BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Friday, August 9, 2013

Interview with Dr. Joe Wenke, author of "You Got to be Kidding!"

Today's interview is with Dr. Joe Wenke, who wrote a satire on the Bible, "You Got To Be Kidding Me!" It's in my TBR and sooner or later I'll get it read and reviewed. I was a philosophy and religion major at college and I'm a religious liberal so this book calls to me.

JOE WENKE is an outspoken and articulate LGBTQ rights activist. He is the founder and publisher of Trans Über, a publishing company with a focus on LBGTQ rights, free thought and promoting equality for all people.  Wenke is the author of Mailer’s America and You Got to be Kidding! The Cultural Arsonist's Satirical Reading of the Bible. His next book, Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church, will be published this fall along with his first novel, The Talk Show.

Wenke began his career as an editor at the Foundation Center in New York City.  He was a speechwriter at Avnet for Tony Hamilton, the founder of the global electronics distribution industry, and wrote speeches for George Conrades, the head of IBM U.S. As a senior vice president at Caribiner International he served as the company’s lead communications strategist and head of global accounts.  He partners with Gisele Xtravaganza in Gisele New World, which produces events for the ballroom community. Wenke is the owner and managing partner of Xperience, a multi-million dollar marketing communications and production company with offices in New York, Boston and Detroit.

Wenke received a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in English from Penn State and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut. He is a columnist and frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.


Why did God turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt? Were there no other seasonings available? Why don't we know anything about the early years of Jesus? Did someone lose his baby book? Who reported the desert encounter between Jesus and Satan? Jesus-or Satan? And why does the Holy Spirit like to show up as a bird?

As irreverent as the musical The Book of Mormon, Joe Wenke's "YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING: The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of the Bible" is an engaging, provocative and hilarious investigation into the bestselling book of all time. Written to "cause trouble" cultural arsonist Wenke, a keen observer of human gullibility, tempts readers to more closely examine the stories they think they know about the Bible.

Drawing upon the same pool of incendiary and cerebral humor as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and the late, great George Carlin, YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING is a call for humor to restore our sanity and our ability to think for ourselves. Just as it was written in the Bible-or was it?


Bea: Tell us what you’re reading at the moment and what you think of it. 

Dr. Wenke: I’ve just started reading Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. It gives one pause that he begins the story of his life with a meditation on his own mortality and that now just a few years later, he is dead. His death is a great loss. He was brilliant, and there are very few brilliant people. Norman Mailer was brilliant, so was George Carlin. Maybe I don’t get around enough, but I only know one brilliant person, and that’s Gisele Xtravaganza.
Bea: Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book? You mention it in your book but can you talk about it for those people who don’t have a copy yet?

Dr. Wenke: My journey to writing "You Got to Be Kidding!" is everything I ever thought or did, so it’s pretty hard to retrace those steps. Also, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to understand my own motivations for doing anything. As I explain in “The Genesis of You Got to Be Kidding!” which is included as an afterword in the book, I woke up one morning and the first thought that occurred to me was that I would read the Bible and when I found something funny, I would write about it. I had never previously had such a thought and I have no idea why it came to me that day, or why I walked over to my kitchen table in a kind of trance and immediately downloaded an electronic version of the Bible and began reading. When I came to the Adam and Eve story, I wrote the first sketch. I wrote it very fast like an email. Over the next few weeks I read the Bible and wrote more than seventy sketches in the same way, hardly changing a word.

Bea: Would you say it’s comparable to any other book currently on the market?

Dr. Wenke: No there is nothing remotely like it. It’s a very radical book based on the premise that if you’re intelligent, educated and have a sense of humor and you read the Bible literally, you get satire rather than fundamentalism. No one else has taken that approach to discussing the Bible. To do it, you have to not give a fuck. There aren’t too many people with that attitude.

Bea: How did you choose which areas of the Bible to focus on?

Dr. Wenke: I didn’t really choose what I wrote about. When something struck me as funny or incredible or absurd, I would get an idea and some positive energy, and I would just go with it and write.

Bea: According to your biography, you don’t have a background in religious studies although you did attend Catholic schools. Did you find that was a help or a hindrance as you wrote your book?

Dr. Wenke: My educational background was that I went to Catholic schools back in the dark days when it was like being in a penitentiary. That was a great help in writing "You Got to Be Kidding!" and an even greater help in writing the follow-up book, "Papal Bull", which will be out next month.

Bea: What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

Dr. Wenke: Andre Gide once said that the purpose of art is to disturb, as in moving your reader to a different place. If the book did that for a few people, that would be a great accomplishment.

Bea: What is a ‘cultural arsonist’ and why is there a need for one?

Dr. Wenke: A Cultural Arsonist is somebody who sets fire to stupidity and burns up bigotry, metaphorically, that is. That’s what I do, so I call myself a Cultural Arsonist. Yes, there is a very great need for a Cultural Arsonist. I think President Obama should make it a new cabinet position.

Bea: What prompted you to start writing?

Dr. Wenke: Again, it’s impossible to say. I play guitar too, and it’s something that I just have to do.

Bea: What is your favorite part and least favorite part of writing?

Dr. Wenke: My favorite part is how ideas just pop up through some sort of mysterious associative activity in my brain. I don’t have a least favorite part.

Bea: What’s a typical day of writing for you? Are you a planner or do you wing it?

Dr. Wenke: I don’t plan. I don’t outline anything. I just get an idea and go with it. I don’t really revise anything, although I do tweak stuff and make sure that everything is grammatically correct and all of the punctuation is right.

Bea: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Dr. Wenke: I don’t think I have any quirks, although I think I’m at my best when I’m not thinking at all. I’m just letting it happen.

Bea: What kind of feedback have you gotten on your book?

Dr. Wenke: The reviews have been very positive with a few exceptions from people on the religious right. Also a few atheist ideologues have said that I’m too easy on Jesus. The one strange thing though is that, although I do a lot of interviews, it’s been challenging to get them with I guess what you would call the mainstream media. A lot of people are nervous about the whole idea of satirizing the Bible. I was actually booked on the Fox Morning show in Hartford, for example, but when the executive producer found out, the appearance was cancelled. (Disappointing but not surprising ~ Bea)
Thank you Dr. Wenke for answering my questions today and good luck with your tour!

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