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Todd Babiak answers the Stephen Leacock questionnaire

Toby a Man by Todd BabiakOn April 1, the Stephen Leacock Association announced the five finalists for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. We sent all five nominees the same questionnaire in order to get a little more insight into who these writers are, what their books are about and what what they think of being nominated for the Leacock!

Trevor Cole (Practical Jean), Red Green (How to Do Everything) and Terry Fallis (The High Road) all made it through our questions. Will Todd Babiak, author of Toby: A Man, be as lucky?

The novel tells the story of Toby Ménard. He has it all: a plum job as a television presenter, a chic downtown condo and a beautiful girlfriend. But when his dad has an accident, Toby's life begins to unravel and it isn't long before he's single, unemployed and living in his parent's basement. As he tries to find his way back to the top, the result is a series of laugh-out-loud misadventures and several important life lessons.

Q: For readers not familiar with your book, Toby: A Man, tell us what it is about.

A: Toby, a celebrity in Montreal, teaches men how to be gentlemen. On the night of a monstrous family tragedy, his perfect world of handkerchiefs, bow ties and German engineering falls apart. He loses his fiancé and moves from a loft in central Montreal to his parents' basement in the suburbs. He pitches in at his mother's hot-dog shop, "inherits" a little francophone boy named Hugo and has to learn what it means to be an actual man.

Todd Babiak

Q: Where were you when you found out you were nominated? What did it feel like?

A: I had been out for a long walk. When I returned to digital civilization, one of my friends congratulated me. I didn't know what she was talking about. My rubber boots? They are rather wonderful. Then I determined she was praising me for a video I had made in which potholes express their innermost thoughts and feelings. When I learned the truth about the Leacock shortlist I felt anxious, then terrified, then sleepy, then anxious again. What if people expect me to be funny now? Sure enough...

Q: If you can't win, which other shortlisted author would you like to see win?

A: While I enjoy and respect the other authors' work, if Toby: A Man doesn't win they may as well cancel the prize altogether and board up the entire town of Orillia. I mean, what's the point, right? However, I would desperately like to see the other nominated authors gathered in Speedos throwing footballs with their left hands.

Q: Who are some of your favourite humour writers?

A: Almost all of my favourite authors balance the most serious concerns of our time with humour. I tend to distrust humourless writers; I have trouble believing the worlds of their novels. That said, explicitly funny-funny books are sometimes terribly unfunny to me. I know literary marketers are sometimes afraid of the "funny" label, as certain readers will shy away from a perceived lack of literary dreariness: revealed secrets of incest, from back in the motherland or fatherland or Saskatchewan. This is truly awful, and hilarious. Good gracious, it seems I've completely avoided the question. Shakespeare and Fitzgerald.

Q: What is the funniest place in Canada?

A: Guelph.

Q: Why humour? What compelled you to write funny stories?

A: My Grade 6 teacher allowed us 30 minutes every Monday morning to write in our diaries or to compose "little stories." I didn't come from a bookish family so I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I wanted to write stories. They were short satires of people I knew, thrown into horrifically violent situations. For instance, several of my loved ones were eaten alive by the deranged goalie of the New York Islanders. The teacher called my parents in, wept before them and insisted they send me to a psychiatrist. Instead, my parents photocopied the stories and gave them away to members of my extended family for Christmas presents. I remember everyone opening the stories and reading them, and laughing, and whispering among themselves that I was clearly a maniac. I liked it very much.

Q: What's the funniest book you've ever read?

A: The Great Gatsby.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write?

A: Five-star hotel in the tropics, with the French windows opened before my writing desk. I'm wearing a white linen suit and dabbing my forehead every 14 to 17 minutes with a discoloured bit of silk. I'm drinking heavily, and listening to Chopin, and shouting obscenities at people who aren't really there. The usual thing.

Q: What makes something funny?

A: Two and a Half Men is the number one television show in America. I HAVE NO IDEA.

Q: If you could meet Stephen Leacock, what would you say to him?

A: "Young man: let's drain our bank accounts, fly to Buenos Aires and see what happens."

There's only one victim author left, David Rakoff. Be sure to check back to see how he does later this week. The winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour will be announced on Thursday, April 28!

Which title do you think will take the award? Let us know, and you just might win! We have three Leacock prize packs to give away, consisting of all five nominated titles. To enter, head to the Stephen Leacock Medal discussion group in the CBC Books Community and let us know which book you think is going to be named the funniest book in Canada.

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