Expanding his 'Deep Thoughts'

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Jack Handey thinks dinosaurs are overrated.

"A world ruled by dinosaurs? It didn't make any sense! I could understand a world where dinosaurs had some say -- but not rule," he says.

With absurdist musings such as these, Handey has established himself as the strangest of birds: a famous comedian whose platform is not the stage or screen, but the page.

It's been years since his "Deep Thoughts" was a staple on "Saturday Night Live." Since then, longer but equally surreal works by Handey have become commonplace in the pages of the New Yorker and other magazines.

After a series of "Deep Thoughts" paperback collections (a 1994 edition was titled "Deepest Thoughts: So Deep They Squeak") and a "Fuzzy Memories" compilation, which collectively have sold more than 1 million copies, Handey is releasing his first book of longer form material.

"It does feel like an accomplishment, kind of going to the adults' table with a hardback cover," Handey said in a recent interview. "It does feel like, OK, this is playing with the big boys."

"What I'd Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats," published by Hyperion with a first print run of 25,000 copies, contains a few of his favorite "Deep Thoughts" and a handful of "little tiny stories," such as the dinosaur tale. But the meat of the book is shaped by short pieces such as the title story in which a caged narrator rants to his alien captors.

"So are we so different? Of course, we are, and you will be even more different if I ever finish my homemade flame thrower," he says.

Handey, 59, lives in Santa Fe, N.M., with his wife, Marta, who is also his editor. But that is a much too specific existence for many to accept. For years, some fans assumed he was only a character, a disembodied voice that soothingly read "Deep Thoughts" in the guise of the implausibly named "Jack Handey."

Handey, though, hasn't exactly discouraged this perception. In one of his "Martians" pieces -- "How I Want to Be Remembered" -- he eulogizes himself: "Jack was an expert in so many fields, it's hard to say what he was best at: the arts, the sciences, or the businesses."

"Saturday Night Live" is generally reluctant to use a writer's name, preferring to keep the focus on the performers. Handey, though, eventually won the honor, thanks to the strength of his work on penning such sketches as "Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer."

"The irony is that people think Jack Handey is a made-up name," says Handey. "You can't win is the lesson."

On his website, www.deepthoughtsbyjackhandey.com, you can vote on whether Handey is a real person. One of the choices is that he's Steve Martin, which isn't a coincidence -- the two comedians have a connection that goes back decades.

Handey, who was born in San Antonio and went to the University of Texas at El Paso, began as a newspaper reporter, often writing a humor column when he could. He still recalls the possibly influential headlines of one paper's tabloid evening edition: "Boy, 14, Sold for Chickens."

In the 1970s, Martin and Handey were at one point neighbors in Santa Fe. Martin took notice of Handey's articles and invited him to write jokes for his stand-up act and, eventually, for a comedy special. Handey calls it his proverbial big break.

"Our minds kind of work a lot in the same way," Handey says of Martin. "It's sort of jerk humor, where the character is sort of a jerk."

Handey is currently on hiatus from "Deep Thoughts" but says he believes he'll return to composing his signature material for another book, the title of which he's already chosen: "Please Stop the Deep Thoughts."

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