This week, Simon & Schuster published the parody The Last Testament: A Memoir, in which God himself (or Himself) spills his life story to David Javerbaum, the former executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Not everyone is excited about the humor book: Several large retailers have declined to carry it, and Simon & Schuster’s U.K. imprint bought the rights but refused to publish it after seeing the final copy. Javerbaum isn’t a stranger to can’t-take-a-joke book blackballing: Walmart refused to sell the 2004 bestseller The Daily Show's America: The Book, because its pages contained what were obviously fake nude photographs of Supreme Court justices. Javerbaum spoke to Vulture about the limits of funny free speech.
I’d have thought that with the holidays approaching, a memoir from a big-name author would be a hot item at major retailers, especially since names don’t get much bigger than God’s. But that’s not the case, is it?
No, it’s not. The Last Testament will not be on sale at Walmart, Target, or any of the other “big box” chains. My editor at Simon & Schuster and Jon Karp, the publisher, were surprised, but I suspected that if they wouldn’t stock America: The Book, they wouldn’t stock this one, either. Although these stores seem to have no qualms about selling piles of God’s two previous works.
It seems odd that a place like Costco would carry Keith Richards’s memoir but not God’s.
I’m not sure why they’d sell Keith Richards’s memoir but not God’s, especially since they’re contemporaries.
Simon & Schuster’s U.K. imprint bought The Last Testament but then backed out at the last minute. What happened?
A couple of months ago my editor sent me an e-mail out of nowhere saying, “They won’t do it.” In the U.S., Simon & Schuster has been great, but in the U.K. they’re refusing to publish the book on the grounds that it is “too inflammatory.” They paid me the full amount. Apparently, they deemed the citizens of Britain unable to handle certain truths revealed therein, such as the fact that Joseph was gay, Jesus was a middle child, and Muhammad had body dysmorphic disorder. I could go off on a long soapbox diatribe about freedom of ideas and censorship and so on, but honestly I was thrilled that they deemed my work “dangerous.” It means they actually thought it would have some sort of subversive cultural impact. So it’s exciting, in a Stalin-y, this-way-to-the-gulag kind of way.
Have any other countries balked at the subject?
Not that I’m aware of, but I have a feeling Simon & Schuster Vatican City won’t be faxing me a proposal anytime soon.
The first Daily Show book that you co-authored went through a similar experience with Walmart when they freaked out over those nude pictures of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The book wasn’t sold at Walmart, and as a result, America: The Book languished in obscurity, purchased by no one. [Editor's note: Actually, it went to No. 1 on the New York Times list.] When we did Earth: The Book two years ago, I wanted a blurb on the cover that said “Pre-Banned by Walmart.” But we didn’t go for that.
A lot of controversial books get vetted by lawyers before going to press. Did you have any religious figures go over your copy beforehand for possible blasphemy?
I’m not sure what the definition of blasphemy is, but I know I’m guilty of it. There’s nothing in there that isn’t a joke or not based on something that’s true. God ran the manuscript by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, and he worked with them before handing it in to make sure all three felt equally offended.
Was there anything you wrote that was funny but that you cut because it was in questionable taste?
Nothing I wrote, but one image that we had. Because of his omnipresence, God had access to over 100 naked photographs of Piers Morgan. He was adamant that we include one in the insert section, “just,” in His words, “’cause.” But I was able to talk him out of it.
How many hours did you spend reading God’s previous works while working on this?
I did spend a fair amount of prep time reading the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. As someone not of that faith, I found the Koran’s style to be very repetitive. The New Testament is pretty good reading, and the main character is a very likable figure. And as a Jew, having grown up with the Old Testament — that’s just comedy gold.
Of course God has a more recent work, too, The Book of Mormon. How does he feel about the Broadway version? Does he get a cut?
The original Book of Mormon has only sold about 100 million copies, which is a sales disappointment for him, so he’s very happy with the show. I don’t know what God’s royalties are. I think he might get a tithe.
Since controversy isn’t always a bad thing when trying to sell a book, who is the person you’d most like to see denouncing The Last Testament on the Today Show?
The obvious choice is Sarah Palin. But frankly, God and I feel good about our chances with the liberal crowd. We’d like to see the book embraced by conservatives and fundamentalists. So Michael Moore, the ball is in your court.