Shortly after I finished T-Shirt Swim Club, I worked out. Which isn't to say that the first book by comedian Ian Karmel advised me to do that. There's just a genuine pump-up quality to Karmel's memoir, which he co-wrote with his sister, Dr. Alisa Karmel. 

T-Shirt Swim Club is, as Karmel described to the Mercury during an interview, "a journey through a lifetime of being fat." Plot twist: Karmel has slimmed down significantly over the course of several years—though partly shrouded by the pandemic—going from 420 pounds to something in the neighborhood of 230. He describes this in the book as: "I’m the person who went from 420 pounds down to 219 pounds, and back up to 240 pounds, and back down to 223 pounds, and back up to 250 pounds, and back down to 230."

At his two upcoming Portland stand-up shows, on March 23, you're not likely to hear about Karmel's physical changes… well, you're not likely to hear about his weight changes. He'll still be talking about his health. He told us the new show is, "about confronting getting older," then laughed, "all the fun stuff."

"I was a pretty wild dude for a long time in terms of drugs, alcohol, partying, and living," he said. "So, I could not conceive of a world where I lived until 50. I don't think it was a conscious thought, but now I'm realizing I've treated my body very poorly. And being on the other side of that, I'm looking at life, and all the other things about aging—like not being able to party anymore."

Karmel grew up in Beaverton, was the first-ever Portland's Funniest Person, and wrote a longstanding column for the Mercury called Portland As Fuck. His clever comedy earned him a job writing for Chelsea Handler’s late-night show Chelsea Lately, and he eventually worked his way up to the position of head writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden. 

Somewhere in all that professional success, Karmel's first comedy album 9.2 on Pitchfork came out on indie record label Kill Rock Stars. Now, nearly a decade later, the special he's about to record will be only his second.

And while he says material from the book isn't in the show, themes of the show are certainly present in his book. Concern about his partying-shortened lifespan was a major catalyst for Karmel to embrace "boring habits," like working out and eating healthier. "We can and should talk about how BMI is bad and biased, but biased studies don't make you more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes," he writes in a chapter titled "Regarding the Heart Attack I Thought I Was Having."

There's an element of weight-loss journey to T-Shirt Swim Club, but a strong current of body positivity runs through it. Though the name of the book is rooted in body shame, Karmel's relationship to being fat hasn't always been wholly negative. 

The memoir  moves through various phases of his life, like the joyful snacking of his youth: "The snacks were immaculate. Dunkaroos, Fruit by the Foot, and Lunchables roamed the earth." He segues into a measured, positive reinforcement he received in high school, as a defensive tackle, but remains troubled that his body "was only accepted on the condition that it absorbed and delivered pain for other people’s amusement."

In college, Karmel added alcohol to his excesses, and T-Shirt Swim Club contains hilarious, epic party stories, such as: "I tried to put my arm around the most important looking cop so I could tell him that my landlord was just being a prick… and my friend Nic had to lure me back to the house with a tub of imitation crab."

Like many memoirists, Karmel wants to recount his pitfalls and wins to make the reader laugh and additionally impart useful experience. But he shies away from the role of advice-giver; T-Shirt Swim Club is more a cautionary tale—or simply a tale—than a ten step program. 

Karmel could have shirked responsibility completely—told a bunch of wild stories, and bounced. Instead he included the second part of the book, which was written by his sister Dr. Alisa Karmel, a doctor of psychology who also possesses two masters degrees, one in child psychology and the other in nutrition.

Dr. Karmel's second half of the book carries a personable, responsible tone. She addresses subjects like fad diet pitfalls and cruel media stereotypes that normalize anti-fatness behavior. Her chapters read like rational companions to the stories her brother related earlier—the misguided emulation of fat movie and TV characters of his youth, and the eventual typecasting as "Tubbs the Obese Comedian" in the Showtime series I'm Dying Up Here.

The digestible pointers she lays down in "The Beacon of Hope for Fat Adolescents" chapter struck me as simple, useful, and something that even non-parents could remember to model. She also applies analysis of her brother's progressive weight loss and things that worked for him, which was illuminating, even as it also felt like a case study of her own sibling. Ian Karmel wanted to tell us a good story. Dr. Alisa Karmel wanted us to see what was potentially useful in that story.

We asked Ian Karmel what he thought about his sister's case study—with him as the subject—and he replied that he loved it. "I think we're all kind of case studies to the people we love, but just mostly behind our backs. This time I actually got to read it."

Ian Karmel has two shows at Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark, Sat March 23, 7 pm (SOLD OUT) & 10 pm, tickets here, 21+

T-Shirt Swim Club by Ian Karmel and Dr. Alisa Karmel PsyD, MScN will be published by Rodale Books on June 11.