The following is a totally arbitrary (and meaningless) list of the best comedy books of the past few years.
Sarah Silverman - The Bedwetter
When comedians are interviewed it’s not rare for them come off as jealous or overly competitive but there are a few modern comics that are referred to almost reverently. Their last names don’t seem necessary because everyone in the comedy world knows who Patton (Oswalt), Louis (CK), and Sarah are. They’re a few of the titans.
The Bedwetter is Sarah Silverman’s hysterical memoir about her life growing up Jewish in cookie cutter New Hampshire through her rise to comedy stardom. Her shtick of an obliviously selfish and racist character (see: Jesus is Magic) is on display here, but Silverman isn’t afraid to go deeper than that. She details her lifelong struggle with depression, bed wetting, and being demonized for criticizing the Catholic Church as a Jew. They’re stories that would be tough to listen to if they weren’t so laced with laughs.
She also delves into The Sarah Silverman Program‘s rise and fall, revealing that the finished Comedy Central product was just the tip of the iceberg and is hilarious when writing about trying to make a name for herself.
If I were ranking this list, The Bedwetter would be an easy #1.
Michael Ian Black – You’re Not Doing It Right and My Custom Van
My Custom Van is Michael Ian Black’s 2008 essay collection. It’s easy to read and each of the 50+ essays could be the groundwork for a stand up routine or a sketch from The State. Highlights are “What I Would Be Thinking If I Were Billy Joel Driving to a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano,” “A Few Words About My Jug Band,” and “A Series of Letters to a Squirrel.” Sarah Silverman put it best when she said on the back cover, “Fun to read while pooping.”
Like The Bedwetter, You’re Not Doing It Right lets readers get to know a personality that doesn’t usually reveal much past a smirk. Michael Ian Black tells the story of what seems like a pretty tough life. His sister has down syndrome and his father was found killed in his car on the side of the road. Chapters with titles like “I Hate My Baby” fit in right alongside Black falling in love with his wife and not being able to hook up with girls in bars. The book is incredibly personal, at times I almost felt voyeuristic reading it. Not in a dirty way, but the thoughts and depth of emotion the usually smug Michael Ian Black goes into is sometimes tough to read because of his honesty. Somehow, it’s still funny and never goes for a cheap laugh.
Steve Martin – Born Standing Up
I almost felt a responsibility to read Born Standing Up. I can’t at all explain why I’m so interested in comedy, but it goes deeper than mother-in-law jokes. Growing up in the ‘90s, it’s hard to appreciate how big Steve Martin must have been. The Jerk is hilarious but I know him more from his kid’s movies. In that sense, Born Standing Up is more like Inspector Clouseau’s autobiography than that of a Wild and Crazy Guy. He discusses getting his stand up start and where his then abstract act came from. Before he was the dad in Cheaper By the Dozen, Steve Martin turned comedy on its head by playing a doofus with a banjo in front of stadiums. One part stands out, though. After a rough childhood and barely communicating with his father throughout his life, Martin ruminates on the eventual end of his dad’s life. It’s an enthralling part of a book I wish I liked more.
Tina Fey – Bossypants
Even though it was released a year after The Bedwetter, Bossypants is often compared to that book because both are written by funny women. Which is sexist but also dumb, because that’s where the comparisons end. Bossypants has taken over the world since it was released in April of last year and it’s easy to see why. Tina Fey sticks with a chronological description of her life and even though she never gets too personal, she doesn’t need to. She jabs at classmates from when she was growing up and describes her dad as being from the silent generation who’d never watch people eat bugs on Survivor. It’s a light read with lots of highlights, one of the biggest is the story behind the genesis of 30 Rock. It’s a shame, though, that she didn’t get more into her time at SNL, about which she says, “Saturday Night Live runs on a combustion engine of ambition and disappointment.”
David Cross – I Drink For A Reason
I Drink For A Reason is similar to My Custom Van, only meaner. David Cross is a cranky comedian who helped create Mr. Show and starred at Tobias on Arrested Development. His essays include, “Bill O’Reilly Fantasy,” “Don’t Abandon Your Baby,” and a whole crop of ridiculous lists. It’s less fun than My Custom Van, but like that book it fits perfectly on the back of your standard toilet.
Patton Oswalt – Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
This definitely says more about me than the book, but Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was a heartbreaker. Patton Oswalt’s one of the most original voices in stand up now and is busy writing for Spin, The AV Club, and Wired when he’s not appearing in movies or putting out a new hour. Which makes Zombie Spaceship Wasteland so much more of a let down. In Bossypants, Tina Fey made it easy to relate to her even though she’s a superstar, that’s not the case in ZSW. It’s a memoir with stories that are often too specific or too long, connected by interludes from out of left field. Bummer.