Funny books are often overlooked. Attention often goes to “serious literature” – the great American novels or the heartwrenching coming-of-age stories of the world. While there are some awards for humour books, such as the Mark Twain Book Awards or the much-missed Roald Dahl Funny Prize, they aren’t as high profile as The Booker Prize or The Women’s Prize; and while funny books can be nominated for the most prestigious awards, this is rare. While there has been some debate over whether the books that win high-profile prizes can be considered funny, the fact remains that books whose primary purpose is comedy are less likely to be considered for top prizes than their literary counterparts. Add in the tediously ever-present problem of sexism, and even the funniest women writers are even less likely to gain recognition.
Some steps have been taken to address this, such as the creation of the Comedy Women in Print Prize; however, there are many funny women writers out there, some already popular, others less well known. In fiction and nonfiction, memoir and essay, women writers have used wit and humour to explore serious subjects, tell a great story, or just get some good laughs. Here’s a selection of the funniest women writers, in a range of different genres, and a suggestion of some of the best books of theirs to read.
If you like your humour so dark that light can barely escape it, and you’re not put off by a little (or a lot of) gore, CJ Skuse’s books are a fantastic choice. The Sweetpea series follows Rhiannon, a completely unrepentant and vicious serial killer. While Rhiannon mostly kills very bad people, she isn’t as much of a stickler for this rule as Dexter, and some of her victims absolutely do not deserve their fate – but Skuse brings such wit and humour to Rhiannon’s outlook on the world that you can’t help but root for her. Skuse is a sharply funny writer, and her books are full of fast-paced twists and turns that thriller readers will love.
It’s difficult to narrow down which of Roxane Gay’s writings to recommend – because honestly, everyone should read all of them – but Bad Feminist is a great starting point for anyone who hasn’t experienced Gay’s work. A collection of essays on a huge variety of topics, from female friendships to competitive Scrabble, Bad Feminist deals with serious subjects (including sexual assault and eating disorders), but also shines with Gay’s unmistakeable wit and humour.
Juno Dawson is a brilliant YA author, expertly balancing humour with the deadly serious aspects of teen life. Her novel Clean looks at addiction, while Meat Market considers the exploitation young models can face as part of their work; however, All of the Above is my pick as one of Dawson’s best examples of funny undercut with sadness. In this book, new girl in town Toria meets a group of new friends, and negotiates love, loss, and local activism – but Dawson rarely lets us go more than a few pages without a belly laugh, with believable and funny interactions between the friends.
Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire
You may not have expect this kind of read in a list of the funniest women writers. True crime generally isn’t the funniest genre, and for good reason – however, Bala and Maguire, hosts of a popular podcast (also named Redhanded), have always aimed their jokes squarely at the perpetrators and other deserving targets, never at the victims or survivors of crime. Their first book is an in-depth look at the psychology behind killers, cults and cannibals, and is a fascinating, witty read for any true crime fan.
Mortician, author, and podcaster Caitlin Doughty has dedicated her life to demystifying death and advocating for death acceptance. Her work has always taken a fresh and funny approach to a serious subject, but I’d particularly recommend Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? in which Doughty answers death-related questions from children. This book takes the fear and mystery out of one of life’s inevitabilities, and is heartening and reassuring as well as funny.
Mona Eltahawy is a brave and furious feminist writer and activist, skewering patriarchal hypocrisy and oppression with her words in her newsletters, on Twitter, and in her books. The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls describes the need for women and girls to “sin” by embracing anger, lust, pride, and all the other “deadly sins” that patriarchy has denied them, and her writing is as witty as it is sharp and insightful. While not laugh-out-loud funny, Eltahawy’s work approaches feminism and activism with a deep note of humour, laughing at the ridiculousness of patriarchal structures and limitations.
Carty-Williams’ highly-acclaimed novel is an equal parts funny and serious look at the life of Queenie Jenkins, described as ‘a vibrant, troubled 25-year-old Jamaican Brit who is not having a very good year’. Queenie looks at relationship loss, friendship troubles, and dealing with depression. Although Queenie was described by some sources as ‘a Black Bridget Jones’, and some of the humour is certainly resonant, Carty-Williams noted in an interview with Stylist that ‘this book is also naturally political just because of who Queenie is. She’s not Bridget Jones. She could never be’. While the story isn’t afraid to show the racism and sexism Queenie faces, or the negative consequences of her own bad decisions, the story is as funny as it is frank.
If you love a romcom, you need to read The Split. In Laura Kay’s sweet and funny novel, Ally, following a breakup with her girlfriend Emily, makes a spur-of-the-minute move back to her childhood home, and takes her and Emily’s cat with her. As she adjusts to life with her dad, Ally reconnects with an old friend, Jeremy, and the two vow to win their exes back…by running a half-marathon. However, when Ally meets Jo, the beautiful and athletic organiser of her local running club, she starts to wonder if getting back with Emily is what she really wants. Ally and Jeremy are both hapless, awkward, and loveable characters who romance readers will love.
While many health conditions are more widely talked about than they used to be, there are some that are still taboo, one of them being incontinence. In PMSL, Luce Brett writes about her own experiences with urinary incontinence, dismantling the culture of silence around this condition with wit and humour. Funny writing from a place of experience can sometimes be the best way to dismantle stigma, and Brett’s account of adjusting to becoming incontinent at a young age is candid, thoughtful, and often hilarious.
You Can’t Touch My Hair is an upcoing collection of funny political and personal essays by comedian and writer Phoebe Robinson. Robinson skewers societal racism with humour and wit, looking at casting calls, stereotypes about music preferences, and the endless requests she gets from white people who want to touch her hair. Fans of Robinson’s comedy will probably already have this books preordered, but even if you’re not a standup fan, it’s a funny and essential read – and you can always get her other books, Please Don’t Sit On My Bed in Your Outside Clothes and Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, while you’re waiting.
Rounding out this list of the funniest women writers, Meera Syal has had a stellar career as a funny writer, actor, and all-round brilliant person. Part of the team behind TV hit Goodness Gracious Me, she’s also a playwright and novelist. Anita and Me is her debut novel, partly based on her own experiences growing up as a British Asian person in the UK, and while the book deals with racism, from microaggressions to violence, there are also plenty of hilarious moments.
While these books by the funniest women writers are the perfect funny additions to your shelves, there are plenty more hilarious reads out there. Fantasy fans can try 15 of the Best Funny Fantasy Books. For a funny twist on upcoming releases, check out Am I the A**hole? 2022 Book Releases as Reddit Posts.