think probably I’m going to break the book into three parts. The first part about Marquis de Sade, the second part about the scroll and the third part about the scheme. I felt otherwise, the readers will be overwhelmed by jumping through all these different times.
It’s a lot of track and you’re following a timeline also more or less. Nonetheless, it’s quite exciting. I’m happy. When people ask me about you and what you’ve been up to and I was like, “Joel, needs to be writing books.” You can write a lot of words fast and well and are good at structuring long-form stories, which the world’s going short. I like that you stayed long. When you told me about this and the original Esquire article might turn into a book. I was excited for you because I’d like to see you write dozens of books. When I met you, you were working for Westword. You were seeking out magnificent obsessives and doing other long-form stories. We got to know each other because you wrote a 6,000-word story for Westword.
It felt much longer.
Actually, it was funny you say this because I was proud of it. I thought it’s an outstanding story and I send it out to a lot of friends and I was getting emails and text messages back like, “I’ve been reading for twenty minutes.” It’s like, “This is not over yet.” You had back then a little collapsible keyboard, and then you would have your phone or PDA.
It was like a PalmPilot. That’s how long ago this was.
You would drop it into this little portable keyboard and you would just type along.
I used a small laptop.
How do I do interviews?
I teach writing as well. I teach writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, nonfiction. I talk about how I do interviews. First, I do my homework. I definitely read up on what’s already been written about the person who I’m going to be interviewing, but then I don’t list out questions. What I do, I sit down with the person. The first thing I say to people is like, “Let’s start at the beginning of your story.” Most people assume it’s like, “The beginning of my story about the subject we’re talking about.” Pete, if I was sitting down with you for the first time and said, “Let’s start at the beginning of your story.” You would think we’re talking about the Human Research Lab. You’re like, “You want to learn about how I started HuRL?” I would say, “No, I want to start the beginning of your story, like with your childhood, at the beginning.” I do this for several reasons. First off, I think most people get nervous at first being interviewed. It’s not necessarily a common thing.
[bctt tweet=”In real life, people are not interested in stories. They are interested in conversations.” via=”no”]
Not always, but I feel like it’s easier for them, for the most part, to talk about their childhood. Not in all cases. Some people it’s not so easy, but for many people, it’s like, “I can talk about story growing up.” It’s a good way to start to get the ball rolling because the thing that I care about is narrative. I tell my students, “You want to write stories, you want to write narratives, you want to write about subjects, you want always to be thinking of the narrative.” I want my subjects to be thinking of a narrative too. I want to hear the narrative of my subjects. The most common question I ended up asking in interviews is, “And then what?” It gets them into the process. I’m going to be telling my story from the beginning to the middle to the end. What’s interesting is that most people never get a chance to do this in their lives. Most people will tell little anecdotes. How often do people get to sit down and tell their story? For many people, it can be a liberating experience.
Especially because what happens oftentimes is in real life, people may be interested in the story, but they’re not that interested. They want it to be a conversation. You never get to go as deep or as long as when Joel Warner is interviewing.
It helps you making these potential connections. One example I use in my class is Pete is one of our first interviews. It was while interviewing you for that first Westword story. We already spent some time together. I’d learned about your research lab. I’d sat in some of your experiments. At some point, we sat down and had a long conversation about you growing up. It was a very lengthy conversation and you probably thought at the time like, “Why are we going on the details about this because what does it have to do with the Human Research Lab or my comedy stuff?” You started opening up a little bit like many people face some challenges growing up. It wasn’t always the easiest childhood. We started talking about you think maybe some of your needs to keep everything organized and tidy might have been in part a response to some of the chaos of childhood. It wasn’t something like a therapeutic breakthrough for you. I’m not saying I’ve solved the puzzle of pieces of life. It ended up being this nice connection that I could then use when I was writing about you as a narrative.
Joel talked about coming to my office at CU and had me having these nice tidy piles and coming to my house and you were like, “Does someone live here?” I enjoy the efficiency and the aesthetics of a clean space but also that there’s a psychological benefit that when life feels out of control, I tidy up. I channel Marie Kondo. Making that connection adds flavor in the story and it helps people better understand who this person is and why might that help or hurt his goal to crack the humor code. This is a short from the show. It’s an hour or less thing. Even at times just saying, “Tell me more about that,” might be something that I could add as a way to interview people because it may open up possibilities. Tell me more about your interviewing. Clearly, you’re very patient. You’re an also outstanding record keeper. You’re very good at capturing all these things. The fact that you’re scribbling like a madman I think leads your subject to continue.
