5 Books To Read When You Need A Good Laugh

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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?

  • You has me at Michael Ian Black, you lost me at Chelsea Handler. Funny books are the hardest to recommend, because sense of humor is so personal (especially in books, vs. say a funny movie where writing, performance and music work together to make us laugh).

    I really liked Simon Rich’s Free Range Chickens (one essay imagines Count Dracula’s desperate Match.com profile — “I am normal human looking for human woman to come to castle. I am normal, regular human”). He has a bunch of other collections I have been meaning to pick up.

    • Michelle

      No,no, no… It should read, “I am normal human looking for human woman, blah blah blah…to come to castle. I am normal, regular human, blahblahblah..”

  • Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and all of its sequels. I read it first when I was 13 and cried from laughing (in public, of course) and it never fails to give me a burst of happy nostalgia as well as some belly laughs whenever I dip back into it.

    • Sarah Furger

      This is EXACTLY what I was going to comment! I feel the exact same about Georgia. She rules. 🙂

    • SS B

      I am unfamiliar with this series…who is the author?

      • Louise Rennison. It’s a British series, there’s…10 books I think? And she just started writing some companion novels about Georgia’s cousin. They’re not as good, bu they’re still pretty adorable.

        Definitely check out Georgia. I just introduced my 30 year old friend to her and she loves the Nicholsons! 🙂

        • SS B

          Thanks!

    • emmachastain

      I just discovered these books last year, at the age of 33, and I’m not ashamed to say I LOVE them. They’re among the funniest books I’ve ever read.

  • Alan Hutcheson

    Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse; the Dortmunder novels by Donald E. Westlake; A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Innocents Abroad by that Twain fellow.

    • Bob Becker

      Absolutely Bryson.

    • I second the Westlake works and anything by Wodehouse. My favorite Bill Bryson has to be “Lost Continent” because road trips are funny and family road trips are exceptionally funny.

  • frogprof

    While my mom was trying to die in a Houston ICU during a kidney-stone-removal procedure [she wasn’t successful — at the dying, that is — at least, not then], I was sitting on the waiting room floor snorting with laughter at Lewis Grizzard’s Shoot Low, Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies … it might have been the situation that made me laugh [instead of crying] more than the book, but all I know is that Grizzard made me CRY with laughter that night.

    • meekyn

      Lewis Grizzard was a funny, funny man. I loved his books. Also Erma Bombeck.

  • Michelle

    The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. EVERYONE knows someone like Stephanie, and the other characters in those books! My mom introduced me to those books right after I had my daughter…and I remember going into the bathroom for some ‘me’ time and laughing so loud I woke up my husband AND the baby….

    • Have you read “The Spellman Files” by Lisa Lutz? Definitely check them out if you haven’t!!

  • Gwen Goble-Bartzen

    Obviously Whitney Collins has never read any Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett……….

  • Sandi Bothum

    Anything from Shelley Laurenston’s Pride or Pack series books…paranormal shape-shifters. I made the mistake of beginning the first one during a 4 hour flight. I was giggling, and snorting and bent at the waist laughing. I’m surprised they didn’t call the air marshall!

  • Bob Becker

    John Nichols, “The Milagro Beanfield War”

  • Dorritt

    Oscar Wilde’s comedy is brilliant, and G.K. Chesterton comes in a close second. Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is a hoot, as is Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop … and parts of Christopher Moore’s Lamb had me snorting milk (you know what I mean!)

  • Irene

    Any Chelsea Handler& David Sedaris for sure is hysterical. How about Gary Paulsen’s “Harris & Me”, very funny, great for middle schoolers.

  • SS B

    “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson made me laugh hysterically. Also laugh-out-loud funny: anything by P.G. Wodehouse, and Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog”.

    • I love Wodehouse. Even if I just pick him up and read a chapter or two, Wooster and Jeeves never fail to make me smile.

      And Jenny Lawson is always a winner!

  • Anthony Budka

    A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole cracks me up every time I read it. Same can be said about anything Twain wrote, as Alan mentioned earlier

  • meekyn

    Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well, and Christopher Moore’s The Stupides Angel. Both had me laughing out loud – and I mean, laughing until I cried – within the first few pages.

  • John Kahrs

    I could give you 10 funnier books without even bringing up Christopher Moore funniest writer alive….although David Sedaris is one of my favorites too …Apocolypse Cow is next….No Augustin Burroughs?…Kurt Vonnigut??…….Shame on you …Christopher Moore Lamb..should be 1st on the list….

  • Allie Marini Batts

    Apathy and Other Small Victories, Paul Neilan. Do not read in public, unless you’re on a long-distance bus and don’t want anyone sitting next to you, because people WILL think you’re nuts. “I’M NOT STINK!” http://www.amazon.com/Apathy-Other-Small-Victories-Neilan/dp/0312352190/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377262532&sr=1-1&keywords=apathy+and+other+small+victories

  • How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran is great. I pay for an expensive subscription to the London Times partly just to read her weekly columns. The book is now available in the States. Most of it is quite good. A few parts are howlingly funny.

  • Melissa Kenneweg

    The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich – I’ve laughed at the gym while reading them. Also My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. I bought that book as a Scholastic book in 6th grade (I think) and its followed me around ever since. I’ve woken my husband up reading that book downstairs late at night!

  • Chick Lit Cafe

    Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is the funniest book in the world! THE WORLD, people!

  • Jane Ferriby-Viles

    If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell. This is a hilarious autobiography that will have you laughing at both him and yourself as you point and say ‘Hey! I did that too!’

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