Finding Books Funny…

Nothing quite beats sitting down with a book loving friend in the flesh over a pot of tea/glass of wine or two does it? It is also great for catching up over what you have both been reading and passing on great reads. It also sometimes throws up heated debate, say about Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, and some lively discussion which fires your brain about all things bookish. This is exactly what happened when I spent several hours with my lovely friend Emma yesterday and the first of two things we talked about which made me internally note ‘that would make a good blog post’ was funny novels. I have always struggled with comic novels and yet would like to read some as I do like a laugh. Yet we were both really pushed to think of that many novels that have made us laugh out loud.

I do pointedly say novels because I have noticed as Christmas draws near it’s that time of year when all the comedians decide it is really time to share their life story and generally, in my humble opinion, they are rubbish. The only good comedian memoirs I can think of are Alan Carr’s ‘Look Who It Is’ and Dawn French’s ‘Dear Fatty’, the latter was funny but also very moving.  

Dawn French was actually one of the first names I thought of, and her novel ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’, when I was thinking of contemporary writers who might be very funny, but I wouldn’t know as I haven’t read it (I should here apologise to my mother who bought me this last Christmas) as yet. I then thought about Stephen Fry and pondered if maybe his novels would be funny? Not memoirs, the fictional novels. Julie Walter’s novel didn’t sound like it was going to be funny, was it? Has anyone read them? Emma was struggling too, she mentioned Jon Niven and we both discussed Sue Townsend (though we also said Adrian Mole etc were funnier when we were younger) but then we were a little lost.

Even with classic funny novels I struggled, I could only think of three. Emma said Charles Dickens, and then told me to ‘get out this house’ when I shamefully admitted I have yet to read him. Dickens… funny… really? Anyway the first I thought of was ‘The Loved One’ by Evelyn Waugh and the second and third were ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ both by Nancy Mitford. I have heard Stella Gibbons is very funny, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ has been on my TBR for years, I really must get round to it… I must.

  

The thing is though that humour is subjective isn’t it. I like my humour dark in the main, hence the Waugh novel which is set in a funeral home and cemetery is right up my street, and also that dry observational wit which can leave me in stitches as Mitford does. I don’t like slapstick and I am not that fussed by pastiche. It is tricky isn’t it and yet quite unlike Zoe Williams who believes in a time of worry/crisis we should read nonfiction (you can hear me and Gavin discuss this article on the latest episode of The Readers); I think I might quite like the odd hilarious read instead.

So I thought I would throw this out to all of you and see if you could help. Have any novels by comedians been as funny as you hoped? Which books have made you laugh out loud be they modern or classic and why? Recommendations are highly welcomed.

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47 Comments

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47 responses to “Finding Books Funny…

  1. Great topic, it really is subjective. Like you I loved The Loved One and found it hilarious, but others didn’t at all! Others that I found funny were Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, ….. and …. I know there are others that had me laughing, but clearly not enough for me to remember them as funny. After reading Good Omens though my roommate told I was laughing in my sleep, so I would say that is a good endorsement! ;)

    • I don’t know how anyone couldn’t find The Loved One funny but then thats part of the whole subjective thing and thats exactly what myself and Emma were talking about. It’s all down to what your funny taste bud is.

      Good Omens sounds like it cetrainly had the funny effect on you, I will have to give it a whirl. Someone has been going on and on at me to read something Pratchett based too.

  2. The only book I have read recently which made me laugh out loud was a memoir: Our Hearts were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. It is the most charming book. Anything else I would put in the class of cleverly amusing, and the books that come to mind are Clochemerle and Clochemerle-Babylon by Gabriel Chevallier, and anything by Nancy Mitford.

    • I have never heard of Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. Nor have I heard of Gabriel Chevallier, oh dear I am not doing well today. I will look them though so thank you Karyn as if you find Nancy funny these could be right up my street.

  3. Spike Milligan’s “Puckoon” springs to mind as a successful novel and I certainly think his memoirs are very well worth reading.

  4. Louise

    Maybe I’m just a hard faced cretin, but books don’t make me laugh.. I’ve had the odd snigger and smile but no belly laughs, the closest I’ve came to laughter would be Starter for Ten. I’ve been told I’m quite a funny person and I do like to laugh, maybe I just need the visual, like in movies?

    • It could be the visual thing Louise. I have been told I am quite funny and yet I don’t laugh very much in real life, you might get the odd wry smile but rare is it I guffaw, but when I do (and am really tickled by something) I simply cant stop. That has happened several times when reading Nancy Mitfords novels.

