The Best Comedy Books of 2016
Now what we’ve got here is an embarrassment of riches. There were so many truly funny books released this year, and funny books with something to say, and funny books about other funny things, like funny TV shows or funny movies. These books are funny is what I mean. Anyway, these are the humor, comedy, and humor-and-comedy-adjacent titles that would be the most ideal additions to your burgeoning humor library.
Back before The Last Man on Earth, MacGruber, and Saturday Night Live, Will Forte would entertain himself and his friends by making bizarro, single-panel comic strips, often focusing on the urges a man must suppress if he wishes to successfully attract a mate. They’re collected here, and they’re just so ridiculous and silly. You can’t help but hear Forte’s performance voice — arch, mock-authoritative, not-so-reassuringly bro — in your head as you read them. Among Forte’s solid tips: “never use only pronouns when trying to hold a conversation” and “never harpoon her father.”
Young Frankenstein by Mel Brooks
Finally, a coffee table for both comedy nerds and a coffee table book about a movie that isn’t just a bunch of stills and trivia facts they got off of IMDB. No, herein the story of the production of one of the top five best comedy films of all time gets the treatment it deserves, in the format generally reserved for landscapes of Ireland. You will know everything there is to know about Young Frankenstein now, as it really puts on the ritz (sorry) with plenty of never published photos and interviews. (RIP, Gene Wilder.)
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Almost as long awaited is Seinfeldia, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s exploration of the creation, execution, reception, and cultural impact of Seinfeld, probably the most important and influential TV comedy of the last 30 years. Armstrong delves deep into both the show’s history and mythology, obsessing over the minutia of Seinfeld as if she herself were a Seinfeld character. To whit: She tracked down Chela Holton, who posed for the poster of the infamous fake Seinfeld movie Rochelle, Rochelle. Armstrong also interviews Monica Yates Shapiro, the real inspiration for Elaine, as well as other figures from reality whose lives have been touched by the sitcom, including “Crazy” Joe Davola and the actual Soup Nazi.
The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Out of the Dark by Trae Crowder, Corey Ryan Forrester, and Drew Morgan
Here’s a nice salve after a brutal election that left the country impossibly divided by making broad cultural stereotypes. The trio of comedians (Trae Crowder, Corey Ryan Forrester, Drew Morgan) who tour as the Liberal Rednecks are good ol’ Southern boys through and through, but that doesn’t mean they’re ignorant and intolerant, or even the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Crowder, Forrester, and Morgan are here to remind you of the many progressive, open-minded people in red states, and they are fighting to be heard. Their book is an often unabashed celebration of the South (Good: “sweet potato pie, casseroles, hand-me-down pocket knives, fishing trips) as well as a tough-love-fueled intervention (Bad: claiming that racism is in the past while still having high schools named after Confederate icons).
Best State Ever: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry
This is another book about the South, if you consider Florida to be a part of the South. Geographically it is, but it’s also this other thing completely, a tropical land where all weird news seems to originate. That cliché was spread and possibly originated by humor god Dave Barry, who wrote about the unique of absurdities of life in Florida for decades in his syndicated Miami Herald column. No one is thus more qualified to write about the natural and manufactured zaniness of America’s dong than Dave Barry. (“Mainly what manatees do is eat and fart. They are the adolescent boys of the marine world.”) It’s also just really fun to see Dave Barry return to nonfiction and humor essays after many very funny novels.
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
The ascent of Amy Schumer is complete. Schumer’s first book provides exactly what one would hope: it’s self-deprecating, inspiring, and just a little bit filthy. But it’s also a declaration that Schumer is an excellent long-form writer. Jokes and sketches sure, but this is a really lovely, insightful exploration of identity and self. And while there are plenty of stories about being a road comic, growing up, and one-night stands, Schumer is also quite candid about what it’s like to suddenly become super famous. “It’s weird to be treated differently all of a sudden just because you have been on TV or have some cash. I am not special just because I’m famous right now. I won’t be famous forever — not even much longer actually, which is fine with me because it doesn’t feel good to have people be nicer to you because of your money.”
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
Schumer is an amazing standup and writer, of course, but it’s Inside Amy Schumer head writer Jessi Klein who helped develop her talents into the sketch comedy format. Klein is then of course a master of telling a story in a finite amount of room, as she does in this collection of personal essays primarily about growing up. Standout pieces include “Tom Man,” which is about being a “tomboy” when young women are expected to grow out of it, and a keen, very thorough analysis of why The Bachelor is so entertaining despite its awfulness.
