Dave Hill lives in many worlds, but calls no single one home—he describes himself as a “comedian/writer/musician/man-about-town,” the kind of multi-hyphenate that’s especially common in Hill’s current hometown, New York. Hill is best known as a comedian (and as one of the funniest people on Twitter), and he’s branched out into the one-man-show format as well, which shows a skill for storytelling that should translate well into a book.
Tasteful Nudes, Hill’s first book, is a collection of short, comic, autobiographical essays. They skip around in time and subject: One chapter about meeting a fan (a.k.a. “Hottest Naked Chick on the Internet”) in real life segues into another about his love of playing guitar. This is a format David Sedaris has ruled for nearly two decades, and it’s hard not to think of Sedaris’ collection Naked—which takes its title from a story about spending time at a nudist resort—when Hill opens Tasteful Nudes with an essay about a nudist boat trip. The situations differ, and more importantly, Hill has a different voice than Sedaris: Hill writes with a winking bravado, making bold statements (his intro boasts that he told St. Martin’s “to go fuck themselves” when they approached him about a book because he’s “an artist”) that he quickly undercuts. (He changed his mind when St. Martin’s offered him $400 to write it.)
That description summarizes the entire book; Hill mixes ironic boastfulness with genuine heart. “A Funny Feeling” comically details his battles with depression while slipping in references to the real severity of the problem. Hill strikes the best balance when discussing his reaction to his mother’s death in the book-closing “Bunny.” He makes some of his funniest points describing the unreality of losing a parent: “Learning that my mother had died sounded about as ridiculous to me as if someone said, ‘Hey Dave, did you know your mom used to play for the Knicks?’” When he couldn’t wrap his head around his mom’s death, Hill decided that she’d just moved somewhere, not died. “‘Mom, I’ve been looking all over for you,’ I’d say once I found her. ‘Why Akron?’”
Hill is quick with a joke, but this doesn’t disguise the real pain in “Bunny”—from losing his mom, yes, but also his nagging concern that she didn’t understand his calling, and worse, wasn’t proud of him. It’s deeply personal material for a guy who specializes in a jokey artifice. Hill’s ability to make it work speaks to a talent that goes beyond a quick joke.