Amy Guth is a comedian by training--she got into the funny business after college, while working a handful of jobs in Manhattan, and studied at the Second City Training Center after moving to Chicago in 2001. "I was the one who could be talked into falling or crashing into things," she says. "I didn't see a lot of women doing physical comedy of any kind, so I thought I'd give it a whirl."
But though her first novel, Three Fallen Women (So New Media), has a few scenes that play as comedy-- albeit a very black sort, like a runaway housewife turned serial killer slicing off a guy's testicles--it's not exactly a laugh riot. Its other main characters are a heroin addict and an artist emerging from a breakdown, and the three story lines were inspired by a time when Guth knew a lot of women making "really destructive and unhealthy choices that were landing them in trouble again and again. I sort of boiled down the major themes I was seeing to three."
Guth, now 28 and a freelance writer by trade, isn't averse to using one talent to promote the other, though. At readings, she says, "I have a big box I lug around marked paper to throw at author, and I say, 'Anytime you think something is righteous or good, y'know, nail a paper ball at me.'" Once she tried Ping-Pong balls, but that was a little too much. ("Paper will kind of bounce, but it'll stop.") She also welcomes the occasional Rocky Horror-style shout-out. "They aren't even necessarily things I set up," she says. "I tend to have a lot of repeat faces." Some of her regulars have started yelling "Bullshit!" at a sentence referencing George W. Bush.
Things do sometimes get out of hand. On a recent night at Quimby's, a regular reader of Guth's blog (guthagogo.com) started ripping paper from her own journal "and just throwing, throwing, throwing," Guth says. "I had to put a cap on that one." She asked a friend to confiscate the paper supply, but a few minutes later the woman stood up to offer Guth a book on cat massage. Guth responded by taking off her bra. "I was like, I'm sorry, I don't want to be that woman who does things about her boobs, but this is hysterical; I need to bring myself back to earth."
She never reminds people to turn off their cell phones. "Inevitably one will ring, and I'll just go answer it," she says. Poor phone manners also give her an excuse to whip out her trusty roll of duct tape. One rude text-messager got his phone taped to his thigh. Another guy, who took her "open-door policy on heckling" a bit too far and tried to proposition her, got his mouth taped shut.
Guth's latest scheme is a contest she's running on her blog that invites readers to snap a photo of themselves doing something interesting with Three Fallen Women and send it to her. She'll write a letter of congrats to the winner and put the picture on the site. So far she's received about 40 entries, everything from a couple getting married with copies of the book in hand to guys cozying it up to their privates. Raunchy is OK, Guth says, but people should remember that the winning shot will be credited. "If someone's not comfortable with their balls on my Web site, they probably wanna skip a picture like that."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.