The Ultimate Comedy Library: 57 Books Every Comedy Fan Should Read
Books are smart and reading is good for you!
This can be hard to remember because of podcasts and television and movies and all the other things begging for attention from your eyeballs and ear holes. A lot of funny stuff is in the media, we get it! But books can be funny, too. Just look at all the comedians making books! Comedians are always writing books about themselves, or about comedy history, or about writing, or just fun stuff called “fiction.” And a lot of it is worth reading.
Because we are here to help, we made for you a list of some of the best comedy books — broken down into memoirs, humor, history, and fiction — that would be right at home on any comedy lover’s shelf (or on your “E-reader”).
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey chronicles her life from nerd-dom to motherhood and everything in between, including her work on Second City, SNL, 30 Rock, and more.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
Oswalt mixes stories of his formative years as a D&D-playing nerd with other vignettes including poems, movie reviews, greeting cards.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Steve Martin’s 2007 biography (not an autobiography, Martin said, “because I am writing about someone I used to know”) tracks his life, from Disneyland to Knott’s Berry Farm to Hollywood, focusing on the development of his wit and humor.
Girl Walks Into a Bar… by Rachel Dratch
Former SNL-er Rachel Dratch opens up about unexpectedly finding love and then a baby while in her mid-40s.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
Before she had her own show on Fox, but after she wrote for and starred on The Office, Mindy Kaling wrote a book of essays on her life, friends, family, and career.
Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder changed Mike Birbiglia’s life. After telling his story at The Moth, Birbigs turned it into a one-man show, a book, and a movie (all with the same title). Here’s the book one.
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman, actress, writer, and poop joke connoisseur, released her memoir in 2010. In it, she talks about her comic style, her influences, and her semi-fictionalized public persona. The afterword is by God.
Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence by Paul Feig
The Freaks and Geeks creator and Bridesmaids director also recounts his nerdy childhood. A lot of it went into Freaks and Geeks and presumably less of it into Bridesmaids but the sentiment is still there.
God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked by Darrel Hammond
Darrel Hammond’s darkly comic memoir includes stories of a life filled with abuse, alcoholism, and psychiatric issues leading up to becoming SNL‘s longest-tenured cast member.
A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure by Chris Gethard
Comic, actor, writer, and Chris Gethard Show creator Chris Gethard tells of all his life’s moments that have been beyond awkward, like more awkward than yours when you say things are awkward.
Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 by Moshe Kasher
LA stand-up comedian Moshe Kasher relates his story, a complicated one that you can probably get an idea of from this memoir’s lengthy subtitle.
Daddy’s Boy: A Son’s Shocking Account of Life with a Famous Father by Chris Elliott
Famous father with a famous father Chris Elliott writes about life as the youngest son of Bob Elliott of comedy duo Bob and Ray. The memoir has a unique format — Chris and his dad switch off chapters, Bob providing a rebuttal for every story Chris shares.
A Liar’s Autobiography by Graham Chapman
The Monty Python actor’s unique memoir, originally published in 1980, was released as a 3D animated movie in 2012. Unusual for an autobiography, the book is credited to five authors: Chapman, his partner David Sherlock, Alex Martin, Douglas Adams, and David A. Yallop. Eric Idle provides an afterword.
You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom by Phil Rosenthal
Creator and executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond tracks his life from growing up in the Bronx, trying his hand at acting in New York City, and working on countless now-forgotten sitcoms before landing on the project that made his career.
I Didn’t Ask to Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was) by Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby’s lengthy career as a stand-up, entertainer, and activist has resulted in a number of books, among them the bestsellers Fatherhood and Cosbyology. This is his most recent, a 2012 collection of essays on the human condition.
You’re Not Doing it Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black
Michael Ian Black’s memoir goes the way of a self-deprecating look at his experience with marriage and parenthood.
Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch
Happy Accidents combines comic memoir with inspirational narrative as Jane Lynch tracks her career from anxiety-ridden teen to happily married television star.