I haven’t thought about that because I always feel bad while I’m typing when people are talking because it means I’m distracted. I tell my students, it’s like, “I just want to become a detailed vacuum.” I want to collect all the information I can at the moment that’s happening. I want to take photos of every wall of the room I’m in, take every word they’re saying down and then later figure out how to use it.
I’m pretty sure it was you that you even type stuff that you know you will never use. You want to capture everything. Also, if you stopped typing, then it suggests to the person they should stop talking about it.
I’m always on a momentum.
We work closely and intensely on The Humor Code. I think the book project was exciting, it was fun, it was creative, it was challenging and it was exhausting. It was a three-year process or even more probably as I think about it by four. It’s funny with me working on a book project. At times I find myself thinking because I’m in a different role. You did the heavy lifting with the wordsmithing and creating the structure in the book because you’re among the best in the world at doing that thing and I’m not. There was one point of attention that we had was we would do these trips. We would go to Japan. I was juggling the book project with my teaching, with my research, with a relationship. You were juggling the book with family and everything.
We would have disagreements about how long the trip was supposed to be. I would try to make it shorter and you would try to make it longer. I was always like, “Of course, you want to go longer because these are great places to go largely.” You always were like, “No, we need to be there as long as possible and we need to do as many things as possible because I don’t know when that one thing that makes the whole story is going to happen.” The longer we consume, the more likely it’s going to be the case.
It’s like fishing for moments. Since I’ve done more travel-based assignments for a variety of publications, and there are times when a publication sends me into a location for two days. I come back and I don’t end up with the scenes or the characters and the moment that you need to make a fully livable story. Fewer of your publications have a travel budget to begin with and those that do are like, “You get two days in West Virginia to report on the teacher strikes and you better make sure that you capture all of the myriad characters.” I’m like, “Good luck with that.”
I think about that because I’m trying to accumulate examples. The more examples I can accumulate, the more likely I can skim off the cream. I’m not doing a travel project, but nonetheless, that concept still. I begrudgingly like, “He was right.” For me, it was difficult.
I feel like we usually land somewhere in the middle. Looking back, I’m never like, “We should have had so much more time in such a place.” I never felt like I was too pressed by any of those.
There are some places I’d like to spend less time.
In the Amazon.
I like the Amazon.
You had a better experience. Part of the reason you’re on this is that for the audience you may not know this, but Joel is an outstanding clown.
I like it when you are saying that some people out there know this. This is a known fact.
First of all, I don’t think most people are just like, “That guy would be a good clown.” You don’t match that. We went to the Amazon and we clowned with Patch Adams and 100 hospital clowns. A bunch of South American folks and then some from the US, which is a neat thing you don’t actually have to speak the same language to be able to clown. I didn’t like clowning that much. As a result, I don’t think I was very good at it, but you had a knack for it. I thought it was great. I ascribed it to your parenting fatherhood skills, but now reflecting on it, what do you think?
Being willing to let go of your ego, that’s part of it because you look like a freak, you have to act like a freak. You can’t be saying to yourself, “What do I look like right now?” You are in the middle of the slums of the jungle. You are sweating from head to foot, wearing the goofiest garish clothes that we got from the thrift store.
We were the most normally dressed people.
Just goof around people who had never seen you before who for sure had all very valid assumptions about us as these white dudes walking into very difficult surroundings and you had to put all that aside and goof around. As a parent, you come to the realization, you are no longer the star of the show. You are no longer cool. You’re no longer the star of your own story anymore. It’s about subjecting your knees and your ego to the unending needs of these various small creatures that need things all the time. Probably also being a journalist because being a journalist discourages you from putting yourself out there.
Normally, you’re observing and you’re in the background.
At the same time, as a journalist, you don’t have to interview anyways. Maybe it’s a bit tied to that too.
If I remember correctly, there were writers, journalists when we were working on The Humor Code that you were looking to in terms of the journalist who puts themselves in the place. Is there someone, in particular, comes to mind when you think about journalists who become a character?
