Michael Gerber ’91, a self-proclaimed seeker of irreverence, thought he realized what he was getting himself into when he decided to use his comedic talents to take on one of pop culture’s current giants, fictional young wizard-in-training Harry Potter.
But Gerber, an alumnus of the student humor magazine Yale Record, has been pleasantly surprised by the success of “Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody.” He expected trouble from his sendup of author J.K. Rowling’s famous creation.
“I was writing [my book] with the expectation that I would be sued, asking myself, ‘Is this the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life? Is it the stupidest?'” he said.
But rather than the expected lawsuits, Gerber has found his book being covered in major newspapers in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Denmark, and has received offers to publish the book in several countries.
Record Publisher Jack Snyder ’03, who said he considers Gerber a “mentor figure,” said a book like “Barry Trotter” was destined to be a hit.
“I guess [the success of “Barry Trotter”] isn’t that surprising given the popularity of “Harry Potter” and that people like to read comedy,” Snyder said.
There are even some signs Hollywood might be interested in Barry. Gerber said he has not received any direct offers but has had some hints.
This interest is an ironic twist in Gerber’s story, considering that his book follows Barry and his sidekicks as they attempt to stop the production of a movie about Barry’s adventures, the appropriately titled “Barry Trotter and the Inevitable Attempt to Cash In.”
“It speaks to all the issues the book is about,” Gerber said.
Gerber, who said he is unsure of his position on the subject of culture-dominating phenomena like “Harry Potter,” said that he does not argue for or against them in his book, but is merely content to raise the issue.
“I hope that maybe people will go, ‘Maybe bigger isn’t always better,'” he said.
While Gerber stressed that he did not intend his book as a criticism of the existence of the movie version of Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” he did openly warn about Hollywood’s preoccupation with the bottom line.
“I don’t think [“Barry Trotter”] is even negative toward the movie — but they are making [movie versions of Rowling’s books] to get your money,” he said.
As for his thoughts on a potential Hollywood deal, Gerber remains undecided. His current financial situation may play a role in determining whether or not Barry ever makes it to the big screen.
“I’m broke,” Gerber said. “[A movie] could transform my life.”
Though he stressed that he admires Rowling deeply, Gerber is careful to distance himself from her when the question of franchise expansion arises.
“J.K. Rowling, that’s different,” he said in reference to the prospects of movies. “She’s sold 150 million copies of the book worldwide before the movie comes out.”
Despite his success, Gerber said he is still wary of possible legal action by AOL Time Warner Inc., the company that owns the rights to “Harry Potter.”
Regardless of whether he has to defend them in court, Gerber is eager to expound on his motives for writing “Barry Trotter.”
Gerber, who said his comedy writing was encouraged early in life by an “explosion of great comedy writing” in the 1970s, said one of the reasons he wrote the book was to similarly encourage young talents.