By just about any measure, Simon Rich, 28, has had an enviable career. Son of famed New York Times columnist and theater critic Frank Rich, stepson of author Alex Witchel, younger brother of novelist Nathaniel Rich, he attended New York’s prestigious Dalton School, then went on to Harvard, where he edited the famed Harvard Lampoon and signed a two-book deal with Random House while still a junior. When he was 22, his first collection of short stories was nominated for the (James) Thurber Prize for American Humor. He was the youngest writer ever to be hired to work on “Saturday Night Live,” and his first novel, “Elliot Allagash,” was optioned by Jason Schwartzman. For the past year, Rich has been working yet another dream job: writing for Pixar studios, in Emeryville, Calif.
In person, Rich is actually as charming as his life appears charmed — he is a pale, nerdy young man with wide eyes and a slight overbite that makes him look like a character from his beloved cartoon show “The Simpsons.” He’s also the first person to admit that God doesn’t play fair; in fact, that is the theme of his second novel, “What in God’s Name,” a brief, witty romp about two angels trying desperately to convince their boss not to destroy the human race.
I met with Rich in the sunlit Grato Café and Bistro, just a block from the Pixar campus. He ordered a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but first asked whether The Forward’s readers would mind.
Sheerly Avni: In “What in God’s Name,” you imagine heaven as a sprawling corporation, and God as a capricious CEO who plans to shut down the humanity division to focus on starting an Asian-fusion restaurant chain. What inspired this decidedly “un-Jewish” vision of the afterlife?
Rich: Oh, I think it’s totally Jewish! In fact it dates back to when I was studying for my bar mitzvah. At the time, I was also reading a lot of “Dilbert” comics, and the two got kind of fused in my brain. I started picturing God as the pointy-haired boss from “Dilbert,” someone irrational, needy, shortsighted and vain and impossibly powerful all at once.
You’re not religious, though.
We were Reform Jews, but I really enjoyed studying the Torah. I became obsessed with it. You know, for all those years you memorize these gibberish chants, you say them, and then one day, in seventh grade, they actually hand you a book and you actually read it, and it’s completely insane, and it’s full of violence and incest and 99-year-olds cutting off parts of their penises.