It’s a saga ripped from today’s headlines. Indeed, “The Sonoma Police Report” is perfect for a town where the daily paper comes out twice a week. Local Joshua Farrell has gathered “funny, odd tales from the wine country” right from the local police report. The names have been changed to protect the, well, guilty, but it’s fun to guess who perpetrated what, and which bar they had patronized earlier that night. The Sun recently caught up with Farrell for a friendly interrogation about growing up here, the book and some of his favorite (and stupidest) criminals.
Sun: You’re a Sonoma guy. Tell us a bit about your background.
Joshua Farrell: My parents had a lumberyard out in Schellville. I grew up running around Sonoma in the 70’s and 80’s, having fun, playing in the Plaza, at the Boys Club, and feel very fortunate to have been raised in Sonoma. I washed dishes at Mary’s Pizza and I bused tables at the Swiss. I ended up getting interested in theater when I was at Altimira. I auditioned for the role of Rumpelstiltskin and was cast as “juggler number five,” with no lines. That somehow led me to do theater in high school, college, and grad school at A.C.T. in San Francisco. I’ve been an actor for the last 20 years doing a lot of regional theater, commercials, and some film. I’ve had my own company for the last couple of years that focuses on writing and providing content for companies in the entertainment and advertising industries. I’ve really enjoyed producing and writing during these last few years, producing a few commercials and a couple of comedy pilots.
Sun: Where did the idea for the book come from?
JF: I was doing a fundraiser for the Community Center years ago (a funny one-man show) and I was trying to think of a way to raise money that could continually go to arts programs for low-income kids. I grew up here going to the Boys Club and the Community Center everyday after school. I was introduced to a lot of arts and sports – that’s s just what we did after school and all summer. I thought a book could be a good way to raise some money and make people laugh. I tend to be drawn to things that are funny, and “Winery Birds of Sonoma Valley” or “How to create your own Sonoma backyard Biosphere” weren’t topics that were interesting to me. I grew up reading the police report every week. A portion of the crimes have been consistently covered by a number of very funny writers for 30-plus years. I thought mixing the funniest reports with stories from locals of all sorts would be a good book. Twenty percent of the profits of the book go to arts programs for low-income kids and other charities in Sonoma. I talked to the (Index-Tribune) and got permission to move ahead. That was three years ago.
Sun: And you actually interviewed some of the witnesses?
JF: Oh yeah! That was the most fun! I thought the reports were going to be the highlight (and they are very funny), but when I started talking to locals, I started hearing the craziest stories. I interviewed police officers, taxicab drivers, people working security in stores, community leaders, and at least 150 locals that had funny, kooky, and sometimes just oddball stories. I’ve always loved the characters in this town and I feel the book captures some of that. I feel very lucky to have grown up with and continue to be friends with some amazing Sonomans. It helps that I changed every name in the book, whether in a report or an interviewee. People are more likely to tell you they ran around the Square naked, on a dare, with only one shoe on, if you promise not to mention their name.
Sun: What are a few of your favorite stories?
JF: It’s tough because there are almost 700 funny anecdotes in the book, 28 chapters with stories including a lot of different aspects. In 1984, two local high schoolers faked out a bunch of people that were out on Highway 121 to see the Olympic Torch run from Napa through Sonoma. They pretended to be the runner with an actual lit torch and people cheered and left before the actual torched showed up. There are some hilarious Christmas stories. One time someone overnight moved the three wise men that were in front of city hall to across the street at the bank. One wise man was at the ATM and the other two were properly placed waiting in line behind him. Once there was a man yelling repeatedly through a window on the plaza: “Let me in! Let me in!” Officers determined the man was drunk because he was yelling at his own reflection in the window. That one cracks me up. People also take care of each other. I have a story about a police officer going into an old lady’s house to make sure her heating blanket is on. Her daughter, who lived in the city requested it, telling him where the hide-a-key was and he did it, called the daughter and told her everything was OK and that her mom was asleep under a warm blanket.
Sun: Stupidest criminal yet?
JF: I have a chapter titled “Stupid is.” There was a guy who when asked his name told the cops one that differed from the one hanging around the necklace on his neck. But there are a couple of ones where a guy tries to stuff at least four bottles of booze down his pants at the grocery and goes clanking out the doors thinking no one is going to notice, let alone hear him.
Sun: What’s the reaction been — is Sonoma proud of it’s small-crime charm?
JF: The reaction has been fantastic. People love to laugh and I think that if you grew up here and you’ve lived here for a while, you know just how fun and kooky and amazing the people are. And people have responded to that. I’ve had 80-year-olds and 15-year-olds tell me they think the book is hilarious, so that’s pretty cool. I tried the best I could to keep it funny and representative of an aspect of Sonoma that I think is very different than what you’ll find in a “top 10” guide book rating.
Sun: What’s next for you?
JF: Right now I’m doing post production editing on the audio version of the book. We recorded it at the Foo Fighters studio in Los Angeles. I had five actors record it, because this kind of book lends itself to that. That made it really fun to record together in the studio. I had one of my best buds from Sonoma, Joe Herrschaft, come down and join in. And my company is in pre-production for a television comedy pilot about a completely different ridiculous subject we are going to shoot in late March.
Joshua Farrell will read from “The Sonoma Police Report” on Thursday, December 12 as emcee of Open Mic Night at the Epicurean Connection, 7:30 p.m. 122 W. Napa St. On Wednesday, December 18, he will read, sign and judge a Horrible Holiday Sweater Party at the Sigh tasting room, 7 p.m. 29 E. Napa St.