IOWA CITY — For someone who makes his living “trying to keep you awake at night,” Stephen King flexed a decidedly different set of skills before a sold-out crowd at the Englert Theatre Monday night: comedy.
The best-selling author of more than 50 books had the audience laughing about tales of his boyhood, his early days as a struggling writer, and cases of mistaken identity, including the time he changed a tire for someone who thought the “grubby” man in a black T-shirt and jeans might like to make a few bucks.
“He said he’d give me twenty-five if I could do it in ten minutes,” King laughed.
The slim, 6-foot, 4-inch King wore the same outfit Monday night: a black T-shirt, faded jeans and black sneakers with a bright white rim. He paced the stage as he spoke, often with his slender shoulders scrunched high to his ears.
His laugh, a bemused cackle, punctuated his stories.
“My life is all about the three faces of Steve,” he said. There’s “home Steve, the Steve that does these talks — whatever they are” and, perhaps best known to his readers, “scary Steve,” the man behind his books.
“I don’t really understand that guy,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think that I want to understand. He doesn’t travel, he’s not a social creature.”
Scary Steve is “working on something now that’s so (expletive) horrible I can’t talk about it.”
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While King is one of the best-selling authors in American history, selling more than 30 million books, he was incredibly approachable throughout the event, speaking casually, with grace, like a great guy you just met at a house party.
He spoke off the cuff about taking his young children to see the “Friday the 13th” movies “because I’m sick,” and poked fun at interviewers who ask about his childhood — a guise to find the roots to his strange mind.
“I used to tell people I got my ideas from a used idea shop in Utica, N.Y.,” he said. “I had a perfectly normal childhood. But, of course, I’d say that, wouldn’t I?”
King sympathized with the writers in the audience — those who are writers and those who wish to be writers. Stay true to your wheelhouse, he implored. Keep at it.
He provided an apt metaphor for writing, likening it to a package in your brain with holes in it, marked alive.
“Let that thing out of the box, and let it be what it’s going to be,” he said.
Monday’s sweltering temperatures didn’t deter King’s fans, who started arriving at 8 a.m. A line of 300-plus snaked well past the Fieldhouse bar, and Englert security passed out water from 20 crates stacked just inside the lobby.
Lisa Conley of Milwaukee didn’t mind the wait. “He’s the Paul McCartney of authors,” she said with a grin.