Shoplandia: Creating Comedy in the Studio

Today we're hearing from Jim Breslin, the founder of West Chester Story Slam, who has just written his first novel. I asked Jim to reflect on writing comedy.

I was recently at Chester County Book Company, reading a short story from my newly released novel Shoplandia. The story I read took the form of a fawning letter written by an Iowan woman to a show host who works at the Shoplandia home shopping channel. In the letter, we learn much about the mother, her husband and her dreams for her daughter. Although the letter is humorous, it is also tinged with a sadness about this woman’s plight in the heartland.  

So anyway, I was reading this story in front of fifty people and the laughs were tremendous, and this was obviously exhilarating. People laughed at the right places. It was strange though, because I felt a sadness welling up for this fictional woman’s predicament. The moment reminded me of this quote.

The author and Joan Rivers
“Tragedy is when I get a hangnail. Comedy is when someone else falls into an open sewer and dies.”        - Mel Brooks

Having written the character of Shoplandia customer Marie Ellen Marstan, I feel her pain more than the typical reader might. I had to remind myself she’s not real! And I find this interesting, particularly because of the subject of this novel.

You see, I worked as a producer at a real shopping channel, QVC, for seventeen years. Over this time, I worked closely with the show hosts, my fellow producers and the crews, soap opera celebrities and infomercial pitchmen. Many have become friends. There really hasn’t been a novel written with an insider’s perspective of what happens inside the TV studio of a home shopping network. There’s a real mayhem in a live TV studio. So when I set out to write Shoplandia, my goal was to capture that spirit of a frenetic live TV studio and the bonds that form between the people that work or visit.

Throughout Shoplandia, disasters occur. There’s love, sex, death, and pooping moose candy dispensers. There’s a motivational guru, a reality TV star, and a retired drunk baseball player. But in the end, Shoplandia is about those that work hard to keep the show on the air, the sales stream flowing, and American shoppers entertained. 

My hope is that stories can be funny and sad and powerful when the protagonist is somebody worth rooting for. I hope you will read Shoplandia, and let me know if you agree.

You purchase the book here

Jim Breslin’s Shoplandia is being published on May 15, 2004. There are three events to celebrate the launch. Learn more at

Thursday, May 15th, 6-8 p.m., short presentation at 7 p.m.
Chester County Book and Music Company
957 Paoli Pike
West Chester, PA 19380
Open to the public. For more info, click HERE.

SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Weekend
Sunday, May 18th 3-5 p.m.
2373 Baltimore Pike
Oxford, PA. (717 951-6418)
For more info, click HERE.

SHOPLANDIA Book Signing/Discussion
Tuesday, May 20th 6:30 p.m.
Henrietta Hankin Library
215 Windgate Dr, Chester Springs, PA 19425
(610) 321-1700

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