This is not a joke

Funny but no longer a comedian, David Rees sharpens pencils, prose

August 15, 2012

Caroline O'Donovan

To Google David Rees is to fall down a rabbit hole of HTML pages and links inside of links so deep and so labyrinthine that the task of getting out with your sanity intact, let alone explaining who David Rees is, begins to seem nigh on impossible. "If this were merely a put-on, wrote Mark O'Connell in the New Yorker, "it would be an unusually elaborate and time-consuming one, and Rees would be a kind of Daniel Day-Lewis of the method prank."

Personally, I love David Rees, because, well:

Relationshapes is a series of comics about how modern love might be experienced by geometrical shapes. Rees told me that, typically, he would draw dozens of them, and afterward, only one or two of the drawings would stand out to him as jokes. Like this one:

As some commenters on TheHairpin.com put it,
 

pk (#468)

I don't get it.

Posted on March 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

REPLY »

kdub (#3,132)

So don't get it either.

Posted on March 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm

REPLY »

theharpoon (#2,578)

I don't get it either, but I kind of like it anyway, maybe because it reminds me of how I am always typing "relationshop" when I mean "relationship" and then I wonder what a RelationShop would be like. Hopefully it would not just be an "immoral resort," which is the way that this Texas oil dude referred to whorehouses in this oral history collection that I was working on one time.

Rees would probably agree with @kdub, @pk and @theharpoon regarding Relationshapes, which he has called "a thing I do not understand." Interestingly, the same cannot be said of his early  HTML project, JoeytheMidwife.com, which Rees has called his favorite project.

To figure out just how much sense JoeytheMidwife.com makes to people who are not David Rees, here is Joey’s ad campaign for Cadbury Eggs:

Although he did recap Big Brother and some food network shows for New York Magazine’s Vulture.com, Rees is best known for his political comic, Get Your War On. After years of writing comics like this, however, Rees said he was exhausted:



After the news of torture at Abu Ghraib broke, Rees said he received lots of emails begging him to write about it, but that he actually felt much more like hiding under a blanket. “It was really debilitating and depressing,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. So when George W. Bush left office in 2008, Rees did the obvious thing and took a job working for one of the most ponderous bureaucratic offices in the country, the Census Bureau.

Adrift and in the midst of a divorce from his wife (whom Rees met, of course, at Oberlin) it was at census training that fortune struck. As Rees tells it, the Census workers were instructed to sharpen pencils by hand. Immediately, it seems, he became fascinated with the soothing shaving and buffing of the pencil.

Rees grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but has relocated to Beacon, NY, a place Rees describes as an old industrial town:

 

 

In Beacon, Rees says, lots of his friends purvey craft goods for a living, from Artisan Wine to Homespun Food. If these institutions weren’t strong enough “signals to white people that they should spend money on something,” as Rees put it, the New York Times has featured Beacon’s art walk in its pages as recently as last month, and even compared Beacon residents to Brooklynites.


Look at these f%#&ing hipsters, the New York Times seems to say.

What Rees wants his readers to know is that he is in no way making fun of said artisinal crafters and hipsters. He's embracing them. He didn't raise the price of a sharpened pencil from $15 to $20 to mess with anyone, but because he literally doesn't have the time in the day to fill all the orders he gets. Demand is too high; the market is no joke.**

About a month and a half ago, Rees toured the last pencil factory in America, the General Pencil Company in Jersey City. All the other American pencil companies have closed or gone abroad in search of cheaper labor and materials. 

"You see it, and it's like, oh those condos used to be a pencil factory," Rees said, "but it's not." The pencils are made entirely in-house at General Pencil, a fact which seems to satisfy Rees, a man who will by and large only sharpen yellow No. 2 pencils. Of course, he's also a man who has been to this establishment:

This is the Pencil Factory Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, an establishment located catty corner from an old pencil factory, a place that Flickr user pixonomy says "looks kinda old" but "could be faux old." The old pencil factory is condos now. As a friend of the pencil sharpener himeslf once said, "The joke is it's not a joke."

David Rees will read from his new book, How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servant tonight at Quimby's, 7 p.m.

 
**At the time of this writing, Vocalo hosts Molly Adams and Brian Babylon had eleven pencils waiting for Mr. Rees's attention, an order that will cost them $220.00 to fill.