5 Reasons It's Impossible to Find Funny Books
I like funny things. I work with a bunch of funny people all day. Everyone in my family tells jokes. I like watching funny movies and TV shows and listening to funny podcasts. I'm very, very simple.
I also like funny books. Not books about comedy, or memoirs by funny people -- I like funny novels. Funny stories with funny characters and good dialogue. I want books that are as funny as Ghostbusters or The Simpsons.
That's why it's so frustrating that, unlike movies and shows, it's almost impossible in this world to find funny damned novels. If you've ever spent time in a library or bookstore looking for a reliably hilarious novel, you already know what's annoying about it.
The "Humor" Section at Every Bookstore Is Terrible
Have you ever been to the humor section at a Barnes & Noble? It's a freaking nightmare. Sure, some books that end up in it might be pretty funny (and one book found in the humor section in particular is not only the funniest book ever written, but also remarkably affordable), but for the most part, you'll find old comic book anthologies, books full of funny party jokes that are, without exception, horrendous and small coffee table books that started out as Internet blogs/memes.
You might find some (terrible) books that try to teach you how to be funny, but you certainly won't find any funny novels there. You'll find musings from Larry the Cable Guy and pictures of cats making stupid faces (these, in fact, might be the same book), but nothing that would make you say, "Hey, wow, this is like Wet Hot American Summer, but in book form!"
That's because they don't put novels in the humor section. Even if they're hilarious, they stick them with every other novel. And if you're digging through just the general fiction section, you'll have a hard time finding funny books, because ...
"Funny" Is Slapped on the Jacket of Almost Every Novel Ever Written
No novel ever written is completely devoid of jokes, so, as a result, the description on the back or inside cover of almost every novel says something like "At equal times heartbreaking, intense and totally funny, this book is a must-read" or "Exhilarating and sexy, with a great sense of humor!" Go into a bookstore and pick up any novel, and I guarantee you one out of every three will have either "surprisingly hilarious" or "flat out funny!" slapped on there. The government should honestly be able to step in and legislate the number of times publishing houses can advertise their books as "funny." The back of my copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections says "surprisingly funny," and I guess there are a few funny lines, but at the end of the day, it's a book about Parkinson's disease and an entire family that suffers from depression.
I don't know what the criteria is for getting "funny" slapped onto the back of a book, but I have to assume it's "having a number of different words," because that's the only thing that The Great Gatsby (heartbreaking and brutal) has in common with Christopher Moore's Lamb (almost impossibly hilarious), both of which have the word "funny" printed on the back cover.
Almost every truly funny book that I've found was discovered by accident. I'll go to a bookstore and pick something out either because of its cover (this is a good thing to do, children) or because the description on the back sounds like it might be funny. Since every description tries to make every novel sound funny, it's a total crapshoot. For every time I blindly stumbled into a Lamb or a Tricky Business or a John Dies at the End (now a major motion picture that just debuted at the Sundance film festival!), there were plenty of times where I ended up with a bunch of novels that were terrible that I won't mention by name because that would be rude (except for About the Author, which was so terrible that I'm still mad that I read it six years ago).
Give me back the money that I didn't spend on this because I got it from the library, you stupid jerk!
Publishing houses don't know what funny books are, so we're forced to look out for authors on whom we can rely. Which is always tough, because ...
Comedians/Comedy Writers Would Rather Write Memoirs and Essays
Tina Fey, one of the best writers to ever come out of Saturday Night Live, Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks, The Office's Mindy Kaling, Michael Ian Black and Patton Oswalt are all very funny, and they've all written memoirs or books of essays. And that's fine, because those books are great, but, again, if you're looking for a Simpsons episode in book form, you won't find it (except, perhaps, for that one written by a Simpsons writer, which is actually very good).
There are a few exceptions. Steve Martin writes novels and Hugh Laurie wrote The Gun Seller, one of the coolest and funniest books I've ever read, but for the most part, you're left wandering around bookstores, hoping that this random book that has "funny" in the description actually means it, because at any given time, the No. 1 book on Amazon in the category of humor is probably just a bunch of stories about Chelsea Handler fucking.
There Aren't Book Studios/Production Companies
I really like Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids and many Arrested Development episodes). I know that whenever he writes or directs or produces something, it's going to line up with my own comedic sensibilities. I've found that this is also true about the company he keeps. A small community of like-minded writers and creators emerged (Greg Daniels, Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, David Gordon Green, Seth Rogen, Mitch Hurwitz, Jason Segel, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg), and so now I know that, if any of those guys does something, I'll probably like it. I can rely on the Apatow Company to consistently churn out stuff that usually matches the kind of stuff I like.
Uh ... mostly.
There is nothing like that for comedic novels. As hard as I've looked, I haven't found anything close to what I would consider to be a "production studio" for books that all fall under the same general category of comedic taste. There's no "Apatow Company" for books, or a series of novels that have "Produced by Edgar Wright [or] Paul Feig" stamped on the cover. Why is there an Oprah Book Club and not a collection of novels that Bill Murray likes? I can and do follow individual authors and keep a lookout for what they're doing, but I'm faster at reading books than these authors are at writing them (but, like, barely), so there's usually a lot of waiting around on my end. I can read a new Christopher Moore novel and then wait a year or two until he writes another one, or I can just wander around the bookstore hoping I randomly stumble upon a new hilarious author the way I randomly stumbled upon Moore several years ago.
Even the Internet Sucks at Finding Funny Books
I Googled "Funny Books," and this was the top result:
"Those blonde jokes are clean AND short, you say? Sign me up!"
Most "Hilarious Novel" lists you'll find online stick almost exclusively to books published in the early 1900s (at the absolute latest), like they get extra credit for citing obscure older books that are usually less "hilarious" and more "surprisingly not dated" (I don't care how many New Yorker "Funniest Novels of All Time" lists it appears in, Tristram Shandy is not a fucking funny book).
So what, then? What's a guy supposed to do when he runs out of Douglas Adams novels? I want a book as funny as Arrested Development, a book that I have to put down because I'm laughing too hard, with quotes that I want to share with my friends (I'm not very cool and have few long-term friends). Hilarious books should not be this hard to find.
Bonus Entry: The Funniest Books I've Read
In an effort to fix this problem and provide a home for hilarious novels, I'm going to leave a list of my favorites here, with the hopes that you all do the same in the comments.
Lamb -- Christopher Moore (I've certainly mentioned it enough already)
Lucky Jim -- Kingsley Amis
Catch-22 -- Joseph Heller
John Dies at the End -- David Wong
A Confederacy of Dunces -- John Kennedy Toole
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul -- Douglas Adams
Most of Kurt Vonnegut's stuff
High Fidelity -- Nick Hornby
Any book featuring Philip Marlowe -- Raymond Chandler
That's all I can think of right now. What about you guys?
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and would love to write funny books for the people (the people).
For more from Dan, check out My Brief Time as a Crewmember Aboard the USS Enterprise and Storyboards from Michael Bay's The Great Gatsby.