While it’s always changing in deference to trends, tastes, and tech, the publishing industry still traditionally releases certain books at certain times. Self-help books come out at New Year’s–resolution time, frothy beach reads hit in the summer, the high-profile celebrity memoirs arrive in the fall — many of those written by comedians. Maybe it’s because we associate comedians with the fall TV season, but it’s probably because memoirs with a famous face and name on the cover make excellent gifts, and getting them out in the early fall provides ample buying opportunity for the encroaching holiday season.
Fall 2023 feels especially crowded with comedian memoirs, making for a wonderful, abundant feeling for comedy nerds and comedy-appreciative readers. By our count, nine major comedian memoirs will be released in September and October. That’s just a lot of reading, and if you want to get them all in, you’re going to have to prioritize or just figure out which are your must-read-nows and which ones you can push into 2024 (or never if they’re just not your thing). Here, then, is your guide to Comedian-Memoir Fall.
Many comedian memoirs take shape through the author gently probing their psyche to amusingly determine why they became a comedian. Maria Bamford, whose act has gradually incorporated more and more psychological excavation, doesn’t let herself off so easily. Her self-help memoir includes all the real-life setups for her wonderful bits: the full stories of the actual, alternately hilarious and harrowing scenarios that inspired her best-known material. It’s less about the psychology of a comedian than it is a mental-health memoir of a sensitive, answers-craving Gen-Xer.
Comic, sitcom creator, and TV host London Hughes is way more famous in the U.K. than she is in the U.S., but unfamiliar readers can see why she’s so popular: She’s extremely charming, what with her cocky but vulnerable writing style. Living My Best Life, Hun is a memoir of a busy, if not chaotic, professional life still on the upswing, one packed with many milestones and disappointments hitting well before the author turned 30. It’s a contemporary stab at the Dickensian formula, depicting how an outsider rose through the heavily structured British pop-cultural complex to make her dreams come true.
You may think you know Leslie Jones, but you don’t really — not right now. You know her persona and her effervescent run on Saturday Night Live, but you probably don’t know much about her real self or her career before she hit network TV. This is not the kind of comedian memoir that’s an extension of the act, an explicit provider of context, or a personal-branding exercise. This is a conversational celebration of the force of nature that is Leslie Jones from the world’s foremost expert on Leslie Jones.
How often we praise content for being relatable. But there’s a lot to be gained by consuming media created by our probable betters. Unreliable Narrator is a psychological journey through the mind of a hyperintelligent comedian, one who has a hard time fitting in and who bristles against the mainstream because she seems to be so much smarter than the rest of us. A memoir can and should be a fascinating, authentic look into the brain of another. Aparna Nancherla provides that in this self-analysis that tries to justify to herself — and explain to us — why she’s a comic.
Gary Gulman maintains his obsession with minutiae and tone of gregarious self-deprecation, and his worldview works well on the page. Misfit employs two timelines to tell two stories with two different tones. The nostalgic will enjoy Gulman’s ’80s-flavored reminiscences of being a child who very much knows who he is but is nevertheless uncomfortable. Empathy is engendered with diary-entry-like interstitials of a fully grown, fully realized Gulman during an especially brutal depressive episode.
Memoirs are necessarily and by definition about Someone Else. Sarah Cooper’s book is about you — eventually. Cooper, a recently ascended star having utilized the internet to get famous with her pointed, withering, performance-based political satire, possesses a direct and fierce comic voice, and in her previous books, she took down cultural dinosaurs. Here, she explores, thoroughly examines, and mocks herself, her past, and her motivations and shows how you too can find your voice, comic or otherwise, and use it to exorcise your demons.
A rising star and recent breakout success thanks to a sleeper hit of a Max special, Aida Rodriguez didn’t really come out of nowhere, of course, and Legitimate Kid is a cathartic, unflinching memoir of a comedian’s pre-comedy life. Comedy is therapy, for the audience sometimes but the comedian especially, and Legitimate Kid demonstrates how Rodriguez turned trauma and pain — multiple kidnappings, a terrible marriage, an unstable housing situation — into comedy and connection.
Reggie Watts’s act — a combination of irony, stand-up comedy, and trippy improvised music as seen on The Late Late Show and Comedy Bang! Bang! — translates well to print. When the action and memories get particularly overwhelming, Watts expresses his feelings with written scat and musical interludes. Reminiscent of experimental meta-memoirs like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Great Falls, MT is earnest, optimistic, and future-forward but also nostalgic for (and critical of) times gone by, particularly the ’90s grunge boom and that greater Pacific Northwest–based cultural moment.
Perhaps this is the ideal gift for the coolest person you know or a primer for yourself on how to be a little bit cooler and agitate others in an entertaining way. Because as funny as Ziwe is, she’s just so effortlessly cool. In this collection of gently personal and loosely connected stories, essays, and vignettes, we get a precious glimpse into how Ziwe’s uniquely fearless mind functions.