You gotta love bears. That's the message of comedian T. Sean Shannon's latest book, Cough It Up. The collection of stories, cartoons and other short pieces contains three pieces about bears -- in two of them, bears have sex with humans, and in another, a bear beds down with no less than Santa Claus himself.
"I think my interest in bears goes back to The Andy Williams Show," says Shannon. "There was this bear who always went around trying to get milk and cookies, but he always got burned -- they never gave him any." A fine explanation, but to our knowledge, the bear on The Andy Williams Shownever got freaky with Old St. Nick. No matter, the minds of comedians are supposed to be dark, tortured places where humor is forged on the anvil of neurosis and insecurity. But Shannon seems to be a remarkably down-to-earth and well-adjusted guy. Surely he can be forgiven a certain fascination with ursine sexuality.
Besides, unlikely obsession is part of being an artist. "I love to look at other people's work and see what floats their boat," Shannon says, noting that writer-director Harold Ramis is obsessed with the word "loofah" and that Walter Hill has a "bus fetish." One of Shannon's earlier books, Bum Love, chronicles an affair between two hobos. "I love bears, and I love hobos. I don't like clowns, though. They're just wrong," Shannon explains, with clearly irrefutable logic.
In addition to his books and his day job as a writer for Saturday Night Live, Shannon also does stand-up. "Writing pays better, but there's a certain thrill to getting up on stage and throwing the old fastball," he says. The Shannon family used to have its own pitching rotation, when T. Sean and older brother Charlie would do a joint Christmas show at the Laff Stop. That ended this past December when Charlie passed away suddenly. "Charlie was a great writer, and he was great at getting up on stage and messing with the crowd," says Shannon.
T. Sean and Charlie grew up on the southeast side of Houston with their six siblings, their mother and their NASA engineer father. "I used to meet astronauts all the time as a kid," says Shannon. "It was no big deal -- it was just like, 'Not another astronaut, can we go home now?' " Even though he now splits his time between New York and L.A., where he lives with his wife, he still has love for his hometown. "I always feel like a battered wife when I'm talking about Houston with other people," he says. "It's like, 'It's not what you think -- Houston doesn't mean to hurt me with its humidity and traffic.' " He also has to deal with the (good-natured) snobbery of his East Coast colleagues at SNL. "There's this group of writers at SNL who all graduated from Harvard, and I'm like, 'One day I'm going to go back and graduate from Harvard just to spite those motherfuckers,' " he says.
It's obvious he's joking, though. Shannon is practical enough to know that the important things in life aren't fancy pedigrees or ivy-covered diplomas. What really matters are the things that can't be measured, like laughter, family and, just maybe, the love of a good bear. -- Travis Farr