Confessions of a Humor Columnist Or The Inquisitor’s Tale: An Interview with Jan Kaarsvlam

Over the years, readers have contacted the CEJ with numerous questions about this column. Editor Mark Brink compiled the most frequently asked questions and conducted an interview with columnist Jan Kaarsvlam. Mark describes the interview as “challenging, yet not particularly enlightening” and describes columnist Jan Kaarsvlam as “generally disagreeable, yet not altogether affable.” When Mark was asked if he enjoyed the interview, he simply replied, “Never again.”

CEJ: Jan, let me begin by thanking you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I must admit, as your articles always reach me by way of a third party, I was beginning to wonder if you were merely a myth.

Jan: Is that why I haven’t been getting my royalty checks?

CEJ: Must be. Let’s get right to the questions from our readers. This reader asked, “Where does Jan Kaarsvlam get her ideas?”

Jan: First, I feel I must correct a mistaken impression this reader has. The name Jan is not short for Janice or Janet. Rather it is a respected and ancient European spelling of a name that is sometimes spelled Jon. In short, Jan Kaarsvlaam is decidedly male. Now, what were your other questions?

CEJ: Readers have been wondering about the teachers you’ve created for Bedlam Christian High School. Some of them seem outrageously exaggerated, but every once in a while I swear you are writing about some of my colleagues. Are these characters based on real people?

Jan: I have never based a character on a real person. Rather, every single teacher who has ever appeared in Bedlam is, in fact, a real person. As a rule, the more ridiculous the behavior, the more grounded it is in actual, historical happenings. I have merely changed names to protect the guilty.

CEJ: Is the Bedlam column in the CEJ based on the teachers in my school?

Jan: Maybe. What school do you teach at?

CEJ: Moving right along. The material in this column, though mildly amusing, frequently confuses me. Why, as a teacher, would I want to read this? How will this column help me get better at my craft?

Jan: It isn’t my job to determine why you would want to read this. That is clearly your job. And it isn’t my job to help you get better at your craft. That is also your job. Your job is also to laugh at the column. Wow. You have a lot of jobs.

CEJ: If those are all the reader’s jobs, what is your job?

Jan: What, you mean this week? Since resigning from my most recent teaching position over a misunderstanding about appropriate behavior for a teacher during a lockdown drill, I am currently driving a dairy truck.

CEJ: P.E. teacher Rex Kane, who appears in your column, frequently pontificates about absurd things, spouting non sequiturs as if they were pearls of wisdom. What is that about? Are you poking fun of gym teachers or educational jargon or what?

Jan: A great artist always lets his work speak for itself.

CEJ: Are you a great artist?

Jan: Well, as Rex Kane would say, “As the truth of the oak tree is contained in its fruit, so the truth of a bicycle is to have at least two tires to avoid being a unicycle.”

CEJ: Sorry I asked. Another character, Jon Kleinhut, seems to be paranoid about everything. Is his character meant to represent the lack of trust that can sometimes build up between faculty and administration?

Jan: Nope, he is meant to represent what happens to your brain when you live in a house that is too close to a set of high-tension power lines.

CEJ: How about Gordon Winkle? He has fallen on hard times recently. He accidently destroyed much of his metal shop and automotive repair center and is mostly running chapel committee and teaching study halls. Is this meant to be a commentary on what is happening as Christian schools abandon vocational education programs and experience declining enrollment?

Jan: Nope. It is more of a commentary on what can happen when your love of deli sandwiches eclipses your focus on safety issues.

CEJ: Some columns seem to imply that Bedlam is a high school, while others seem to imply that it is a K–12 institution. I believe I have caught you in a clear error. Which is it, high school or K–12?

Jan: Yes.

CEJ: This issue of the CEJ is the book review issue. What are some recent books you have read?

Jan: As you know, Mark, I am a big fan of reading. So recently I have been reading Is This Guy For Real?, which is an excellent biography of the comedian Andy Kaufman, presented in graphic novel form. I think Andy has set an example for all of us to emulate, and every person who can read should read this book as soon as possible. Though that is really just a guess since I haven’t gotten past page four yet. I am also reading Not at all Brave, a biography of famous cowards in history. Of course I have been reading The Odyssey by Homer, which I reread every few years when a new translation comes out. This particular translation is presented in a remarkable multimodal, interactive format.

CEJ: Are you talking about the coloring book I see on your table there titled Fun with the Greek Gods?

Jan: I am also reading Unraveling Violence, which is about an innovative program in Chicago called “Darn Those Guns” that allows gang members to exchange high velocity pistols and assault weapons for knitting needles and lessons in basic knitting techniques. I highly recommend it.

CEJ: Some readers are wondering if you have ever considered compiling some of the best Bedlam stories into a book.

Jan: If I had considered such a thing—and I am not saying I have—would the CEJ pay me for it? I only ask because, while I am enjoying my time on a dairy truck, it doesn’t really pay the bills.

CEJ: I said “some” readers, and their names were all anagrams of your own. I just wanted to confirm my suspicions.

Jan: So, no book deal?

CEJ: Every column gives an update on your erstwhile teaching career. Are you really a teacher, and if so, are any of those bio notes based on things that actually happened to you?

Jan: I am a teacher, but, alas, I tend to exaggerate my own experiences. The only item grounded in truth is the tragedy connected to my “Shave the Cow” fundraiser, but I’d rather not talk about that. Even a decade later, PETA continues to threaten me with potential lawsuits.

CEJ: Do the dairy farmers you work for know about this?

Jan: No, and unless you want Naj Varasmlak to flood your phone with workout selfies, I suggest we keep it that way.

CEJ: Fair enough. If you keep getting fired from teaching positions, why do you keep trying to find work as a teacher?

Jan: I would like to answer this question in the words of the Bedlam Christian School mission statement: “Striving with Rigor and Grit, toward Christlike Academic Excellence to Transform Creation through Students, Servanthood, Service, Scholarship, and Stuff Like That.” I really think that sums it up. Don’t you?

CEJ: If you say so. I’d like to end by asking you a question of my own. When I came on as editor of the CEJ, I inherited you as a columnist. Give me one good reason why I should continue including your work.

Jan: I repeat, workout selfies.

CEJ: I look forward to seeing your next submission.