Tasteful Nudes …and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation by Dave Hill
In 17 short autobiographical essays, likably observant humorist Dave Hill makes funny about depression, death, and adolescence.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Published in 2008, the late Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck writes with her dry sense of humor about the tribulations of women growing older, including menopause, empty nests, and the bigger picture of life.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Although David Sedaris is more writer than comedian, his naturally storytelling lends itself to hilarious autobiographical material. This collection of essays is split into two parts: the first chronicles his childhood in North Carolina and the second his experience living in Normandy with his boyfriend.
Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burrough’s true story of his nightmarish youth being raised by his mother’s psychiatrist was an instant hit when it was released in 2002 and he followed it up with a bunch more that are also good.
I Love You More Than You Know by Jonathan Ames
The man behind Bored to Death shares essays of his everyday loneliness, neuroses, and pain, all of them very funny.
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell chronicles her macabre choice for a vacation where she looks at scenes from the assassinations of four politicians, making this the funniest book you’ll probably ever read about presidential killing.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Journalist and blogger Jenny Lawson (of the award-winning website The Blogess) tells about her strange experiences with her career and her family.
Humor & Non-fiction
I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert writes rants in character, creating a companion piece to The Colbert Report. Sequels include America Again and I Am A Pole (And So Can You!).
America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart
Like Colbert, Jon Stewart created a book to go along with his intelligently funny and political news show. Actually, Jon Stewart did it first. Great job, Jon Stewart!
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
Amy Sedaris of Second City and Strangers With Candy fame shares her love of dressing up, baking, and crafts by creating a book that is funny but also a serious guide to party hosting and hospitality.
The Areas of My Expertise, More Information Than You Require, and That is All by John Hodgman
In his trilogy of complete world knowledge, deranged millionaire and Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman provides all the fake information you could possibly want, including a guide to New York City’s underground league of mole people and a list of which presidents had hooks for hands.
The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information by The Onion
Another book of knowledge, The Onion takes its parody seriously, this time moving away from its usual current events and Local Man stories to tackle encyclopedic information.
Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty by Harris Wittels
Harris Wittels collects the best of the worst of Twitter, each tweet showcasing a twitterer’s simultaneous self-pride and desire to hide that self-pride.
How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees
Humorist and former Get Your War On cartoonist David Rees shares his very real love of artisnal pencil sharpening by creating an exaggeratedly detailed guide on the subject.
The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life by Eugene Mirman
Stand-up and Bob’s Burgers’ voice actor Eugene Mirman gives a guide to life, or, you know, whatevs.
Biographical & History
And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft by Mike Sacks
For Here’s the Kicker, humor writer and Vanity Fair staffer Mike Sacks talked to great humor writers like Buck Henry, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Sacha Baron Cohen, and quite a few people on this list! Maybe you’ve already read it — it was the pick for the Splitsider Book Club last year.
Show Me the Funny!: At the Writers’ Table with Hollywood’s Top Comedy Writers by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis
Desberg and Davis discuss comedy writing with successful writers including Peter Casey (Cheers), Ed Decter (There’s Something About Mary), Bob Myer (Roseanne), Leonard Stern (Get Smart) and more.
Great Comedians Talk About Comedy by Larry Wilde
Because there can never be enough of good writers talking about writing, or good comedians talking about comedy, Wilde’s book, originally published in 1968, features interviews with seventeen comedians, including Woody Allen, Jack Benny, George Burns, Johnny Carson, Phyllis Diller, and Jerry Seinfeld.
I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era by William Knoedelseder
In the mid-70’s when reporter William Knoedelseder was assigned by the Los Angeles Times to cover the city’s burgeoning comedy scene, newcomers included Jay Leno, David Letterman, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis, and Robin Williams. At the book’s center is a labor dispute between the stand-ups and L.A. Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore, who refused to pay comics — a dispute that is still relevant today.
Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America by Richard Zoglin
Zoglin’s Comedy at the Edge covers approximately the same time period as I’m Dying Up Here but in both L.A. and New York City. Read about the careers of stand-ups George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Robert Klein, and, later, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Robin Williams, and Andy Kaufman launching as they took the stage at the Comedy Store, the Improv, and Catch a Rising Star.
Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman by Bill Zehme
In Lost in the Funhouse, Zehme takes on the difficult task of writing a biography of a comic who made a career of lying and tricking his entire audience (and wrestling ladies).
Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” by David Bianculli
This book tells the dramatic history of Tom and Dick Smothers’ politically charged TV series in the 60’s. The story starts at the brothers’ childhood and ends with the cancellation of the program.
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers, And Guests by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
In 2001 SNL turned 25 and journalists Miller and Shales collected anecdotes from cast members, writers, and hosts to chronicle the show’s history in this definitive book.
Gasping For Airtime: Two Years In the Trenches of Saturday Night Live by Jay Mohr
Although Mohr’s contribution is a much narrower account of the SNL experience compared to Miller and Shales’s, it dives deep into Mohr’s time as a writer and featured performer for the show’s 1993-1995 seasons.
The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera and Second City Inc
The Second City Almanac collects ideas from the north side Chicago theater’s teachers, writers, and directors, drawing from a huge pool of alumni that includes Fred Willard, Mike Nichols, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Bonnie Hunt, and more. The book includes practical instruction, personal accounts, and inspiration for anyone who likes comedy.
SCTV: Behind the Scenes by Dave Thomas
After the success of the theater came the Canadian late-night program that launched the careers of the likes of John Candy, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Dave Thomas, and Rick Moranis. Cast members and production staff contribute stories in addition to photos from the show’s archives.
The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night and The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy by Bill Carter
Bill Carter wrote two definitive accounts of the battles of late night talk show hosts. In The Late Shift he chronicles Letterman and Leno fighting for the Tonight Show host gig following Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992, while The War for Late Night covers the more recent Conan/Leno Tonight Show debacle.
Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue by Dennis Perrin
Dennis Perrin looks at the wild life of Michael O’Donoghue, a founding writer of National Lampoon and the groundbreaking first head writer of SNL.
On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy by Mel Watkin
First published in 1999, On the Real Side is a comprehensive history of black humor in American pop culture, looking at how figures like Fetchit, Bert Williams, Moms Mabley, and Redd Foxx, paved the way for Richard Pryor and contemporary (or late nineties-contemporary) comics such as Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Cosby.
Going Too Far–The Rise and Demise of Sick, Gross, Black, Sophomoric, Weirdo, Pinko, Anarchist, Underground, Anti-establishment Humor by Tony Hendra
British humorist, improv performer, and National Lampoon writer Tony Hendra published Going Too Far in 1987. Hendra mixes stories from his own career with a history of black humor and anti-establishment humor popular with the baby boomer generation at the time and pioneered by comics like Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce.
Fiction by Comedians
Without Feathers by Woody Allen
Emily Dickinson said “hope is the thing with feathers” and so that’s the joke Woody Allen is going for. Without Feathers is a 1970 collection of Allen’s short stories and two one-act plays.
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Steve Martin’s latest novel follows a young, ambitious woman making her way through the art world around the turn of the millenium.
The Comedy Writer by Peter Farrelly
Writer and director Peter Farrelly’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a Boston nobody with a can-do attitude who tries to make it big as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks’s debut novel imagines America’s future as a place where cancer has been cured but the elderly’s longer life span tanks the economy leaving the young people to clean up the mess. Brooks mixes tragedy with humor in his vision of the future.
The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by D.C. Pierson
Comedian/rapper/actor/writer D.C. Pierson’s first novel, published in 2010, tells of two high schoolers, both social outcasts, one of which never sleeps.
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
Steve Hely has written for many TV shows, including 30 Rock, The Office, and Late Show with David Letterman. In this, his first novel, he takes on the pretentions of the literary world in the form of a fake memoir by a famous author.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
This novel by former Arrested Development and Mad About You writer Maria Semple follows the story of Bernadette Fox, a frustrated, brilliant misanthrope, one who up and vanishes from her life and family in Seattle.
No list is ever definitive or complete, so let us know what we missed in the comments!