Reading List: The Best Comedy Books of 2012

The Guy Under the Sheets, by Chris Elliott

Not Elliott’s first autobiography, and not Elliot’s first fake nonfiction book written in his unctuous, smarmy, faux-snobbish persona. But there’s lots of self-analyzation from the point of view of the laudatory, starstruck biographer (Elliott himself, of course, but timely shades of Petraeus) about the slow acceptance of Elliott’s brand of challenging, meta, and highly influential anti-comedy. While the reader gets some sense of Elliott’s rise (the situations and life events are real, if not quite the execution), this book is more another fine Elliott product than it is an Elliott inventory.

Girl Walks Into a Bar, Rachel Dratch

After Dratch was unceremoniously demoted from Jenna to recurring player to nothing on 30 Rock, a show run by her close friend and old scene partner, I’ve wanted to read a Rachel Dratch biography. Girl Walks Into a Bar deals a lot with something that arts and entertainment books don’t touch on much — disappointment and the abrupt end of the fame train. Life doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go, which is another theme of this book, which ultimately becomes a sweet, cinematic story about second chances and unexpected joy (Dratch meets a guy and has an unplanned baby late in her child-bearing years).

Dyn-O-Mite!, Jimmy Walker

Hey, you know that major thing that happened in the history of comedy that changed comedy forever? Jimmy “J.J. Walker was there! Really. Ostensibly Walker’s memoir, it’s actually a People’s History of Stand-Up Comedy in America. So much great stuff on the burgeoning, flying blind world of the ‘70s L.A. standup scene.

Top of the Rock, by Warren Littlefield

If you’re a TV fan, this is the best book about TV not written by The War For Late Night guy. Littlefield, a former NBC executive, obviously had some help, but it’s a nice look half from the inside, and half from the outside, about how NBC became the dominant force and tastemaker in TV comedy in the ‘90s (Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Friends) before Jeff Zucker mucked everything up.

Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

Probably the only comic novel to come out this year that adheres to most of the Aristotelian unities that was written in tandem, tag-team fashion by one of our greatest humor essayists (Barry) and greatest sketch writers (Zweibel). Each icon took a chapter-turn with this book about an absurdly escalating argument between two suburban dads, one an aggressive bully and the other a passive-aggressive weakling.

Agorafabulous!, by Sara Benincasa

Up-and-comers usually don’t get to write a memoir, but Benincasa’s different — she has a story to tell and a unique voice with which to tell it. It’s been said that it’s brave to write a memoir that exposes your lowest lows, but worth it for sharing your humanity. That’s what happens here, as Benincasa relates with wit both quick and dark about being unable to leave her homes for long stretches of time.

Wendolin Kramer, by Laura Fernandez

A lot of great artists got to be great artists by ignoring trends in their medium and focusing on crafting their own work in their own voice, independently. Wendolin Kramer is an incredibly original novel about a possibly mentally ill, or at least emotionally stunted, woman who thinks she’s a superhero and spends way too much time fussing over a pet. Imagine if a Judy Blume character grew up cracked, but focused on justice and the right way of doing things, but who has normal human desires and doesn’t know how to express them, like a character in a chick-lit novel, and if the author genuinely loved that character and kept no ironic distance. (This book came out in 2011, in Spanish, but was translated into English, with its bizarre charm intact, in 2012.)

Tasteful Nudes, by Dave Hill

Comedy books used to be collections of essays by stand up comedians — Cruel Shoes and Without Feathers for example. It was another outlet for comedians to be funny, but with stuff that was right for that particular medium. Comedians are masters of the mid-length form, and that’s why this format works. Dave Hill’s semi-memoir (semoir?) collection of humorous and true-ish stories Tasteful Nudes retains Hill’s great deadpan style and voice, but translated to the written word.

Other major comedy books of the year, you’ve probably heard a lot about already:

We Killed, by Yael Kohen. This book about women in comedy was covered right here at Splitsider in October, including an interview with Kohen. Read it.

The Onion’s Book of Known Knowledge. The Onion branches out from news and historical news to make a fake encyclopedia; it is as hilarious as expected.

America Again. Colbert being Colbert, especially charged up by it being an election year. It’s a testament to Colbert’s genius and inner heart that he can take this character across multiple platforms and never lose that voice or that focus or run out of ideas.

Brian Boone makes tweets and longer sentences.

Reading List: The Best Comedy Books of 2012