Brooklyn Bookbeat: Red Hook writer’s ‘The Petraeus Files’ spoofs recent scandal
This past November, Gen. David Petraeus resigned from his position as director of the CIA when his affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer, was discovered and became the center of extensive media attention. ABC News reported that the FBI was able to uncover hundreds – if not thousands – of emails that had been exchanged between Petraeus and Broadwell, many of which contained inappropriate and scandalous remarks.
While the government has obstructed public view of the emails, Red Hook resident and comedian Ted Travelstead was determined to share some salacious exchanges – and through his new book he’s done just that. In “The Petraeus Files: All the Photos, Charts, Poems, and Other Super-Secret Emails They Don’t Want You to See,” Travelstead has compiled a slew of never-before-seen documents, including emails and photos, that promise to shock readers.
Of course, his book is a spoof, but Travelstead went to great lengths to create a chain of correspondence that appears real in format, even including the side and top navigation bars that appear in one’s online mailbox.
The comedian goes so far as to create an accidental email exchange that occurs when Petraeus mistakenly writes an email titled “Thinking Of You” to “Sergeant Major Paul Brodekin from 23rd Platoon in Fort Gillem, Georgia.” Of course, “Paul Brodekin” has an email address dangerously similar to Paula Broadwell’s.
In anticipation of the book’s Feb. 12 release, Brooklyn Daily Eagle checked in with the writer, who shared with us his favorite Brooklyn venues, his local inspirations, and a couple of subjects that he deems “completely devoid of humor.”
Have you written other similar spoofs about current events?
I co-authored Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk which was a parody of books like The Joy of Sex, but it really didn’t delve much into current events/sexual scandal aside from a joke or two. This is my first book spoofing a major news story.
Did you intend to author a parody and look for material, or did this news story strike you as begging for such treatment?
St. Martin’s approached me with the idea. They gave me the opportunity to show them what I would do with it, and liked what I gave them, which afforded me the freedom to run with it. Humor based on current events is not something I normally gravitate towards, but what I loved about this project was being able to throw most of the facts out the window and create a world of my own imagining based on real people and real events.
Do you ever worry that you are crossing the line into bad taste or do you relish it?
I’d rather surprise an audience than shock them. I find that a lot of humor that revels in bad taste is rather easy and predictable. I’d rather cross the line into the bizarre and leave an audience member or reader feeling slightly uncomfortable, or thinking, “Where did that come from?” than go straight for a joke that is in bad taste.
That being said, there are parts of the book that are sexual in nature because that is the nature of the subject matter, but I don’t think they’re necessarily in bad taste, and they’re certainly not cruel. These people made mistakes on a grand scale, in front of a very large audience. I think a little humor at their expense is okay.
Is there any subject that you entirely avoid in your comedic performances or texts?
Animal cruelty. And any kind of sorbet made with wine. Both are completely devoid of humor.
Do you like to use modern and recently-invented forms of communication in your comedy?
Here and there, but I’d rather use these things for my comedy. Twitter being the prime example. Twitter has really given me a place to go to test out material and showcase weird, micro-fiction that might not have an audience elsewhere. It’s been a real joy. (For anyone who’d like to follow me on Twitter, I’m @trumpetcake)
What are some of your favorite Brooklyn venues – whether you’re performing or an audience member?
I love Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, and can’t wait until they’re back on their feet and open again. I really enjoy performing at Union Hall in Park Slope. I’ve also had a lot of fun doing shows at Freddy’s and Union Pool.
Would you say that your surroundings – whether your neighborhood or Brooklyn/New York at large – often inspire your work?
Absolutely. I ride the subway ten times a week. That alone provides enough stimuli for pages and pages of joke ideas. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for nearly twenty years and not a day goes by where I’m not inspired by something.
Do you have any favorite parody/spoof writers who inspire you?
Chris Elliott’s “unauthorized autobiography,” The Guy Under the Sheets, is parody of the highest order. I loved it so much. Also, I recently read Harry Crews’ The Mulching of America, and while it’s more satire than parody, the way it sends up the American businessman is equal parts vicious and hilarious.
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Ted Travelstead is a Brooklyn-based writer and comedian. He co-authored “SEX: Our Bodies, Our Junk,” and his writing has been published in Esquire, Vanity Fair, Radar, and McSweeney’s, among other publications. He is also a contributor to Care to Make Love In That Gross Little Space Between Cars?: A Believer Book of Advice. He as appeared as an actor and comedian at numerous venues in New York City. He is an avid Twitter user; follow him at @trumpetcake.
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