Seeking funny novels
April 6, 2005 4:37 AM   Subscribe

A literary agent friend of mine says that publishers dislike publishing funny novels because "humor is subjective". Certainly I have stumped bookstore clerks by asking them to recommend a funny novel. Not "Humor", which includes Garfield the Cat, Dave Barry, and Jokes for the John, but honest to God novels, with characters and plots and such. I have a little list of authors and if anyone can add to it, I will be in her or his debt.

I would include, in no particular order: Wodehouse, Waugh, George MacDonald Fraser, Donald Westlake, Nancy Mitford, E.F. Benson, Augustus Carp (faux autobiography, only thing the man ever wrote), John Mortimer, Joe Keenan (before he wrote for Frazier, he did two novels and is rumored to be working on a third), Carl Hiaasen, Saki, John Kennedy Toole, Tom Sharpe ("Wodehouse on acid"-P.J. O'Rourke), Jay Cronley, Stella Gibbons, Sara Caudwell, Mark B. Cohen, Geoffrey Willans. Also, because we must: Twain, Artemus Ward, Douglas Adams, Doug Naylor, E Somerville, Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Jerome K. Jerome, Thurber, Perelman (overripe to my mind), Richard Hooker (M.A.S.H.), Peter de Vries (said to be funny- I never thought so),

The best of these are timeless and can be re-read, but fresh provisions are always welcome. (Side note- Any comments from publishing industry insiders on my friend's comment would be welcome, as a by the way. He also says that few have any sense of humor themselves. I generally find that new books touted as being witty and humorous are generally- not.)
posted by IndigoJones to Media & Arts (101 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Stephen Fry
posted by cushie at 4:40 AM on April 6, 2005

There's a lot of humor in Sean Stewart novels, and they're incredible sci-fi/fantasy to boot. I think he's a better writer than Stephenson.

Also, take a look at Tom Robbins and his alter ego, Wing F., Fing, author of
Fuck, Yes!: A Guide to the Happy Acceptance of Everything. That's a hilarious book. Fuck, yes!
posted by Jairus at 4:54 AM on April 6, 2005

Philip Roth can be damn funny, too.
posted by AwkwardPause at 4:54 AM on April 6, 2005

Jonathan Coe - particularly the House of Sleep and What a Carve Up. I find Tibor Fischer very funny, too.
posted by handee at 4:55 AM on April 6, 2005

It's getting harder and harder to make me laugh these days, but I laughed at Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim. And David Foster Wallace's Broom of the System. And Stephen Fry, as cushie mentions.

Mrs. Nylon was recently heard laughing to Jonathan Frantzen's The Corrections, but I've just asked her about it and she says 'it was funny, but then it got kinda boring'. So you might want to just read the first bit.
posted by nylon at 5:00 AM on April 6, 2005

Flann O'Brien, JP Donleavy, Ring Lardner, Terry Southern, Neil Gaiman, Daniel Pinkwater (nominally a young adult writer, but don't let that stop you), and Elias Canetti's "Auto Da Fe".
posted by Gortuk at 5:08 AM on April 6, 2005

Paul di Filippo (crazy SF stuff; I laughed all the way through The Steampunk Trilogy). Oh, and Charles Dickens...
posted by thomas j wise at 5:23 AM on April 6, 2005

I like funny stuff, too...

The best thing I've read lately was "The Ringer : A Novel"
by Bill Scheft -- he's a writer for Letterman and this, I believe, is his first novel. It's the strange story of a guy who makes a living as a ringer for corporate softball teams.
posted by ph00dz at 5:28 AM on April 6, 2005

I can't believe you guys mentioned Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and missed Terry Pratchett!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:35 AM on April 6, 2005

La Vie Devant Soi, or The Life Before Us, by Romain Gary is one of the funniest, but also saddest, books I've ever read. It's set in Paris and tells the story of an Arab boy being raised by a very old old Jewish woman. It's absolutely beautiful, and also the only time I remember really laughing out loud while reading a book. For anyone who happens to be studying French, it's not a difficult book to read in the original.
posted by hazyjane at 5:37 AM on April 6, 2005

I'm so glad this was posted! I've been looking for something funny to read, myself! Previous reads: Fannie Flagg, Bill Bryson (non-fiction), Janet Evanovich (superficial but mildly entertaining).
posted by yoga at 5:42 AM on April 6, 2005

Cathie Pelletier (AKA K.C. McKinnon), and Alison Lurie

Pelletier's Once Upon the Time Upon the Banks contains what has to be fiction's most hilariously dysfunctional family.
posted by orange swan at 5:49 AM on April 6, 2005

I thought Love in a Dead Language by Lee Siegel was hysterical.