  5. Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out of Here made me laugh — it’s possibly the funniest, weirdest, kookiest, creepiest book I’ve read all year.

    I also have a Top 10 funny novels list on my blog: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2010/07/top-10s-my-favourite-funny-novels.html

    • That list is great Kim, thank you so much.

      I was sent Get me Out Of Here but it was in the ‘box of books that was lost in the move’ sadly. Now that you have described it as you have I really want to read it.

  6. Ruthiella

    Humor is very subjective, I agree. I find Kate Atkinson’s wry observations in her novels funny, they often make me smile; ditto Kurt Vonnegut. For laugh out loud funny, Bridget Jones Diary made me laugh loudly on a public bus. I don’t know, however, if it holds up now. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is hilarious to me, and pretty much anything by Bill Bryson will make me giggle.

    • Completely agree with you about the humour in Kate Atkinson’s novels Ruthiella, even though they are rather dark they are also rather wry and dry and funny.

      I havent read any Douglas Adams, maybe I should?

  7. The first books that come to mind which make me laugh out loud are books by Bill Bryson. He is one funny man and I don’t think I have read a single book by him where I haven’t laughed out loud. The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke is another one (modern day take on nursery rhymes) and I have laughed out loud in books by Jasper Fforde. I love a book that can make me laugh.

    • I must get around to reading Bill Bryson, thanks for the reminder Becky, where should I start?

      Oh and you are the second reminder of late about Jasper Fforde, I started his The Eyre Affair and then didn’t finish it, for no reason I can think of either as I was really enjoying it. Odd.

  8. Eva

    Three Men in a Boat and Good Mens are the two that immediately jumped into my head!

  9. The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, aged 37 1/2 was the first book that made me laugh out loud. Then I discovered Roald Dahl’s poetry and Patrick McManus. And last summer I read Starter for 10 by David Nicholls that had me in stitches from the very beginning.

    I usually prefer reading humour that is more subtle, wordy and wry than the slapstick kind. And some of the books I mentioned just now may overlap on slapstick I suppose, but they’re funny because of the way they’ve been told ;)

    • I thought you meant the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole there, which is a series which made me laugh a lot as a kid, but I will have to look this other book up. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes would make me laugh a lot, I wonder if they are still easy to get?

      David Nicholls has been mentioned a few times with Starter for 10, I loved One Day but have resisted this one.

  10. i always found saki funny and jerome k jerome ,great post ,all the best stu

  11. Louise Trolle

    I think Jasper Fforde is hillarious – so funny and a little absurd :-)
    I also think Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Rushdie is a fun read,
    Several of W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories make me laugh/smile – especially The three fat women of Antibes and The luncheon.

    • Interesting you mention Rushdie, I read the sequel (of sorts) to Haround and thought it was ok but nothing special, maybe the first is better?

      I must read some of Maugham’s stories, I loved the first novel I tried of his this year.

  12. This set off a chain reaction of reading remembrances in my head…although I don’t recall ever reading anything by a comedian. I agree with Good Omens, definitely, really anything by Terry Pratchett. I also like Douglas Adams, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell. I still find Roald Dahl funny. And then there is Billy Collins, a poet who makes me laugh-and I love PG Wodehouse. Jeeves is a trip.
    All of these authors have made me laugh out loud while reading.

    • David Sedaris was one that me and my friend Emma discussed, she thinks he is very funny, I don’t. I have tried and failed to love two of his collections, it just doesnt work for me personally. Wodehouse I should try, brilliant suggestion.

  13. gaskella

    Reading this post, I thought – I’m sure I’ve read lots of funny novels, but with the exception of ‘The Loved One’, I can’t think of any wholly comic ones that really made me laugh. Plenty of comic scenes though – everything by David Nobbs is full of them, but balanced by pathos and wistfulness. I do like a comic scene that shocks, such as you find in Elmore Leonard – those ‘Res Dogs’ type moments.

    • I am glad its not just me taht thinks The Loved One is so funny. I wonder if I would like the film? I should have asked if anyone has watched it, oops.

      David Nobbs (is it wrong I sniggered at the name, shows my sense of humour is badon occasion, sorry) and Elmore Leonard I haven’t read, maybe I should?

      • gaskella

        Nobbs (!) created Reggie Perrin which I still find sublime in its original TV version with Leonard Rossiter. I’ve never not chuckled at one of his books though having read several. Elmore Leonard’s books are very dialogue driven and full of mad criminals doing mad things. Jackie Brown (formerly called Rum Punch) is a good place to start.