It’s interesting you said that because the book that both inspired me in part become a journalist and also inspired how I thought about The Humor Code was a journalist named Tony Horwitz. He wrote a book called Confederates in the Attic. It was given to me by my thesis advisor in college. When I left in it, it struck me. The sad part of the story is that Tony passed away at age 60 of cardiac arrest while on book tour for his book. I was just reading this eulogy about him. He wrote this book called Confederates in the Attic that came out in 1999, where he went and explored how the Civil War was still being fought in the South. That was an easier time that it is now. He could explore these concepts of what the Confederate flag means and these Civil War reenactors and a slightly more lighthearted and thoughtful way where all of a sudden, things like white supremacy are unfortunately much more pressing.
[bctt tweet=”Whenever you write something, you have to see it as entertainment.” via=”no”]
It wasn’t that long ago. It was a different time.
He was this unassuming white Jewish guy who’d long work for NPR and he put himself in these awkward, sometimes threatening situations where he was almost beaten up at some biker bar. He would hang out with white supremacist or like Ku Klux Klan members. He was not the star of the book, but he did put himself out there because he wanted the reader to live vicariously through him so then he gets to say, “I need to show the reader what it’s like to be here in this place, at this moment.”
In The Humor Code, you’re a character, you’re the voice.
I try not to be out there too much. In some ways, I thought of myself almost like the cameraman and the TVs of the office. Where for the most part in the office, the cameraman is capturing what’s happening. Every now and then the main characters, whether it’s Pam or Jim, they would gesture out. That’s how I almost saw myself as a character.
We had a lot of time together and me being an academic writer and you being a real writer, you taught me a lot about writing and about thinking about writing. You know me, I like to consume ideas, this notion of hanging the baby over the cliff, that’s one of your techniques that you used. Talk about that.
There is another topic that I talk about in teaching and I use once again the Westword story about Peter McGraw as an example of this. I say, “Whenever you write something, you have to see it as entertainment.” Some journalists might see that a sacrilegious. This constitutionally protected thing we do that’s all about exposing corruption and nailing the bastards to the wall. My response is, “You can do all that, but if you don’t make it entertaining first, no one’s going to read it and it’s not going to matter.” It’s all about entertaining leaders, keeping them hooked, keeping them reading. If you’re writing 1,000 words or 2,000 words or 60,000, there’s so much demanding their attention, especially in the shitshow 2019, there are a billion dumpster fires. People are constantly distracted. I need to go on Twitter to see what’s happening with Jon Snow. You have to work your butt off to keep the readers reading. One of the tricks that I sometimes use is hanging the baby over the cliff. Where in the very first section that you write, you hang the baby over the cliff and you leave the baby hanging there. You can then write whatever you want to write with the hope that readers keep reading because they want to find out what happens to the baby.
I don’t remember what your technique was but I’m guessing it had something to do with me trying stand-up.
The very first story I wrote about you was for Westword. The lead section starts with you walking into the Squire lounge, which was at that point, this horrific dive bar on Colfax Avenue in Denver known to have the hardest open mic night in all of Denver.
The MC that night said it’s the only bar that has an indoor outhouse.
The other people are getting us, “You’re telling jokes about smoking crack and slavery.” I write that, “Here’s Peter McGraw. He’s wearing a sweater vest.”
“He was going to get up on stage. He’s a professor and tries stand-up for the first time in his life because he had this new theory called the Benign Violation Theory. He wanted to see if it could hold up in the real world. I tried to build the tension and finally, my lead section, Pete gets called up on stage, grabs the microphone and immediately disconnects it.” That’s where I end the lead section. I end with Pete standing on stage with a disconnected microphone about to do a stand-up act.
Just to ruin it, it doesn’t get much better after that.
The reader doesn’t know that until the end of the article because I didn’t get to it until the very end.
I think of that sometimes. I can’t say that I have had a chance to use it in any real profound way, but even the idea of having strong leads and having strong kickers, something that I noted that you would do. You also told me this story and I know the vague details of it, but I’m sure you know it. It’s about the different ways that you can write a story. There were these different structures and different models of writing a story. You told me about this famous story about a journalist who wanted to do a story. It’s about Frank Sinatra. It was a story, but the journalist was unable to get an interview with Frank Sinatra and decided to persist anyways with the story and wrote a story without ever interviewing Frank Sinatra.