I also find John Barth quite funny. My favorite is Tidewater Tales.
posted by putzface_dickman at 5:58 AM on April 6, 2005

I thought Maxx Barry's biting satire about marketing and advertising in both Syrup and Jennifer Government hilarious.
posted by jodic at 6:00 AM on April 6, 2005

Straight Man by Richard Russo.
posted by matildaben at 6:06 AM on April 6, 2005

A thousand seconds for Terry Pratchett's Discworld books; he's a brilliant satirist and a master at creating smart, loony situations and dialogue. Honestly, Pratchett is one of the funniest authors now writing in English. He fits perfectly up there in your second paragraph.

I got lucky and started with "The Truth," the story of Discworld's first newspaper and a hilarious dissection of journalism and politics. The scenes where city officials and zombie lawyers are confronted for the first time by someone writing down everything they say are perfectly done. The early books are somewhat goofier and the later ones more deep, if that helps you sort through the couple of dozen. You really don't have to read them in order, although some of them form mini-series. A good intro here.

Oh, and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books are breezy goodness; they take no time to read and are written in a really funny voice.
posted by mediareport at 6:06 AM on April 6, 2005

You already have a formidable list and may great authors have been mentioned up thread. I'll just add that Donald Antrim makes me laugh, and so does Mark Leyner (though Leyner is more about over-the-top scenes strung together than he is about "novels" so maybe he sits just on the other side of the line, but know that he's there smirking at us). I also find David Foster Wallace (already mentioned) and Thomas Pynchon to be comic in a dark way that leaves me grinning in a mad fashion rather than laughing hysterically (which is to say I find them rewarding on the humor front but in a different way).
posted by safetyfork at 6:07 AM on April 6, 2005

I'll second Dickens (especially the "high society" scenes in Our Mutual Friend) and cast a vote for Catch-22, one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Also, I can't remember if Vonnegut has been mentioned yet, but if not, he certainly should be.
posted by saladin at 6:13 AM on April 6, 2005

texasville by larry mcmurtry made me laugh out loud more than once. (so did all of my friends are going to be strangers) the whole thalia trilogy is very good, but the last picture show is too sad to be funny and the same is mostly true of duane's depressed, although parts of it are hilarious.

a great year for plums by bailey white is pretty funny.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:15 AM on April 6, 2005

Alexei Sayle, particularly his short story collections.
posted by BigCalm at 6:18 AM on April 6, 2005

I just want to emphasize the Stephen Fry recommendation. The Liar is one of the few books that has literally made me weep with laughter. (I found The Hippopotamus something of a letdown, just to forewarn you.)
posted by languagehat at 6:19 AM on April 6, 2005

Dave Barry actually has at least two novels as well as his humor-column books. Big Trouble and Tricky Business are both pretty good... a lot like Carl Hiaasen, but without the interminable kvetching about how Florida used to be Paradise, as if it hadn't always been filled with mosquitoes and morons. There's also a decent movie of Big Trouble with Rene Russo.

Christopher Brookmyre is good and funny. You might think of him as a Scottish version of Hiaasen, but way more pissed-off. Start with One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:26 AM on April 6, 2005

James Morrow reads like a cross between Phillip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut. I'd recommed his novels Towing Jehova, This Is The Way The World Ends, Only Begotten Daughter, and City of Truth.
posted by skwm at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2005

Carrie Fisher (yes, that Carrie Fisher), "Surrender The Pink", laugh out loud funny, at least to me.
posted by signal at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2005

Adding to the recommendations of Terry Pratchett - great humor. Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen both do over-the-top "wacky Florida novels", quite silly but when they get going they can be pretty funny. Florence King and Will Ferguson are also two funny writers (both non-fic, but her Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady and his I Was a Teenage Katima-Victim! are both autobiographical and read sort of like novels).
posted by Melinika at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2005