This is one of those ideas that writers kick themselves for not coming up with…but then you read it, and you’re fine with it because the right people did his book, the people who were meant to do it. Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon are obviously super-fans of the Choose Your Own Adventure series from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the game/adventure novel that were the hit of libraries and book fairs across the land. The level of detail and the tone of the original books is here as the format is applied to mundane but unpredictable things in daily life, like celebrating the holidays without killing your family, and working in a depressing beige office, respectively.
This Is a Book About the Kids in the Hall by John Semley
This book will absolutely deliver if you’re looking for a book that will give you an exhaustive history of the Kids in the Hall, which you probably are interested in because you read Splitsider. It’s like a book written about the Beatles, such is the level of detail, and lore, and intricate story building from author John Semley about how the group came together, rose, made Brain Candy, and then infiltrated the entertainment industry with their unique sensibility. But it also functions as a book about the development of the Canadian comedy scene in the 1970s and 1980s, which precious little has been written outside of stuff about SCTV. Semley also provides a ton of fascinating comedy theory as it pertains to two KITH standbys: making fun of dads and dressing in drag.
Never Flirt with Puppy Killers by Dan Wilbur
Finally, somebody has come along to knock literature off of its high horse. Comedian and Someecards editor Dan Wilbur’s gift-worthy book for the book lover, an offshoot of his blog Better Book Titles, is a delightful and silly blend of visual humor and literary jokes. He takes covers of famous books and alters their cover to have more bluntly accurate titles. “Never Flirt with Puppy Killers” is a play on Of Mice and Men, for example, while “My Dad is Cooler Than Your Dad” is Wilbur’s way better name for To Kill a Mockingbird.
How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having It All — And Then Some! by Beth Newell, Sarah Pappalardo and Anna Drezen
This was just Reductress’s year, making fake news that actually affected social change and deep thought with brutally funny feminist satire. The book spins the site’s thesis into a fake how-to book, spoofing both our extraordinarily sexist culture, particularly how the media cynically caters to women and how we are all helpless but to buy in. Among the many ways in which you, the lady reader, can have it all: making 67 cents on the dollar really last, how to get catcalled (for your dynamic personality), and tips on buying a purse that can hold all of your feminist ideals.
Love Voltaire Us Apart: A Philosopher’s Guide to Relationships by Julia Edelman
Sex jokes and making fun of philosophers go together really, really well. This book is a full-length expansion of Julia Edelman’s memorable New Yorker piece “Excerpts from Philosophers’ Breakup Letters Throughout History”, and with wonderful illustrations from Hallie Bateman. It’s a fun and zippy compendium of just terrible love and romantic advice from philosophers, history’s wisest figures who really ought to know better. Take for example Aristotle as he tries to use his skills of reasoning and logic to get dat ass: “Allow me to deduce the reason we should be together. If Aristotle is a man, and all men enjoy sexual intercourse, then Aristotle would surely enjoy sexual intercourse. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re afraid I’m using you as an instrumental good.”
This small publisher from Los Angeles run by humorists Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows turned out quite a few really funny books this year that eviscerated some parts of the broader culture that really needed to be eviscerated. Take the insipid fad of adult coloring books: Kenny Keil’s Stay at Home Scarface takes the idea to its absurd and literal conclusion with a coloring book based on the adults-only movie Scarface, with the conceit that Al Pacino’s overacted drug kingpin is a stay-at-home parent. And then there’s All the Feelings, in which Mike Levine (lovingly) mocks the insular and way-too-emotional world of high school theatre with this collection of fake monologues that are tortured and dramatic enough for a theater kid to perform at the big state acting competition. Other titles include Dream It! Screw It!, Golden’s collection of terrible and unbuilt Disney park rides, and Meadows’ We Don’t Think You’re Racist, a book of smiling multicultural faces offering up platitudes to the white reader to ensure them that unlike everybody else, they aren’t racist.
The Union of The State by Corey Stulce
Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, and The State: the holy trinity of televised sketch troupes. Finally, a State superfan named Corey Stulce has taken it upon himself to write a complete history of the group. It covers not only their early days as a group at NYU, but goes back to each of their individual childhoods to explore all 11 members’ unique comic sensibilities and how they came together as a whole, like a comedy Avengers. There’s tons of never seen or heard behind the scenes info and controversy and stories behind their most memorable sketches, and lots of private photos provided by the very game cast of the show.
