In September — as the lives of privileged kids in Reagan-era suburban Washington became something of a national obsession after Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party in 1982 — the outside world seemed to invade Sacks’s turf. At one point during Ford’s testimony, a map flashed across the screen identifying where Ford, Kavanaugh and other people she’d said were at the party all lived. “I could see where I grew up,” Sacks says. “That was all very surreal … to hear very specific elements of my childhood mentioned before the Senate and the world.” When Kavanaugh’s high school friend (and a witness, Ford said, to the alleged assault) Mark Judge was found far from the hearing, in Bethany Beach, Del., with a car strewn with comic books and clothes, Sacks tweeted, “how ... is this not Randy’s story?!” Later, he added: “I wrote about Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge and their type in my new book. I didn’t. But I did. If that makes sense. Maryland!!!”
For the record, Sacks didn’t go to Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, the school Kavanaugh and Judge attended. He went to public school. He didn’t belong to a country club, just the neighborhood pool. But growing up in Montgomery County, he says he spent time with “this entitled type,” as he referred to Kavanaugh. “Things had a tendency to happen while you were around them,” he says. “When they got drunk, all bets were off.”
As the Kavanaugh spectacle unfolded, Sacks was in the midst of recording “Passable in Pink,” an audiobook “prom-com” that satirizes the work of John Hughes — whose movies, including “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles,” were classic depictions of 1980s teenage life. (Hughes references have also been a recurring theme in Kavanaugh-related commentary.) Sacks had gotten the idea for it months earlier, after he tried playing “Sixteen Candles” for his 9-year-old daughter, Daphne. She watched for a few minutes before wandering off to read Harry Potter. Sacks, who hadn’t seen it in years, kept watching. But he couldn’t enjoy it. “There are elements in some Hughes films that bring to mind a world that doesn’t exist anymore and shouldn’t,” he said in an email the day after the Kavanaugh hearing. “When the Geek sleeps with Jake’s girlfriend. She’s handed over as if she’s some sort of discarded object and is, essentially, raped. Not funny. … A lot of the humor just doesn’t hold up.” So he set out to write what he calls “a more realistic version.”
“Passable in Pink” is a follow-up to “Stinker Lets Loose!” — an audiobook of a novelization of an imaginary ’70s long-haul trucker movie, featuring the voices of Jon Hamm, Andy Richter and Paul F. Tompkins, which Audible released in January. Richter said in an email that he was drawn to Sacks’s work because he is “the best kind of comedy writer; a bona fide weirdo with virtually no interest in satisfying anything other than his own personal obsessions.”
“Stinker” was inspired by novelizations Sacks would pick up in used-book stores in Ocean City and Virginia Beach while on summer vacation. There’s a subplot about getting a six-pack of beer to Jimmy Carter. But that’s about as political as his work usually gets. “Political humor gets stale,” Sacks says. When asked what real-life events influence his work, he’s more likely to cite his obsessive-compulsive disorder, which he’s had since the sixth grade. When you have OCD, he explains, “you come at things differently. And I think that helps if you want to be a comedy writer.” The best treatment, he’s found — other than medication — is channeling his anxious energy into writing.
Sedaris, who also has OCD, says that undercurrent of honesty is what makes Sacks’s work so funny. “There’s a vulnerability there,” Sedaris says. “You get the sense that there’s something at stake.” They first connected when Sacks interviewed Sedaris for a book and spent nearly five hours on the phone. Sacks says they talked so long that “I had to urinate into my trash basket. Twice.”
Inevitably, all the attention on the lives of suburban D.C. teenagers in the ’80s will fade, and Sacks will get his literary turf back. “I’ve lived in New York for almost 20 years, and I still — my mind is back in Maryland and Virginia. I just know that sensibility,” he had told me a few weeks before the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. “That’s where I feel most comfortable. Going to Ocean City, going, not necessarily to club Seacrets —” He paused. “Have you been to club Seacrets?”
“Yeah, don’t go. But this is the world I know. I love it. And I love writing about it.”
Rebecca Nelson is a writer in New York.