Monday, January 10, 2022

Book Spotlight: Love Is the Punch Line by Kathleen Jones

Title: Love Is the Punch Line
Author: Kathleen Jones
Publication Date: April 4th 2018
Print Length: 268 pages
Genre: Romantic Comedy

Middle-aged stand-up comedian Josh Steinberg, the “Jewish Comedy King” and formerly the star of his own popular TV series, finds himself struggling to keep his career alive, playing seedier and seedier clubs. Plump, balding, and plain-looking, he has never had much luck with women. That is, until Josh meets Holly Brannigan while performing his stand-up act in a club. Holly, an attractive, intelligent, and divorced 50-year-old businesswoman, becomes instantly smitten with Josh and even finds his unconventional looks wildly sexy.

The lonely and vulnerable Josh soon falls in love with Holly, even though she’s not the statuesque type he usually goes for. But Josh, terrified of being hurt and discarded by yet another woman, hides his feelings for Holly by making fun of her in his stand-up act. And Holly, taking Josh’s words to heart, starts to wonder if she means anything to him at all.

Holly soon sees past Josh’s wisecracks and becomes aware of his true feelings for her, and Josh, slowly and painfully, learns that he can trust Holly. Josh also discovers that Holly has faith in his ability to reinvent himself. With her support and encouragement, Josh writes a screenplay for his “comeback” movie, then tries to bring his vision to life, battling dismissive Hollywood studios, hostile movie directors and paparazzi, and his own ongoing depression and deep insecurities about his looks. Together, Josh and Holly work to rebuild Josh’s faded career—and to build a future with each other.

Josh Steinberg’s mission in life was to make other people laugh, but these days, he could barely make himself smile. “Good evening, everyone,” Josh said, starting his act in a halting voice, his eyes sweeping the half-empty, dimly lit room.

What a dive. The Yahoo Comedy Club in Toronto? Never heard of it before. God, why does Greg keep lining up these crappy gigs? And how did I end up with an agent who knows nothing about the comedy business? Serves me right for hiring someone who used to be a roadie with a rock band.

Josh smiled at the half-drunken faces before him, then launched into his routine — the usual shtick about his hopeless love life.

“My looks have helped me in life. I mean, no women are filing paternity suits against me.”

Deep down inside, Josh knew that his looks had done absolutely nothing for him. He had never really been a hunk: five foot nine; slightly plump — always plump, even when he was young; a plain face with a big nose; thinning and graying brown hair; receding hairline; double chin. Josh especially hated his big, protruding belly; he had tried for years and years to get rid of it, with no success.

As if his aging looks weren’t bad enough, Josh now had some unwelcome competition from his new twenty-eight- year-old agent, Greg. Despite his short stature, Greg was darkly handsome — and Italian — with brilliant, piercing blue eyes and perfect features. On more than one occasion, Greg had stolen the woman that Josh tried to pick up. Each and every time it happened, Josh vowed to fix himself up through the magic of drastic diets and plastic surgery.

“I have to be realistic about my expectations. I mean, if I were a woman, I wouldn’t date me.”

Josh had always known he wasn’t great-looking, but he had never dreamed that he would still be alone at the age of fifty-four. He believed that once women got to know him, they would see the beautiful heart under his less than gorgeous exterior. All he had ever wanted was a soul mate, one special woman who could love him as much as he could love her. Josh knew that he would make a great husband, unlike most of the other comics on the road, who often cheated on their wives.

“Anyhow, don’t feel too sorry for me. I’ve slept with lots of gorgeous women. They simply can’t resist us paunchy guys.”

Over the years, Josh had managed to pick up a fair number of tall, thin, young, and beautiful models and actresses. But he had never been able to hold on to them; as far as they were concerned, Josh was nothing but a useful celebrity name who could get them auditions with producers, escort them to movie premieres where they could be photographed, or just satisfy them in bed until their far better looking Prince Charming came galloping along. Once they got what they wanted, they always disappeared.

“I remember one gorgeous blonde I asked out through a dating app. When I turned up at her door for a date, she took one look at me ... and threw up.”

They barely laughed at that one. In fact, they’ve barely laughed at any of my punch lines.

“I guess she had the stomach flu. And who could forget the flawless Asian beauty I met on a movie set? When I asked her out, she actually laughed at me.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Josh spied a woman seated alone at a table in the corner, her chestnut hair styled in a chin-length bob that perfectly framed her delicately pretty face.

She hasn’t laughed at any of my jokes. But for some reason, I can’t stop looking at her. The woman Josh kept staring at wasn’t his type at all. Oh, she was pretty enough, but she was hardly young. If she didn’t laugh at him, so what? She was only one woman out of billions, a total stranger that he would never even see again.

The “total stranger” couldn’t take her eyes off Josh either.

Holly Brannigan’s gaze trailed Josh onstage. He’s not bad looking. She had always found Josh somewhat repulsive whenever she saw him on TV; as far as she was concerned, he was just a fat, ugly guy with a nasal voice. But when he stepped out on the stage tonight, she found him wildly sexy. He wasn’t Holly’s type, and he was far from handsome, but ... there was something special about him. Maybe it was his big, cuddly body ... or his eyes. Yes, it had to be those warm brown eyes of his. Holly had never seen kinder eyes on a man’s face.