T. Coraghessan Boyle can be dryly hilarious. Also, Crossing California, by Adam Langer, made me laugh out loud a lot.
posted by scratch at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2005

Oh, yes, and I forgot to mention (in the "wacky Florida novel" vein) Jimmy Buffett's Where is Joe Merchant?
posted by Melinika at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2005

I interned at a LA for awhile and my job was to give manuscripts a first pass over. I indeed thumbed down at least one book because of a really, really weak attempt at humor in an otherwise decent story. It was like a big poop stain on a clean sheet, even if you can get it out, you still know it was once there and will stay away.

The most laughing I ever did was at some of the crap I had to read. The best sign of a work of unintentional comedic genius is "the author is also a lawyer."

Also, add Christopher Moore (Lamb, Bloodsucking Fiends, etc) to the list!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2005

A vote for my favorite author, Alan Weisbecker. He's written a few books and a screenplay or two. His funniest work is Cosmic Banditos, a a totally gonzo tale of drug smuggling, kidnapping, and particle physics. Very Gonzo, and very good.
posted by cosmicbandito at 6:42 AM on April 6, 2005

Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking is pretty funny.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2005

Douglas Coupland comes to mind, a favorite author of mine. (I'm also a big fan of Adams and Vonnegut, and I think there are some similarities there.)
posted by robotspacer at 6:47 AM on April 6, 2005

I just finished Kyril Bonfiglioli's Don't Point that Thing at Me and thought it was terrific and hilarious.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2005

Umm no one seems to have mentioned David Sedaris, I prefer listening to the audio books (his voice is eerily similar to Truman Capote). His stuff always make me laugh...

I'll post more after I give this some thought!
posted by mrs.pants at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2005

I'd like to second (well, at this point, third or fourth) the Stephen Fry suggestions. His wordplay is amazingly clever. His novels are uproariously funny, and you should also try and find his book of essays and articles, entitled "Paperweight." They're equally as clever and hilarious, and are worth finding solely for his discussion of palindromic sentences.

And if you like Stephen Fry's novels, you might also get a giggle out of Fry's partner in comedy crime, Hugh Laurie, whose "The Gun Seller" is a fantastically funny and picturesque hard-boiled detective novel. I wish he had written more books.

Last but never ever least, the author who has made me actually, literally, literarily laugh out loud while reading his books would be the fabulous P.G. Wodehouse. Everything he's written is (as Hugh Laurie said in Blackadder) ball-bouncingly funny. Whether it's his famous Jeeves stories, Mr. Mulliner, Psmith, Ukridge, the Drones Club members, or any of his other characters, Wodehouse is, for me, the funniest writer who ever put pen to paper. Plus, he's a definite inspiration and model for Stephen Fry's style. I wholeheartedly recommend anything and everything by Wodehouse.
posted by NewGear at 6:55 AM on April 6, 2005

Much of what has already been mentioned, of course, and with the caveat that I don't much read books specifically for the humor aspect: I found "Everything Is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer and "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides often quite funny.

And for a general recommendation, I would say look to Indian novelists, whom I find to often be wonderfully amusing - especially with social satire.
posted by taz at 6:58 AM on April 6, 2005

I'll second Joe Keenan, mentioned above, especially Blue Heaven. One of my favorite books. And Sedaris too, although it's not technically fiction. (I'm seeing him in person on Sunday, yay!)
posted by SashaPT at 6:58 AM on April 6, 2005

Richard Russo
posted by docpops at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2005

I've always found Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 amusing.
posted by gimonca at 7:03 AM on April 6, 2005

I'll strongly second Richard Russo's Straight Man. It has a rich sense of humour and is very much a proper novel with caracters and such.
And, of course, you must read Stephen Fry if you haven't yet. The Liar is quite brilliant
posted by Zetetics at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2005

Ah... I also have to say that we really shouldn't overlook John Irving and Anne Tyler for many of their incredibly memorable comedic scenes.
posted by taz at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2005

Another recommendation for Terry Pratchett, David Sedaris, and Christopher Moore. I have to push Augusten Burroughs, for more great non-fic humor.
posted by graventy at 7:13 AM on April 6, 2005

Also see Mil Millington, especially Things my Girlfriend and I Have Argued About
posted by cushie at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2005

Earlier Martin Amis is great; such as Money, Success and London Fields.

