How I Wrote It

Why comedian Evany Rosen wrote a book about Western history

The author discusses how she wrote her first book, What I Think Happened: An Underresearched History of the Western World.
Evany Rosen is a comedian based in Toronto. (Erica Genereux Smith/Arsenal Pulp Press)

From writing for the Baroness von Sketch Show to her voiceover work in animated series like Disney's Hotel Transylvania, Evany Rosen knows how to make people laugh. The comedian, writer and actor was a founding member of the acclaimed sketch comedy troupe Picnicface, which went on to have their own series on the Comedy Network. Her first book, What I Think Happened: An Underresearched History of the Western World, is a humourous collection of essays that retell historical events.

Below, Rosen explains how she put a fresh, feminist spin on history.

Adding a feminist perspective

"Well there are many delightful anecdotes and absurd things from history, it's also mostly painful and bloody. I felt like the best move for me, as a white Canadian author, was to look back at some of the towering male figures from Western history and take them down a few pegs — to look at them as the absurd personalities they were, as opposed to these giant, revered individuals." 

Outsourcing her research

"I had my friend Rachel, who is much better at research than I am, doing research for me. I'd say, 'Give me a page on these presidents.' So she was my hired gun research assistant — a very low stakes operation, just my friend who lives upstairs reading books for me. From books I had, things I knew, going to the library to Wikipedia, it was a wild dash to the finish, making sure nothing I was saying was wrong, but not necessarily delving into how right it could be. Anything I included was corroborated against more than one source. I wasn't playing too much with historiography, unless I was making it very clear that it was my own opinion."

History is big, but it's not insurmountable

"I hope readers take away a feeling that history as a subject, broad as it is — and it's enormous — does not have to live in this high concept academic space, where you can't access it. It can be just a product of our past, something interesting, something you can dip your toe into. Once you do, there is a whole world of academic study and things to learn about. But as a subject, [history] can be a friendly enhancement to what we're learning about the world around us — and it's silly as hell!"

From academic to comedian

"I've always loved writing and I've always been writing. Then, for a very brief nonsense period, I thought I was going to go the academic route. When I had to rewrite my thesis — because the first time I was informed that it was too short and full of typos — I thought, 'Oh, maybe not this kind of writing.' 

"Up until now, I've had the opportunity to write stuff for myself and for shows I have created. I've also been picking up the skills of getting inside someone else's voice — thinking, 'What's your vision for the show? What do I need to do to write for you?' [Writing this book] was an interesting experience, to live and die by my own thoughts and ideas. But I enjoyed the process. I hadn't really had that opportunity before to just rattle around in my own brain."

Evany Rosen's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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