Review: Passing on the Right by Mike Sacks

Note: I received a PDF of this book in exchange for a review.

I feel almost unprepared to review this book. And I shouldn’t be. I’m probably the most qualified writer actually. I’ve reviewed several of Mike Sacks’ books so far. I’ve read all of them multiple times. I’ve even interviewed him. I should be ready.

But Passing on the Right: The Skippy “Batty” Battison Story feels like it’s a towering work even I needed time to prep for. At over 600 pages, it’s by far his most ambitious book next to the relatively modest fake novelizations he’s done. It’s a sprawling book spanning decades that takes the sweep of a life in similar to John Irving. If Irving wrote about horrible monsters who only wanted fame.

The book tells the story of Skippy “Batty” Battison, a conservative comedian in the style of Glenn Beck with a radio show and podcast. Skippy’s story is a long, winding journey that takes us through the comedy scene of the 90s and 2000s, hitting every conceivable point from comedy clubs to sitcom writing to the modern podcast scene. It’s a long journey with each section practically a novella but it’s a grand statement on modern comedy that could only come from an expert.

And I need to stress the comedy thing. While the book is ostensibly about a conservative writer, there’s actually very little political content in it until the end aside from shameless name drops. That’s because a running theme of the book is how Skippy doesn’t genuinely think about politics until the exact moment it can help him. He’s a pathetic fame and glory seeker. He doesn’t believe in anything except himself. And if you know the history of many of these men this is not a leap. Tucker Carlson might be the exception.

That’s a theme this book really leans on. Truth. Skippy over and over tells a story. And over and over we process it to see the real story. A lot of these are instances he shapes to look good. He constantly tries to buy his way into success and constantly discovers he can’t or would if he had any self awareness. He’s put through humiliating moments repeatedly throughout the book and we’re cheering the people doing them.

Why? Well like with Sacks’ wildly underread Randy, Skippy is a monster and while we read the book through his eyes we can’t miss that he’s a horrible person. He’s a sexual criminal and that is a big warning for potential readers. He does something unspeakable. He steals. He lies. He commits pranks that are staggering in their abuse. He is, in his truest conservative value, a violent bigot. He’s a bad person.

And at 648 pages I can get why living through this character might be daunting. But I think the sheer scope is what elevates the book. Randy only looked at a moment but this looks at a horrible person over decades and while the book is often gut busting funny and seriously just read it for that, I think the best thing about the book is this work. We get a full, well thought out story that feels all too alike what we see from reality. I believed Skippy could exist.

The book is also a deeply rewarding study of that comedy scene. Sacks is an expert and he utterly nails it. We go from the comedy clubs to the Oscars to sitcoms back to stand up at the age of Kings of Comedy to the convention world to sitcoms to radio. And there’s a constant sense of all of this as real. You can very much read this as a companion to Zombie Spaceship Wasteland and Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt.

The book comes out 2/22 and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve had an agonizing week. I’m glad I spent it with Skippy.

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