May 9 2012 12:00 AM

Wade Rouse talks about the 'fine line between humor and heartbreak'


A couple of years ago, a journalist told actress Carey Mulligan (“Shame”) how much he admired her ability to express sadness so eloquently. “The emotional stuff is easier, actually,” Mulligan said. “I think it’s easier to get yourself in a state where you’re crying than a state where you’re laughing for half an hour.” 

Writer Wade Rouse couldn’t agree more. The author of “It’s All Relative,” “Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler” and “At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream” frequently seeks out what he calls the “real fine line between humor and heartbreak.” 

“The beauty in great humor is that there can be tragedy just underneath the surface,” said Rouse in a phone interview from his home outside of Saugatuck. “My M.O. in writing is to make readers learn something while they’re laughing.”

Rouse — who edited the dog-related essay collection “I´m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship” last year — makes two appearances as part of the Capital Area District Library’s Spring Author Series. He’ll be at Williamston Theatre on Monday, and at Art Alley in REO Town May 22.

“I’m going to talk about humor as art, and why isn’t comedy considered a higher art form,” Rouse said. “And then I’m going to read from my works and probably disapprove my entire theory.”

Steve Martin once said comedy is not pretty. Rouse insists it’s not simple, either.

“People think comedy is easier than drama, but I think it’s much more difficult. I always say try telling a roomful of people a joke. Humor is so subjective. You’ll be lucky to get half people to laugh. But if you tell a sad story, most people will have empathy, or they’ll be able to relate it to something in their own lives.”

But there’s often a hint of hurt in comedic material, too.

That was definitely the case with Rouse’s debut memoir, “America’s Boy,” which Magnus Books has just reissued.

“That’s my baby — I’m so glad it’s got a new life,” Rouse said. The book chronicles Rouse’s childhood and adolescence in the Ozarks, where he struggled with the death of his older brother, low self-esteem, chronic weight problems and the realization that he was gay.  

“Boy” was issued by Dutton in 2006. “Unfortunately, my editor left Dutton before the book was published, which was the worst thing that could happen,” Rouse said. “I was the last author she brought on board, and I felt kind of rudderless. So I went over to Random House; I’m still with them.

“You have to have an in-house cheerleader, that person who brought you in and sold you to the team. If that’s taken away, you just don’t have much hope.”

So it was with “Boy.” Its strong reviews did not translate into substantial sales, and “as soon as the contract (with Dutton) was done, it kind of fell away, as many books do,” Rouse said.

He’s delighted the book is getting a second chance because “the themes in it are so relevant still, especially trying to fit in and dealing with bullying. That’s still topical today. I think it still has a place.”

In addition to his Williamston and Lansing appearances, Rouse hosts his annual three-day “writers retreat” in Saugatuck May 17 through 20. The weekend includes writing workshops as well as advice on naviagting the world of publishing.

“It´s a great intensive for emerging writers,” he said. “It´s about  facing your fear and finding your voice. It´s part inspirational and part professional.”

Wade Rouse

Part of the Capital Area District Library Spring Author Series

6 p.m. Monday, May 14

Williamston Theatre

122 S. Putnam St., Williamston

6 p.m. Tuesday, May 22

Art Alley

1133 S. Washington Ave., Lansing


For information on Rouse´s writing retreat in Saugatuck May 17-20, visit