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Reprint from Cleveland Jewish News

Area Humorist hits 'below the belt'
By Michael Drexler
June 19, 1998

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Eric Broder has a look on his face of such worry that it is almost painful to watch. It is deceptive. He fiddles around, looks at the ground, seems at a loss for words. He appears always on the verge of running amok – away from the world’s confusion.

Then, he raises his head with odd, hypnotic pride. Humor is afoot. Out of nowhere, he bursts out singing with alarming volume and piercing, operatic pitch, what he believes to be the Croatian national anthem – using double-talk (or doublesing). After the initial shock, his friends laugh.

Why is why he performs the odd feat. “Humor is instant gratification,” he says.

When he is not acting funny or writing funny, Broder likes to watch his favorite episodes of the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” He has most of them on tape.

The Shaker Heights resident, a staple in Greater Cleveland’s writing community for more than a dozen years, has just accomplished something he has wanted to do since his early teens, when he studied James Thurber and S.J. Perelman. Broder, 43, is now, like his heroes, the author of a book of short humor pieces.

The Below-the-Belt Manager (Warner Books) is a hilarious collection of columns Broder has written over the last 10 years. It concerns business management, a topic he freely, gleefully, acknowledges he knows nothing about. The only thing Broder is sure of when it comes to navigating the shark tank of corporate politics and management is that he would never wish it on his worst enemy.

But, he has his fantasies of ghoulish power plays and spills them all over the pages of his book.

It is a send-up of all the flinty nuggets of advice the serious managers offer in books to those hoisted into positions of corporate power.

What barbarous thoughts crawl around in Broder’s comic mind. He revels in the role of the insanely cruel manager as he explains tactics of management that often bear a frightening resemblance to real-life corporate culture. Broder researched the book by reading other books, serious ones, on management. He also talked to friends in the corporate world. He was struck by the sometimes hideous ways of that culture. It had to be funny.

“Humor,” says Broder, “has endless possibilities.” He says he cannot imagine not seeing the funny side of things.

Here is what he does with corporate life, in the form of advice: In the “Personalized Punishment” section, he writes without a note of shame: “Some management experts feel that predetermined disciplinary actions and reprimands should be set for every conceivable offense, so that you will be fair and even-handed. But do you really want a book to tell you what to do…? Where’s the creativity in that? Where’s the fun? As the finest prison wardens know, the best punishment is one that fits the crime. That’s why you must enforce personalized punishment.”

He describes various horrid punishments for different slips of judgment among workers. He then concludes, in the form of a boxed maxim, “GOLDEN RULE:

Employees remember you far better for how you punish them than for how you reward them. Make sure to punish them good.”

The hook to catch people’s eye on Broder’s manual is, in boldface: “If your face isn’t on a dart board in your employees’ lunchroom, you need The Below-the-Belt Manager.” He also warns on the back cover,” Encouraging employees is the first step on the road to communism.”

Broder, who aside from dreaming zany thoughts in his youth also attended The Temple-Tifereth Israel, is a good example of complete focus paying off. “I’ve wanted to write humor since I was in junior-high school. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

He has a great love for the great Jewish comics of the century, such as Jack Benny, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Robert Klein, Jerry Seinfeld and Carl Reiner.

In 1983 he met Bill Gunlocke, who had the idea of starting a weekly downtown newspaper called the Cleveland Edition. Broder, with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, started the paper with him, but wrote only a humor column.

Otherwise, he edited and helped put together each issue. Later, when The Edition closed and the Cleveland Free Times was created, Broder moved to the new weekly to do the same – edit the paper and write humor.

The columns, over the years, gained a cult audience. Eventually his work came to the attention of an agent on the lookout for talent in Cleveland. Broder hooked up with the agent and soon the idea for the book was hatched.

Broder laughs at the contrast in approaches to journalism between him and his brother, John M. Broder, who is a White House correspondent for the New York Times. Broder’s parents were both academics. His father, Harry, was dean of students at Case Western Reserve University and his mother, Peggy, was an English professor at Cleveland State University. He has another brother who is a lawyer and a sister who is a Cleveland police sergeant.

What is next for Greater Cleveland’s top humor writer? Not Hollywood, says Broder. Oh, he’d do a sitcom, but his contributions would have to be e-mailed from Shaker Heights. “I don’t like to move,” he says with a slight sigh.

© 1998 Cleveland Jewish News, Cleveland, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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