“I should join Daters Anonymous. I’ve become a love-a- holic.”

Holly didn’t find Josh funny at all. She couldn’t possibly laugh at a man who had been badly hurt by so many women. In fact, he depressed her... and she came to the club tonight to cheer herself up.

“Believe it or not, I was engaged once. Of course, she stood me up on our wedding day ...”

A phone rang. Very loudly.

It’s my phone, Holly thought. I forgot to turn it off. As she reached into her handbag to silence the offending phone, she could see a shadow looming over her. She looked up timidly into the glaring, unfriendly face of Josh Steinberg.

“What the hell are you doing, lady?” he said.

The audience tittered. Holly’s heart started to pound.

“This happens to be a comedy club. Why haven’t you laughed at any of my jokes?”

“I’m sorry,” Holly said in a soft voice, blinking back tears.

“Not only did you not laugh at me, but you had the nerve to pull out your phone during my set. What right do you have to do that? Answer me!”

“I said I was sorry. Please leave me alone!”

“Why should I leave you alone? You’re ruining my act. Get out of this place right now!”

That was the last straw. She felt horrible about her phone, but she couldn’t believe he had the nerve to accuse her of ruining his unfunny act. And now he was trying to kick her out, too. Infuriated, Holly stood up, grabbed a glass of water off the table, and tossed it into Josh Steinberg’s face. Then, without missing a beat, she snapped up her handbag and bolted down the hall.

The audience — finally — gave Josh the heartfelt approval he’d been seeking, punctuating their roaring laughter with loud applause and lusty whistles.

Stunned, Josh blindly picked up a napkin from a nearby table and mopped his face, his eyes trailing Holly as she disappeared into the women’s washroom.

She locked herself into the nearest stall. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks. Why did he upset me so much? Holly had always been a tough businesswoman; it was unusual for her to crumble like this. Was she touchy because Eric just dumped her ... or did she have a crush on this big pr*ck?

Ten minutes later, Holly emerged from the washroom to find the big pr*ck himself standing outside, his eyes slightly downcast, his angry face transformed by a kind expression.

“Excuse me, dear,” Josh began in a humble voice. “I want to apologize for yelling at you.”

Maybe he didn’t mean to hurt me. Maybe he needed to lash out at someone, and I just happened to be there.

“I know I interrupted your act, but you had no right to yell at me.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I was having a rough night, and I took it out on you.”

He looked so sad on that stage. She really felt sorry for him ... even though he was a celebrity.

“You think you’re better than me because you’re a celebrity, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. I’m sorry, really.” Josh sighed. “What else can I say?”

I guess he’s sincere. After all, he didn’t have to apologize to me.

“Okay,” Holly said, her voice softening. “You don’t have to keep apologizing.”

“But ... you really didn’t laugh at me. Why? Was I terrible or something? Please tell me.”

He might be an a**hole, but he did notice me. Maybe there’s more to him than I thought.

“I couldn’t laugh at you because you just seemed so ... sad.”


“Yes. All of those mean women rejecting you, treating you like crap.”

“Oh. Well, it was supposed to be funny.”

But Holly really hadn’t found Josh’s act funny. And she couldn’t understand why all the women in Josh’s past were so cruel to him. He wasn’t that bad-looking ... and he was actually sweet.

“I’m sure it was. I’m sorry I didn’t laugh.”

“Lady, you have nothing to apologize for. Well,” Josh glanced at his watch, “I’d better call it a night.”

It’s now or never, Holly. Go on and ask him — you’ll never get another chance.

“Oh, uh, Mr. Steinberg?”

“Yes?” Josh looked up, puzzled.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Holly asked, her heart pounding. “It’s the least I can do after I ruined your act.” “You didn’t ruin my act. You helped me get a big laugh,” Josh said, a playful smile spreading across his face. “You should join my act — and I should buy you a drink.”

“No, I should. I’m the one who asked you out.”

“Oh, okay.” Josh chuckled. “But you really don’t have to. Now,” he said in a more businesslike voice, “can we get out of this place and go somewhere decent?”

“I know just the place,” Holly said, smiling back at him. “Follow me.”
Kathleen Jones was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English literature. For thirty years, she toughed it out in the corporate world, chiefly as an editor for various Canadian book publishers. Sometimes, Kathleen had the opportunity to do work that she enjoyed, but too often, she didn’t. Towards the end of her career, the type of work that interested and challenged Kathleen began to slip away, and she became less and less happy.

Then one day, Kathleen realized something: creative, out-of-the box thinkers like her don’t belong in the corporate world, and if she wanted “meaningful” work, she would have to create it for herself That was when Kathleen decided to pursue the only work that she’d ever really wanted to do since she was a child: the work of a novelist!

Today, Kathleen is a full-time author who writes for a number of popular book blogs and reviews books on Goodreads and Amazon. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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