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Art People: Bruce Watson | satirist, biographer

  • Writer Bruce Watson poses for a portrait Friday in front of his book collection at his Leverett home.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Writer Bruce Watson poses for a portrait Friday in front of his book collection at his Leverett home.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Writer Bruce Watson's ebook is displayed on an iPad Friday in his Leverett home.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Writer Bruce Watson's ebook is displayed on an iPad Friday in his Leverett home.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Writer Bruce Watson poses for a portrait Friday in front of his book collection at his Leverett home.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Writer Bruce Watson's ebook is displayed on an iPad Friday in his Leverett home.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Leverett writer Bruce Watson takes satire seriously. So much so, that when digital publisher New Word City offered him the opportunity last year to write a biography on anyone of his choice, Watson picked one of today’s most popular satirists, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” The result: Watson’s ebook, “Jon Stewart: Beyond the Moments of Zen.”

Watson, 59, who is the author of several other books and magazine articles, says the choice was a no-brainer. Stewart’s brand of biting humor that lampoons politics and the national media is right up his alley: Watson grew up reading Mad and National Lampoon magazines, and watching “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and “Saturday Night Live.” He even took a class on satire in college, where he learned that “thumbing your nose at power is as old as civilization.”

“Satire speaks truth to power and it says something in a clever way,” he said. “It penetrates a little deeper.”

Watson gets a chance to do some nose-thumbing of his own in the Lifestyle column that he’s written for the Gazette since 1988. It’s a column that’s morphed over time, he says, from musings about his family and local lifestyle issues, to satirical commentary on national political and social issues. As his concern about the country’s direction has grown, he says, so, too has his use of the humorous spiked barb.

For Watson, finding humor in the ills of the world has always been a matter of self-preservation.

“It is the only way I’ve ever been able to bear the news,” he said. “Because there seems to be so much unfiltered nonsense, it’s really nice to have that type of lens on it. ... It’s like Nietzche said, ‘We have art in order not to die of the truth.’ And the truth is many of us are very concerned about the direction the country is taking. We want to be able to stay informed and stay tuned in, and without an occasional laugh at it, we’ll tune out.”

That’s especially true, he says, when facing emotional and controversial issues, like gun control, for example, which he sometimes writes about in his column. While he’s careful never to target victims or specific tragedies, he says, he gleefully takes aim at the spinners and shakers — the politicians and the media.

“We shouldn’t shy away from controversy. Even if the target itself is touchy, the way it’s being spun is always fair game,” Watson said. “I look at the way it’s being simplified, or dumbed down. The way we’re being distracted from the real issues. Then you have a target.”

Watson says he’s occasionally been taken to task for using humor in his columns about sensitive topics, but, he insists, that’s when satire may be most important.

“We need that voice that suggests that the emperor has no clothes,” Watson said. “That sort of gadfly voice needs to come out.”

— Kathleen Mellen

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