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The Bookworm Sez: “What’s So Funny? A Cartoonist’s Memoir” by David Sipress

You never thought that you could tell a joke. Oh, you’d start off right, tucking in all the funny motions and voices. You’d do the build-up like it was meant to be and you’d pause at all the right places but much as you tried, the punchline never arrived, or it did and it was

You never thought that you could tell a joke.

Oh, you’d start off right, tucking in all the funny motions and voices. You’d do the build-up like it was meant to be and you’d pause at all the right places but much as you tried, the punchline never arrived, or it did and it was delivered wrong. Ugh. Maybe you should try writing better jokes. Just remember, as in the new memoir, “What’s So Funny?” by David Sipress, some jokes write themselves.

Friday nights at Gino’s on Lexington Avenue were the best of times.

New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress remembers them for their sophistication, for the celebrity-spotting opportunities, for his mother’s elegant dresses and pearls, and because his father, Nat, was an important man on those evenings about town.

Nat Sipress was born in the early 1900s and immigrated with most of his family from Ukraine as a boy, to escape prosecution for their Jewish faith. The family landed first in Brooklyn, where life was a struggle; shortly afterward, they moved to Williamsburg and Nat left home, cutting most ties with his siblings. Why, his son can only guess; Nat was silent on the subject of his life in Ukraine and his earliest boyhood.

And yet, he was open and mostly affable about many other things. The staff at Gino’s apparently loved him. He gave Christmas the same weight as Hanukkah in the household, and he didn’t lose control the afternoon when Sipress tossed his toys out their apartment window. He urged Sipress to go to college, was proud when he chose to major in Russian history, and urged his son to stick with it, even though Sipress knew his heart was in cartooning. It was then that Nat spoke his displeasure in a time-honored fatherly way: by cutting Sipress loose for awhile.

But it was done with love. As were Sipress’ mother’s constant queries about Sipress’ happy childhood. As were his father’s weekly visits to the legacy he’d leave his children, and the surprises Sipress would find when his sister died…

So there you are, sitting anywhere but New York City. So why would you want to read the memoirs of a Jewish kid from Manhattan, circa the 1950s?

Because this Brighton Beach Memoir-ish tale is warm as a sidewalk knish, filled with author David Sipress’ stories of innocent years, a quaintly overprotective mother, and memories of a New York that you’ll never see again. Former children, especially those who grew up in the Eisenhower years, will recognize their own kidhood in this book; anyone who was a young adult in the Sixties will identify with memories of father-son clashes and long haired hippies. Most delightfully, it’s all wrapped around Sipress’ story of his career and his own marriage, punctuated by his cartoons.

It seems trite to say that you’ll laugh at this book and you’ll cry, but you will. It’s like the best kind of college reunion, with a casual after-gathering in the lounge. Indeed, read “What’s So Funny?” and you’ll know what is.

“What’s So Funny? A Cartoonist’s Memoir” by David Sipress
c.2022, Mariner Books
$27.99
336 pages