Randy Ross at Winnipeg Fringe Festival

"God Bless Cambodia"
By Randy Ross
Randy Ross is a writer, performer, and web consultant. I met Randy recently when I went to watch his Fringe show, titled “God Bless Cambodia”. I had printed a blurb about Randy’s upcoming show in our July 4 issue – along with blurbs for nine other shows that were going to feature Jewish performers.

This year, by the way, I had decided I was going to make a concerted effort to actually go and watch each of the performers whose shows I previewed in this paper. It’s kind of a restrictive approach to attending Fringe shows though; I didn’t go to a show unless it had a Jewish performer in it. That meant I was going to be depriving myself of the opportunity to see some really good shows but, what the hey, even if it was an offbeat style of choosing shows, there might be some diamonds in the rough, I thought.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how good most of the shows I ended up seeing were. After a while though, I began to see a pattern among the performers whose shows I was watching. They were mostly American, many of them had backgrounds in academe, and several of them had roots in the northeastern U.S. I always tried to engage them in conversation following their shows – if they had time.

As luck would have it, Randy’s show had the smallest audience of any show I attended; only four others were in the audience at Red River College that weekday afternoon. I thought to myself: “This is really embarrassing for the performer.” But, Randy was a pro and put on what I thought was a really good show, even though the whole time he was doing his shtick I kept thinking to myself: “God, where does he get the motivation to carry on as if he’s appearing in front of a real crowd?”
At the end of his show, Randy said that he had copies of his book for sale, also titled God Bless Cambodia. I sidled up to him and said I wanted to buy a copy of his book. Then I asked him if he wanted to go for a beer.
The character Randy had played in his show though, was not all that likeable, so I was sort of expecting the real Randy Ross to be similar. The onstage Randy was a neurotic, pill popping misanthrope, who has had a series of failed relationships with women all through his adult lifetime. In fact, he’s kept a spreadsheet listing the names of every woman he’s dated, along with columns ticking off the things he liked about them and what he didn’t like.
Moreover, during the play, the character Randy plays is a former magazine editor who’s lost his job and has decided to blow his severance pay on a four-month trip around the world - where he was hoping to have sex, he said, but where he would certainly drink a lot and ingest a copious number of pharmaceuticals.

I expected Randy to be somewhat like that character, but it turned out he wasn’t at all. When we sat down and talked, I found that Randy was a really likeable guy. Not only that, we had a lot in common; I was editor of a paper and Randy was a former executive editor at PC World (which has since ceased publication as a print magazine and is now only available online). He also holds a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University.
But – he only had five people in his audience the day I saw his show! I couldn’t get that out of my mind as I sat down to start reading his book. In a short while, however, I began to realize: “This guy can write – and he’s very, very funny.” While the character Randy played in his Fringe show was downright pathetic, the character in the book (also named Randy, by the way, but whose last name is Burns, not Ross), may be somewhat of a loser in love, but he’s certainly not a nebbish.
Randy Burns may be Jewish, by the way, but there’s nothing identifiably Jewish about him in the way that middle-aged Jewish men are often depicted in American fiction. He’s 48 years old in the book and is actually in pretty good shape physically. For instance, during his round-the-world travels, Randy searches out beaches where he can do some serious windsurfing. He’s also game to try just about anything that’s proposed to him, including bungee jumping into a ravine that’s equivalent to the height of three Empire State buildings.

I found this book quite hilarious. Randy Ross can deliver a punchline like a well-polished comedian. A word of warning though: Randy Burns is not exactly a feminist in his approach to women. He sizes up practically every woman he encounters in terms of what it would be like to go to bed with her. And, even when he does luck out in that area, he finds reasons to sabotage the relationship. Parts of the book deal with Randy’s relationship with his analyst, whose name – appropriately, is Moody. Moody constantly attempts to have Randy analyze his self-destructive behaviour, but Randy fends off Moody’s seriousness with glib defensiveness.
During his travels, Randy does carry on an e-mail correspondence with the one woman, named Ricki, with whom he has come closest to maintaining a real relationship. Ricki’s emails to Randy are viciously condescending though – and don’t offer a glimmer of hope to him that they might be able to renew the relationship, but they are gut-bustingly funny.
As he makes his way from Venezuela to Greece, then South Africa, Cambodia, Vietnam, and finally Australia, Randy puts himself into the worst sorts of accommodation, eats anything without paying too much attention to the rampant dangers inherent in ingesting native foods, and strikes out repeatedly with women of all stripes and colours. And, when he finally does have sex - he has to pay for it.
When I sat down with Randy Ross after his Fringe show, we discussed how difficult it is to get men to read novels that aren’t thrillers or mysteries. I don’t know whether he was accurate or not, but he said that women make up 90 percent of the readers of novels. I told him that my experience in trying to create a book club (with the Rady JCC) that would also appeal to men would tend to bear out that assessment.
But, if you’re a guy and you’re interested in reading a thoroughly raunchy, often disgusting, but consistently funny account of a middle-aged Jewish man’s adventures in some of the worst locales imaginable, you certainly won’t be wrong to buy a copy of God Bless Cambodia. From what I can see though, you’ll have to order it online though Amazon, either print or Kindle version, but it’s only $7.08 for the print version.
I’d consider recommending this book to our book club, but I don’t want to have to sit through the abuse that would be heaped upon me for asking women to read a book in which the main character is a pill-popping heavy drinker who’s obsessed with finding a woman with whom he can have sex.
As Randy wrote in the notes about his play: “A never-married hypochondriac travels the world seeking the woman of his dreams. Remember Eat, Pray, Love? This is nothing like it. God Bless Cambodia offers an unflinching look at how men really feel about sex, love, marriage, and massage parlors.” Oy!

"God Bless Cambodia"
By Randy Ross
The Permanent Press, New York
302 pages
Published 2017