I'll second Don't Point That Thing at Me. Overlook Press, which does quite a few reissues, such as the Bonfigliolis, has several of these dryly funny authors that fell away from the public eye. I recommend anything by Charles Portis, Gringos, Norwood (amazing!), Masters of Atlantis, True Grit.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:32 AM on April 6, 2005

Yeah, I was coming in to mention martin amis - the brits are really where to go for lit humor, I think - oscar wilde? tom wolfe... of course douglas adams. Among americans you have to go for the darkish ones, like vonnegut. tom robbins is fun but too goofy to really be deeply funny. Though sedaris does pull it off somehow - linguistic humor, I guess; he phrases things perfectly.

yep, it's very subjective.
posted by mdn at 7:43 AM on April 6, 2005

Great question, something I think about all the time.

Pynchon is, I think, the funniest novelist working, but Vineland sucks.
Laurence Sterne is very funny and wierd.

Don Quixote is the ur-comic novel, and was recently published in a great new translation by Edith Grossman. Well worth the time.

Pratchett is quite good, but uneven. I would second The Truth, and also Going Postal. In general his novels about specific cultural institutions are better than his others.

Jane Austen is my favorite comic novelist, beating even Wodehouse, which is very hard to do in my book.

Calvin Trillin writes great humor, but I've yet to read any novels. His collected columns from The Nation are good, but The Tummy Trilogy about regional food in the US is so excellent that you must read it while eating. (His book about murders is good but not funny.)

Ulysses is quite good as a comic novel, although not exactly funny.

I think Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner is very funny, and one of the great novels of the 20th century. It's a mystery to me why it didn't get picked up on all the Women's Writing syllabi that were floating around college in the 80s and 90s. Mr. Fortune's Maggot is also comic, but deeply so, and pretty dark in parts.
posted by OmieWise at 7:43 AM on April 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned George Saunders yet. He hasn't written a novel (yet), but his short stories are bizarre and incredibly funny. I've got two collections -- CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia -- both of which made me laugh out loud on public transportation.

His website has a few of his essays, and here's Sea Oak, one of his stranger pieces.
posted by lewistate at 7:50 AM on April 6, 2005

Mordecai Richler (esp. his last novel Barney's Version). Tom Perrotta. Jim Dodge. and of course Richard Price.
posted by jonmc at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2005

Robertson Davies is quite funny.
posted by orange swan at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2005

Donald Barthelme has some very funny stories, not laugh-out-loud funny, but "that guy knows what's weird, absurd and amusing" funny. A few examples of short stories I think fit the bill:

- Me and Miss Mandible
- The Zombies
- The First Thing the Baby Did Wrong

Lately, I've been reading an awful lot of Bill Bryson who is very funny but also has a fascination with Death and Disaster. His book about the Appalachian Trail called A Walk in the Woods and the one about Australia called In a Sunburned Country had me laughing out loud on public transportation in parts. Here are a few reviews of his works that I've read for more specifics.
posted by jessamyn at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2005

John F Welter "Begin to Exit Here" was laugh out loud for me a few years back. Not sure if he has anything recent, but his books are funny, engaging and a quick read.
posted by juggler at 8:23 AM on April 6, 2005

I second Cathie Pelletier, especially the Mattagash trilogy (The Funeral Makers, Once Upon a Time on the Banks and The Weight of Winter) and Beaming Sonny Home. A northern Mainer writing about northern Mainers.

I also liked Headlong by Michael Frayn, about the rise and fall of a rare Dutch painting and those who would possess it.
posted by initapplette at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2005

Gah. I can't believe no one mentioned Connie Willis yet.
Try The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, or Bellwether for starters. Everything of hers that I have read has been smart, factually accurate to the right extent, and funny without even trying hard.
posted by whatzit at 8:27 AM on April 6, 2005

John Irving (already mentioned): Widow for a Year. Wonderfully funny in parts, but not only funny -- moving too.