  14. I second Three Men on a Boat, Bridget Jones Diary and The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Also got some laughs out of David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and PG Woodhouse’s Jeeves books.

    • Sedaris left me cold, I worry I am a bit of a random person in that respect, everyone I know loves him. Oops. Wodehouse, Adams and Jermome look like authors to definitely try. Thanks Alex.

  15. I also nominate Wodehouse. There are lots of short stories with Jeeves and Bertie if you want to take a taste before reading a novel. I also recommend Cold Comfort Farm. I think Candide by Voltaire is very funny, though darkly funny. I’m finding Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne to be very funny, too.

    • I think some short tasters of Jeeves might be just the ticket. I nearly got one of his standalone from the library today just as a taster.

      Cold Comfort Farm sounds like a book I must read.

  16. I second Emma’s suggestion of Dickens – he is hilarious, I don’t know where people get the idea that he’s dull. If you find humour in verbal tics and outlandish characterisation (and I do!), he can’t be bettered. Of course there is Wodehouse (I believe I once sent you some of his short stories, didn’t I?) Other authors I’ve laughed out loud at include EM Delafield, Jane Austen, Shirley Jackson (Life Among the Savages, not the scary books!), Elizabeth von Arnim, Stella Gibbons… but you’re right, good humourous writing is really hard to find.

    • Hmmm maybe Dickens is for me then after all Simon, I have always found them excessively long looking. I loved the dramatisation of Bleak House and have wondered if reading that could be the way in for me. I am dubious about the whole being paid per word thing though.

      Stella Gibbons will be read before Christmas, thats an almost certainty. I always thought Elizabeth Von Arnims books looked a bit floral and melancholy, am I wrong?

      I just realised I missed Joyce Dennys from my list, and E.F. Benson, silly me.

  17. Bet

    As others have already said, PG Wodehouse is laugh-out-loud funny, to me, at least. Funny comedians? I found Tina Fey’s Bossypants to be hysterical and I love anything that Dave Barry writes. But perhaps you have to be an American to find them funny…?

    • Bossypants hasn’t done quite so well over here I don’t think, though I could be wrong, in fact I probably am. I was watching Tina Fey in something the other day and she does seem quite funny.

  18. It’s a little dated in the target of some of the humour ( a fictional communist-era state), but I’d also recommend “Rates of Exchange” by Maloclm Bradbury

  19. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Steve Martin. I loved Shopgirl, but I don’t remember whether it was funny. The Pleasure of My Company I remember being funny — even the cover is one I still remember 7 years later.

    I don’t find Sedaris funny either.

    • Is that Steve Martin as in Steve Martin from the Father of the Bride movies? Or have I got this completely wrong?

      Sedaris just doesn’t make me chuckle, I wonder if everyone saying how much I would love him over hyped it for me and so it all fell a little flat? Augusten Burroughs I should have mentioned.

      • Yeah, Steve Martin as in Father of the Bride, The Jerk, etc.

        One other book that a friend thought was very funny (though I didn’t like it) was An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke. Have you read that book or had it recommended to you?

      • No I’ve never heard of that one. I’ll have to go and look it up though why didn’t you like it?

        I can’t believe that IS the Steve Martin the actor. Who would have thought?

      • I didn’t like An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England because none of the characters were sympathetic, the main character wasn’t very smart, and I didn’t like the writing. I read it for my book club, and the person who picked it went through and pointed out some of the scenes she thought were funny. When she explained why she thought they were funny, I could understand on an intellectual level where the humor was, but I still wasn’t laughing.

        I think humor in writing is an interesting topic (if you hadn’t noticed). I consider myself to have a good nature, a good sense of humor, and yet humor in writing is (generally) lost on me. You’re right: humor is very subjective, and humor in writing seems particularly tricky. I, like you, don’t like slapstick, so that cuts out a lot of books.

        When I was 15 (or so?) I picked up Sein Language by Jerry Seinfeld and found it to be laugh out loud funny. I wouldn’t pick it up now, though, for fear that I’ll be appalled at what I thought was funny back then. But who knows? Maybe I had a refined sense of humor even then. :)

  20. Pratchett and Fforde are my go to guys for funny fiction, but I also laughed a lot at To Say Nothing of the Dog. I have just picked up Cold Comfort Farm so I am looking forward to lots of chortles when I am reading that one!

  21. Thomas Magnum

    Loser Goes First by Dan Kennedy….by far the funniest novel I have ever read.

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