Imagine a world in which you could pick up a 174-page paperback book that would contain everything you always wanted to know about comedy, written by an Emmy Award nominee who’d been a stand-up comedian and writer for Saturday Night Live, Mork and Mindy, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. And let’s say this author’s wife was a family physician and his daughter was an opera singer. Let’s complicate things even further in this world by saying that a dueling scar forced this author to purchase prosthetic eyebrows. Ladies and gentlemen — all this is absolutely true,at least according to the author’s bio. That world is here now.
The book in question is Funny: The Book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Comedy. It’s a fun-packed, wide-ranging look at the principles and practice of comedy, from its origins in pre-history to the worlds of movies, TV, prose, theater, stand-up, and jokes. The author in question is David Misch. And I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that the book is informative, insightful, and most importantly — funny. Really funny. Which is quite impressive for a book that goes way beyond presenting jokes and comedy routines — it explores the evolutionary, psychological, scientific, philosophical and even theological underpinnings of humor. Who even knew that humor had philosophical and theological underpinnings? Now you do.
Even so, as Misch states in his introduction, “… because the subject of Humor is so vast, by necessity this treatise will be half-vast. And that is one of three puns in this book.”
Among the topics included in the book are:
- The Trickster — the ancient manifestation of humor — who appears throughout recorded history: Hermes in Ancient Greece, Puck in Shakespeare, B’rer Rabbit in early America, all the way to Jim Carrey in “The Mask.”
- The first recorded jokes, from 1900 BC, are all about sex and body functions.
- In the movies — from the earliest slapstick to Bridesmaids — bouncing boobs, jiggling genitalia, and projectile vomit have been a staple source of humor.
- Why Jews are funny
- Charlie Chaplin was the world’s first superstar, so famous that even fake Japanese Chaplin movies were hits.
- What makes the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and Steve Martin so funny.
- How comedians judge laughs — two seconds is great, four is spectacular.
- How the court jester and, later, the monologues of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde evolved into standup comics like Bob Hope, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin, whose “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” took the Supreme Court to keep off the air.
- Why dopamine is the funniest chemical.
- The racially-charged humor of Richard Pryor and the ethnic and sexually-charged jokes of Sarah Silverman.
A very cool aspect of the book is its interactive elements. Readers can access audio and video clips referred to in the book via links on the book’s website.
I’d always heard/thought that you can’t teach people to be funny; either they’re born with the “funny gene” or not. While that may or may not be so, this book proves that you can teach people about comedy in a truly entertaining fashion. So, what are you waiting for? This book isn’t going to buy and read itself.