Sunday, February 24, 2008

Books by Comedians

Sometimes people who are funny on stage write lousy books. Without the benefit of timing, inflection, and other techniques, jokes can fall short. These three books, on the other hand, are solid literary forays from comedians:
  • I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert - In my virtually cable-free existence, I have seen just enough of Colbert's Comedy Central TV show to know the character that he portrays: an egotistical, smart-aleck, right-wing blowhard. This hilarious book is written from that character's perspective. It is unique in the way Colbert makes use of so many publishing gimmicks. For example, the cover bears an immodest silver emblem representing "The Stephen T. Colbert Award for Literary Excellence." Margin comments maintain a constant dialogue with the main text. Footnotes, graphs, charts, illustrations, and even stickers are sprinkled throughout. There is even a bookmark ribbon! These features make the book not only funny, but also a lot of fun to read. I tend to wait for paperback editions, but this hardcover is worth having.

  • Git-R-Done by Larry the Cable Guy - I gave this one a chance because it was in the bargain bin. Larry can be funny, but I wasn't sure how this would translate to paper, and I wasn't sure I could take 260 pages of him. Even my brother, who really likes Larry, saw this book on my table and made a dismissive statement. Well, one day while he was painting my back stoop, I read a few chapters aloud and he changed his mind. Yes, Git-R-Done is surprisingly entertaining. My wife was grossed out a few times, but overall it's funny stuff. My only complaint is that it could use tighter editing. A few chapters drag on, so 220 pages might have been better.

  • Dirty Jokes and Beer by Drew Carey - This is a classic of sorts, being a 10-year-old New York Times Bestseller, but I found a stray copy in the bargain bin recently. I think Carey's TV show was successful because he was just an ordinary guy, and that's how this book comes across -- except dirtier as promised in the title. It's like knocking back a few drinks and shooting the bull with Drew. Most chapters are short and punched up with a lot of laughs. In the first section, each chapter begins with one of Carey's favorite dirty jokes, and these are worth memorizing. One of the longer chapters hilariously describes how network censors force TV writers to tone down sex and drug references in their scripts. I didn't expect much from Carey's short stories, which fill the last 100 pages, but they were pretty amusing albeit sometimes disturbing.

All three books also serve as irreverent autobiographies, but naturally, anything in a humorous book should be taken with a grain of salt. If you like the character portrayed by Colbert or Larry, you'll like their books. If you like Carey and don't mind lewdness, you'll like his book, too. If you don't know any of these guys, take a chance on Colbert's book, which is all around the most entertaining and (relatively) least offensive.

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