On the Spiral Staircase with John J. McGurk
John J. McGurk is Vice President, Digital & Print Production at Quirk Books. Since joining the company in 2007 he has supervised production of more than 450 print and e-books, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and many other bestsellers that would’ve done just fine without him.
John thoroughly enjoys haggling with vendors and browbeating them into better delivery schedules. He loves parties but also serves as resident buzzkill where the production budget is concerned. He is maybe two years away from yelling GET OFF MY LAWN! at anyone who enters his office, and he sports a weird robe when new employees start at Quirk just to see if they have the guts to ask about it.
If you were stranded on Mars and could only have one book to read, what would it be?
Hmmm. Is there a book called How to Escape from Mars? What about 50 Marvelous Martian Cocktails Using Locally Sourced Ingredients? (Googling … making sad face … sighing heavily at prospect of dying alone and sober.)
Apparently not, so I’ll go with Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
Brilliant, ballsy and brazenly anti-authority in an era that strongly frowned upon it, Heller’s 1961 absurdist masterpiece was way ahead of its time in criticizing bureaucracy and war, and the ease with which those in power can distort reality for their own selfish purposes. He was also employing a non-linear storyline before Quentin Tarantino was even a twitch in his father’s pants. I have a framed poster of the book cover in my office.
After many years and many readings, Catch-22 remains the funniest novel I’ve ever encountered, with the possible exception of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy” by Douglas Adams. I suppose that series would be more relevant to a guy stranded on Mars. But … nah, I’ll stick with Catch-22.
Tell us about something cool you keep at your desk.
The pride and joy of my desk is a kick-ass Breaking Bad action figure of Heisenberg. It was gifted to me by editor Rick Chillot, who actually reminds me of Heisenberg. Not just the physical resemblance, but also because I once caught Rick cooking crystal meth in Quirk’s toaster oven. He claimed it was a bagel – but that’s exactly the excuse you would use if you were busted cooking crystal meth at work.
What's your fandom?
Oh man, I devour anything comedy-related: books, music, movies, TV, improv, comedians and sketch comedy. I’ve seen Weird Al Yankovic in concert five times and there absolutely will be a sixth. I’ve indoctrinated my son at the last two Weird Al shows, and we named our daughter after George Carlin. Her name is Carlyne, not George, but only because my wife was smart enough to put the kibosh on that.
In my younger days I performed stand-up and graduated from The Second City in Los Angeles, both of which gave me enough funny stories to last until I’m 100. That’s good, because I’ll be telling them until then. I loves me the stories.
There’s something so wonderfully low-tech about stand-up comedy. Take a performer, a mic, and a dumptruck of audacity to think you can make a bunch of strangers laugh. And it’s a noble profession, because if you can make just one person laugh … you suck.
What's an unexpected talent or side effect you've picked up while working at Quirk?
Does “angrily waving a P&L while insisting we can’t afford whatever someone is proposing” count as an unexpected talent? If so, that. If not, let’s go with my DJ skills.
Quirk throws monthly parties with different themes for which I create tailored Spotify playlists. I truly enjoy building and refining the playlists to match the party theme perfectly. It’s a point of pride, even if I do spend a stupid amount of time on it. Wait, does Brett Cohen read these profiles? Then I’d like to clarify that “a stupid amount of time” means like 10 or 15 minutes tops. Certainly not many, many hours.
By the way, my DJ name is MC Gurk, because … McGurk. Get it!?
I’ll show myself out.
If you were a Quirk book, which one would you be?
I considered asking my co-workers to answer this. Then I realized there’s no way Penis Pokey wouldn’t be the answer. So … no.
Instead, let’s say The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray. In no way, shape or form am I comparing myself to him. I just dig what he does. Dude’s been a stone-cold killer in the comedy world for more than 40 years now, and despite having an obvious case of existential nausea, he keeps chugging along making the world a funnier place. Plus he periodically sprinkles in serious roles to remind us that not everything is a laughing matter – but most things are.
Look, you’re never gonna solve all the problems, either the world’s or your own, so you better embrace the ridiculousness of life. Laughter is the music of the soul, and we all need that music.