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I will never forget the crushing remorse I felt after reading — and loving — Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I was coming out of a theory-addled grad school haze, and Bossypants was literally the first time I had ever read a bestseller while it was still a bestseller. It was actually fun! And hilarious! And I could actually talk about it with other people who were reading it at the exact same time I was! I think I even peed a little while reading it in the public library. Did I have this in common with other people, too? (I work in a public library and the answer is ‘yes.’) The giddy euphoria lasted about a week or two… until I realized I had totally screwed up because I hadn’t listened to it on audio. Crushed.
When I finally got around to notching Bossypants into my audiobook bedpost, there was no turning back. Tina kicks ass at reading her own book because she’s not only a skilled writer; she’s also a skilled comic actress forged in the fiery fires of Lorne Michaels’ late night network TV and primetime sitcoms. She’s got funny down to a science, and I worship at her altar of hilariousness. Everything you thought was funny when you read Bossypants? It’s funnier when Tina Fey reads it. Because Tina Fey is funnier than everyone.
I’ve been hooked on listening to funny books read by funny people ever since. While I wouldn’t advise all authors to read their own books out loud, funny people tend to do a pretty knockout job. Here are a few more of my all-time favorites:
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson had me from the moment she started in on her rural Texas childhood with a demented taxidermist father and a mysterious “pet” called Stanley the Magical Squirrel. Anyone who’s spent any time around a dysfunctional family will appreciate Jenny’s harrowing tales of Thanksgiving disasters, rattlesnakes, bickering with her husband about zombies, and fending off vultures with a machete. I loved this on audio quite a bit more than in print; I was totally charmed by her wacky singing of chapter headings and her ad libbed demands for “more cowbell! This recording needs more cowbell!” Jenny Lawson isn’t a trained comedian or voice actor, but in her case I’m more than willing to look past that.
Attempting Normal by Marc Maron
Imagine Charles Bukowski doing stand-up, and you might get an idea what Marc Maron is like. Everyone who likes comedy has their own reasons and favorite styles; I think mine is that it’s a handy outlet for laughing at all the crazy, dark shit people go through. After basically failing at life — drug addiction, getting fired, ruining two marriages — Marc finally found his groove with his WTF podcast, and here he explores similar territory: neurotic anxiety, anger… and feral cats! At its heart is a remarkable longing to connect emotionally with other people, which is what makes Marc’s humor so wonderful. The audiobook features a Lorne Michaels impression that DESTROYS me, cameos by Louis CK and David Cross, and lots of filthy, filthy stories. Marc Maron proves that comedy is not just entertainment but can be art.
Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman
In between the sounds of Nick Offerman’s giggles, Paddle Your Own Canoe offers up a Wendell Berry-esque manifesto of living with character and integrity (even if it’s just being true to your inner smartass.) Nick refined the art of the deadpan in the laboratory of Illinois’ 1980s rural Catholic churches, and here his unique voice and chewy prose chronicle hilarious hijinks involving bratwurst haikus, kabuki theater, woodworking, love, and, of course, the legend of Tick-Tock & Flip-Flop, lords of the 80’s Midwestern Breakdance. Surprisingly political and philosophical, Nick Offerman mixes it up with plenty of Ron Swanson-esque smartassery. And giggles. Don’t forget the giggles.
Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney
I’m a fan of Rob Delaney’s über-successful twitter account, and while I was expecting to be amused by his book, nothing could have prepared me for the hilarious emotional bulldozer hidden within. In between funny jokes about trying to impress his French teacher and pooping on a strange lady’s lawn, Rob breaks out with balls-to-the-wall raw truth about his self destructive past: drunk driving, alcoholism, daredevil stunts, life-threatening injuries, court-ordered rehab, and suicidal depression. (Wait, isn’t this supposed to be about funny books?) The length of a book gives Rob Delaney room to use his weird humor to excavate truths and reveal himself as a whole, flawed person with genuine regard for other human beings. And who also likes to tell jokes about pooping. I loved this listen so hard.
Naked by David Sedaris
Literally anything by David Sedaris could be considered the ultimate “funny book read by a funny person.” Naked is jam packed with snarky stories about David’s martini swilling mother, awkward trips to nude beaches, and the sting of first adolescent love, all narrated in his distinctively NPRish voice. I especially love this on audio because his sister Amy Sedaris performs all the female roles: crabby elementary school teachers, Greek grandmothers, suburban housewives, you name it. Naked is a hilarious performance by America’s most beloved hilarious celebrity siblings.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
My first Jon Ronson experience was The Men Who Stare At Goats, a book that investigates U.S. Army officers tasked with trying to disintegrate live goats with their brains. True story. In The Psychopath Test, Jon delves deeply into the nature of psychopathy in both our prisons and our Fortune 500 companies. It’s the dark and twisty kind of humor; the kind that hurts a little because you know it’s true. But afterward, you will feel a little qualified to identify psychopaths by the dozens in your own life. So, it’s worth it. Jon Ronson’s voice is awesome because it screams “I am a timid British man in spectacles and an adorable sweater vest!” Also, “Jon Ronson” rhymes with “Ron Swanson.” Coincidence?
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
For the brainy set, I can’t think of a funnier audiobook than Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. How adorably nerdy is she for planning a road trip vacation to sites of presidential assassinations? Interspersed are smart-alecky anecdotes about the free-love, cultish origins of the Oneida silverware company, and Important Observations about Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins musical. And you can always count on Sarah for a well-placed Brady Bunch reference. But no matter how hard she tries, her deadpan voice and glib humor will never mask Sarah Vowell’s enduring love of country and civic pride.
Also on my dream list of funny books read by funny people (since I guess I am handing out book deals today?): Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler — basically all the Amy’s and everyone on Parks and Recreation — and Louis CK. I’m also already drafting a “Part 2” of this list because, guys, ALL THE FUNNY BOOKS.
Are you as hooked on funny books read by funny people? Lay your favorites on me.
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