Carry This Book by Abbi Jacobson
The two women of Broad City have blown up to a point where they’re both doing their own unique side projects now. Ilana Glazer did the TV movie Time Traveling Bong, while Jacobson made use of her illustrator talents. In Carry This Book, which Jacobson calls “weirdly specific and also wildly random,” she draws what she imagines might be inside the purses and bags of real people (Oprah, Marilyn Monroe) and fictional characters (Leslie Knope, Homer Simpson). Really, these are comic essays on an overlooked, intimate thing, in visual form.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Translating the voice and style of a performer to the page with all the nuace and character intact is no easy feat. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was so infectiously conversational as Phoebe Robinson’s. (This gift of gab is probably why Robinson’s podcast with Jessica Williams, 2 Dope Queens, is so good.) Robinson writes nimbly and with sharp wit about race, gender, and Millennialism. (She’s also an unabashed Billy Joel fan, which takes real guts to admit.)
The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith
It’s well over 400 pages long, but you’ll read it in afternoon, such is the quick pace of this history of The Daily Show — much like The Daily Show itself. The book is an intriguing, first-hand account of the right place/right time/right people that made the Comedy Central late night fixture the most important satirical venue in America. On a more base level, the backstage controversies are fun to hear about, too; so is learning about just how grueling it is to put an episode together. Oral history is the right format for this show, too, as it showcases the disparate voices — in their own voices, as it were — that made the Stewart-era Daily Show remarkable and effectual television.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Speaking of The Daily Show, it’s been a year or so since Trevor Noah grabbed the double-edged sword that is following Jon Stewart as host the satirical institution…in an election year. Whatever. Born a Crime shows that Noah, like a lot of us, developed a keen sense of humor early on as a defense against the terrors of life. (The title refers to how his existence was technically a crime under apartheid laws in his home country of South Africa — his mother is African, and his father European, and miscegenation was against the law.) Noah’s memoir is so compelling, and such a different side of him. Sure, it’s funny, but it’s a different vibe than his Daily Show work or standup material.
Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings by Glen Baxter
I don’t even know how to describe this. Artist Glen Baxter’s cartoons look like they could’ve been illustrations for early 20th century adventure novels or Boy Scout magazines. Almost Completely Baxter even looks like it’s from the early 20th century, hardbound with the words and illustration etched in, not printed. And yet the captions to this collection of the British artist’s work spanning the past few decades are the most absurd, postmodern, impossible-to-predict non sequiturs (or maybe “blurtings” is the correct name). It’s best to just let Baxter’s work speak for itself, because it’s hilarious. Picture it: A man and a penguin stand in a ring, about to box. The caption reads, “There remained a cynical minority who believed our contest was rigged.” Or, on a little girl sitting at a table with pencil and paper: “Janet set aside an hour each day to work on her threatening letters.”
Digging Up Mother by Doug Stanhope
Doug Stanhope is about the darkest standup out there, but that’s really just a reflection of a man who feels stuff really deeply. He’s able to synthesize those feelings into hilariously truthful and sad observations about the futility of existence. All of that has to come from some place, and in his memoir Stanhope reveals that his unique worldview comes from his deceased mother. (That’s no spoiler; the book starts with a rather sweet story about the day she died.) Stanhope explores both his mother, and by extension, himself, as he relates stories about his mother’s hoarding habit, how she told off teachers who tried to shut up her son, and how she taught him that raunchy and nasty humor could be liberating.
It Gets Worse by Shane Dawson
YouTube has given us a whole new category of celebrities in the past few years, but not all of them play video games or show us how to do a proper smoky eye. Some are truly funny, like Shane Dawson, with his second collection of essays. With It Gets Worse, Dawson is honest with himself and the reader about what turned out to be bad decisions, such as a vomit-laced Craigslist hookup and an accidental trip to Mexico.
Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald
Norm Macdonald finally makes his long-awaited entry into the standup comedian memoir genre. But of course he does it in the most Norm way possible: with little regard for conventions such as form or facts. As the title hints, the stories are mostly true, as Norm cleverly hits all the beats that would be expected of him, but then he flips the script and makes you wonder how much of it is true because he laces in things that couldn’t possibly be true. For example, he covers his Saturday Night Live audition story as so many have before him. But did he really bust out a bunch of morphine and a syringe in front of Lorne Michaels?