‘She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother’ by Bryan Batt

Lambda Literary Award Finalist

When last we saw Mad Men’s Sal Romano (played by out actor Bryan Batt), the semi-closeted art director was calling his wife from a pay phone, and not telling her he had just been fired from his job after refusing a male client’s demand for sex.

Sal’s future on the show is unknown, but Batt’s fans can get their fix even if he doesn’t return, thanks to his book She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother (Harmony), a tribute to his mother. And unlike so many celebrities who need ghostwriters or co-writers just to sound literate, Batt is very funny. Yet, one can’t help but think how much better his book would have been had he focused more on himself.

Batt grew up in New Orleans and was theatrical almost from the very start. (His singing of “Rose’s Turn,” he informs us, may well have been one of the activities that helped land him in a psychiatrist’s office.) As an adult he acted in shows like Cats. He also played Darius in the play and film versions of Jeffrey. Finally in his 40s, he won his biggest role to date, on Mad Men. Throughout it all, his mother was there to encourage him.

Batt and his mother had many memorable adventures together—like that time when she managed to sweet talk a theater employee into selling her tickets to a show after the guy swore no tickets were left. However, the stories about his mother aren’t as funny as Batt thinks they are. His mother isn’t as sassy or eccentric as he thinks she is, either.

However, she is one tough cookie, having had to survive both breast cancer and her husband’s infidelity. Here is Batt describing the latter’s affect on her:

[Mom] cried out louder than a mortally wounded animal, and crumpled to her knees…. …She slammed her fists on the marble basin, causing a jar of fine translucent powder to rocket above her, leaving a trail like a sky-writing airplane overhead, and through her foggy eyes she could see in the mirror that it was spelling out FOOL.

What fun the late drag performer Charles Ludlam would have had with this scene.

Still, I get what Batt is trying to do here—attempting to lighten up a serious moment. And though we, on some level, feel bad for what his mother is going through, it’s hard to take her seriously, since she comes across as acting less like a real person and more like a scorned wife in some really bad soap opera.

Batt is much more authentic sounding (and a hell of a lot funnier) when writing about his own experiences. For example, he tells a story from his teen years about being given the chore of buying a newspaper. At the newsstand, he notices a number of gay porn magazines. Later on, he calls the place, pretending to be an aunt who needs dirty magazines for her niece’s bachelorette party.

As this “aunt,” he tells the newsstand dude that he will be sending a young boy to pick up the magazines. By the time Batt gets to the newsstand, we get the feeling the seller saw through his little scheme. One can’t help but crave more scenes like these; that being said, She Ain’t Heavy is definitely worth a read—particularly if you are a fan of this fine actor.
A Memoir
By Bryan Batt
Harmony Books/Random House
Hardcover, $24, 288p