It was one of those famous profiles. It was an Esquire article called Frank Sinatra Has a Cold. The excuse that Frank Sinatra or his publicists use at the time was, “Frank Sinatra has a cold. He won’t be able to do any interviews with you.” In reality, it was getting later in Sinatra’s career, there are some issues that he probably didn’t want to talk about. It was definitely them trying to just avoid, but the writer ending up writing this incredible profile by talking with every other possible person who cared about Frank Sinatra, friends and family. He would be in the same place and he would describe what Frank was doing at that moment. He describes him at this bar playing pool, hitting on women and using the very fact that Frank Sinatra has a cold as this symbol of something has gone wrong in the world of Frank Sinatra. It’s a brilliant profile.
It’s neat that it breaks the rules that you would normally have in a profile, you need to talk to someone, yet you can make something that’s entertaining and informative as a result of that. You tried to use me and failed with your logline for your project. I want to use you. What advice do you have for me as I work on this book? The idea again is a series of business lessons from the masters of comedy. This is not a project about being funny at work. This is actually a project about how to think funny and think like a comedian. Translate into actionable lessons for people that have real struggles in their life, but because it’s a book about comedy, it has that entertaining elements. I’m curious knowing what you know about me and my limitations in this idea if you have anything that comes to mind that I should be doing.
Throughout the process, I would continually ask yourself, “Am I having fun?” I say this not because I’m concerned about your emotional well-being or anything like that. As a writer, readers live vicariously through what you do and whatever you write has to be entertaining first. If at any point you feel this is boring. If you’re talking to someone and you say to yourself, “This is boring,” you’re writing a couple of paragraphs and you’re saying that these paragraphs are boring. You’re doing it wrong. You have to make sure that everything you write, everything you do, everything you include in the book or do for the book is fun for you because otherwise it won’t be fun for the reader and they will put down the book.
I actually don’t think that’s trite advice. The reason is I used this technique to improve my teaching. I’ve never been a bad teacher. I always had enough, but I made a decision that I was going to improve my teaching. I went from never being nominated for a teaching award to being nominated for teaching awards, to never winning a teaching award. What I decided that I needed to do was I needed to make teaching more fun and enjoyable for me first, which sounds selfish. Once I did that, then all of a sudden, my students started enjoying themselves because my personality could come out, my enthusiasm. I get it. I mediate the experience of the audience. That’s a good reminder because I do it with my teaching.
No one is going to feel compelled to read anything or consume any content because they say, “This is important. This is useful.” Have in mind their needs and their desire to be entertained.
What is the ratio of entertainment to information?
I don’t look at the ratio. Even in the parts where you have to convey information, it has to be entertaining too.
What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s really good and outstanding, not just run-of-the-mill good?
I’m reading crap. I’m reading random genre stuff. I’m also reading a massive amount of biographies of Marquis de Sade as my job. I’m listening to Vampire Weekend. It’s great.
I like their early stuff.
I’m always a fan of Vampire Weekend but I think their new album called Father of the Bride is awesome. It’s more of Jason Isbell country vibe is I dig. I finished the second season of the show Barry on HBO. Especially if you’re going out to Los Angeles and doing improv classes, you should watch that show. It focuses on this hitman who decides he wants to be an actor in Hollywood and started going to shitty theater school. It definitely has some Grosse Pointe Blank vibes to it, but it’s good.
That’s a pulling it back from the past. Joel, it’s great to have you again. I appreciate the time.
It’s good to catch up.
- Joel Warner
- International Business Times
- The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny
- The Orchid Thief
- Esquire article – The Sadist’s Revenge by Joel Warner
- Lighthouse Writers Workshop
- Confederates in the Attic
- Peter McGraw – Westword Article by Joel Warner
- Frank Sinatra Has a Cold – Esquire Article
About Joel Warner
Joel Warner is an award-winning former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times who’s been published in Esquire, WIRED, Newsweek, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, and Slate. He’s co-author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster in 2014, and author of the forthcoming The Curse of the Marquis, to be published by Crown Publishing Group.