The Next Chapter

Why Shawn Hitchins invented a new genre for his memoir A Brief History of Oversharing

The comedian invites readers to peek at his embarrassing moments through a series of essays.
Comedian Shawn Hitchins shares the ups and downs of his career through a series of anecdotes in A Brief History of Oversharing. (Jen Squires Photography/ECW)

Humiliation fuels Shawn Hitchins's nonfiction work, A Brief History of Oversharing. But laughter has helped him confront difficult situations and relationships from his childhood in Egypt, Ont., and his adult life in Toronto. Hitchins is the mind behind the 2013 Ginger Pride Walk at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and finds just as much to celebrate about his own story in his memoir. 

Looking back and laughing

"I call the book a work of 'neurotica,' which is this new genre I'm trying to crack. I tried to explore why it's so difficult to be me. A therapist said to me, 'This is just life. You're no different from anybody else.' Your ability to handle the situation is what helps you get through things — and I do that through comedy. Like most gay men, I've struggled with my relationship with my father. I love my father dearly and I'm comfortable where our relationship is now. Learning to accept my father for who he is defined me because I had to seek comfort and shelter in safer places, such as the arts. Community theatre is that place where you get to develop healthy relationships with adults in a safe place. That's where it started — learning to be safe in laughter."

Searching for mentors

"I find gay men under 25 terrifying. They're doctors, lawyers, they have condos — it's so beautiful because that's the intention of the gay rights movement that gave this experience to others who didn't have it. But growing up without mentors, in a generation that was wiped out by a plague, we were left to it and were very limited. I attached to Liza Minnelli because I found her live CD and thought, 'She is expressing everything I am feeling in one concert!' When I didn't know what to talk about or express what I was going through, I would just talk about Liza Minnelli. It became an obsession and a crutch."

Family feuds

"Family is tension and there is no greater form of comedy than tension. Learning how to break it was an important life skill. When I wrote A Brief History of Oversharing, I wanted to plump out my life and make my experience three-dimensional. As a gay man, we're led to one-dimensional experiences — I was really trying to work toward showing what our divorces, successes and failures look like. Some of my family who have read the book have not liked it. But the cousins who I have not talked to in years are now coming back to me and saying, 'Oh, this is what your life is.' In a way, that was my intention — it's emotions that will change people and the method that I used was humour and tension."

Shawn Hitchins's comments have been edited and condensed.