Here’s the funny thing (and I don’t mean funny ha-ha) about books by comedians. A lot of the time, they just bomb. I suppose it’s because some humor is better delivered in a comic’s voice than read in my own. Or maybe it’s because some humorists are more comfortable on a stage than on the page. Well, that’s not in the case with these five jewels. They’re not only laugh-out-loud funny, they’re uniquely, off-the-wall bold. (Which begs the question: Hey, Louis CK. When are you gonna write a book?)
My Custom Van, by Michael Ian Black
You might know Michael Ian Black best from VH1’s “I Love the…” series or NBC’s Ed. Or maybe you know him from Comedy Central or Viva Variety. You probably don’t know him as a poker player or a children’s book author, but he’s both of those things well, as well. What I’m getting at is this guy is multi-talented, but what he does best, in my opinion, is write bizarre, howl-worthy essays. And this book has 53 of them.
Just to give you an idea of what to expect from My Custom Van, here are a few titles of included essays: A Meditation on Salami; Do Not Buy Tundra From a Door-to-Door Salesman; A Series of Letters to Celine Dion’s Husband, Rene Angelil; and Why I Used a Day-Glo Yellow Marker to Color My D*ck Yellow. (He doesn’t use the asterisk, by the way.) There. I think that’s enough to pique your interest. I give this book four-and-a-half stars out of five on the coffee snarfing scale.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris
I’ve read most of David Sedaris’s books, and this one just stunned me, in that it completely stands alone in its subject matter and approach. This is Sedaris on his head. In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, all of the essays are written from the point of view of an animal that’s in a very human situation: a cat at the salon getting its hair done by a baboon. An Irish setter dealing with his cheating wife. A grieving owl who’s hounded by his family members. This book is outrageously odd and funny. It’s like Aesop’s Fables on acid. And that is saying something. (Bonus: It’s illustrated by Ian Falconer of the Olivia series.)
My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, by Chelsea Handler
This might be the boldest book I’ve ever encountered. In it, stand-up comic and talk show host Chelsea Handler details her history of one-night stands and romantic escapades, leaving no stones (pardon the pun) unturned. What could potentially be a lurid memoir or a self-indulgent undertaking turns out to be shockingly well-written, wry, and nothing short of hilarious. I had my doubts about this one, but it’s an exercise in bravery, smarts, and gymnastics.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin
This is a tender, funny, achingly honest autobiography about Steve Martin’s standup years. Wait, you say. That doesn’t sound off-the-wall. Well, brace yourself, because Steve Martin’s approach to comedy, way back in the 1970s, was utterly groundbreaking. Weird? Arguably. Genius? Absolutely.
Born Standing Up details how Martin got his start at age 10 at Disneyland, selling guidebooks and eventually perfecting old-school magic tricks. From there, we learn about his philosophical pursuits in college, his tendency toward hypochondria and anxiety, and ultimately, his methodical, disciplined approach to writing the wackiest comedy shows anyone had ever seen. This highly intelligent book isn’t necessarily oddball in and of itself, but it’s about one of the wildest and craziest guys the comedy world has ever known.
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, by Amy Sedaris
I know. I already reviewed one Sedaris in this article. Can I really justify another? Well, let’s just pretend this is a dinner party and I get to invite whoever I want. I’m inviting both David AND Amy Sedaris. Speaking of dinner parties, you don’t want to plan your next one without picking up this howler.
A book on entertaining and hostessing like none other, Amy Sedaris is to Colbert’s Shrimp Paste and Penne Earrings what Martha Stewart is to Roast Goose and a strand of pearls. Part humor book, part cookbook, part weird arts and crafts instructional, I Like You does a bang-up job of pairing good hostess advice (Greet each guest with genuine enthusiasm!) with unorthodox advice (Sometimes I’ll take the eviction notice off my neighbor’s door and slap it on my own.). This uproariously illustrated book actually makes a lovely gift; bring it instead of carnations to the next party you’re invited to.
Which books have made you LOL the most?