(Fwiw personally I find Terry Pratchett's writing absoutely, totally unbearable)
posted by anadem at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2005

In Canada, we have the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Is there an American equivalent?
posted by teg at 8:36 AM on April 6, 2005

Steinbeck's The Short Reign of Pippin IV.
posted by weston at 8:42 AM on April 6, 2005

Jonathan Ames is like a modern-day Wodehouse. My favorites are "The Extra Man" and "Wake Up, Sir."

Italo Calvino wrote some really funny and bizarre sci-fi parables, collected in two books, "Cosmicomics" and "t zero." And speaking of funny sci-fi, there's Stanislaw Lem. I recommend "The Cyberiad".

Steve Martin wrote a really good comic novel called "Shopgirl".
posted by grumblebee at 8:49 AM on April 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Anthony Burgess's books often make me laugh, especially the terrific Enderby series, and Earthly Powers.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:56 AM on April 6, 2005

I second Donald Barthelme, although I much prefer his short stories to his novels. Thanks, jessamyn, for maintaining the bathelmismo!

Mark Leyner is pretty damn hilarious. I recommend My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead has a lot of humor. I haven't read any of his novels, but maybe.

Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is supposed to be very funny. I didn't get most of it until I found the annotations at the back of the book.

Spalding Gray also comes to mind.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:58 AM on April 6, 2005

Bryson's travel books are hilarious.

Stephen Fry: seconded, big time. And just to illustrate the subjectivity point, I think "The Hippopotamus" is his best by some distance.

Has anyone mentioned "Catch-22" yet? That work of crazed genius makes me gasp with wonder - between the gales of laughter.

Wodehouse. Delightful.

John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces"

Spike Milligan's war novels.
posted by Decani at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2005

How I Won the War, by Patrick Ryan. I never saw the movie, which starred John Lennon, because I'm sure it couldn't be as funny as the book.

Walker Percy.

The Milagro Beanfield War, by John T. Nichols.
posted by bricoleur at 9:23 AM on April 6, 2005

I thought Maxx Barry's biting satire about marketing and advertising in both Syrup and Jennifer Government hilarious.

Hilarious. (Though if you don't find them in the library catalog, try dropping one of the "x"s.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:43 AM on April 6, 2005

i think roddy doyle's novels qualify as "comic"--and i'll second carrie fisher, who is hilarious.

i think the variety of stuff suggested here pretty much demonstrates why "humor" isn't a category of novel.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:51 AM on April 6, 2005

Richard Russo's Straight Man thirded.
posted by mookieproof at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2005

Seconded (thirded, fourthed?) Stephen Fry. Sedaris and Bryson are brilliant and hilarious but they are NOT novelists.
posted by matildaben at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2005

I can't believe no one has mentioned Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy yet. Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys is also quite funny. I also find much of Vladimir Nabokov's output hilarious - Pale Fire and Lolita are great examples. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is very funny at times.
posted by UKnowForKids at 10:26 AM on April 6, 2005

Hello - Tom Robbins? The man has the most incredible, hilarious command of English language I have ever seen in print. Whether you like his subject matter or not (it's new age'ish, and he spends way too much time writing about pyramidal shape), the writing is absolute genius, and the storylines are outrageous at best. I mean, what do you say about a writer whose main subject is a CIA spook faking illness and stuck in a wheelchair, who is simultaneously in love with his underage step-sister, and a Roman Catholic nun 10 years his senior, whose biggest, most shameful secret is listening (alone!) to a Broadway tunes CD when he is drunik, and singing along to "send in the clowns".

And have I mentioned the language? Man oh man, practically half of every page is eminently quotable on its own. Gusts of alcoholic verbosity indeed.

I recommend "jitterbug perfume", "another roadside attraction" or "fierce invalids home from hot climates" as being equally good places to start. Jitterbug perfume is perhaps the most ambitious, while "another roadside attraction" is perhaps funniest, and "fierce invalids home from hot climates" is at least twice as bizarre as its title would suggest.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2005

Oh yes, and I third the Bill Bryson recommendation. I tried going through "In a sunburnt country" as my bedtime book, and it absolutely wasn't working because I'd laugh too hard and would become more and more awake with each minute.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:49 AM on April 6, 2005

I'll third Maxx Barry.

Thorne Smith wrote Topper, Nightlife of the Gods, and other hysterically funny comic novels of the '20s.
posted by nicwolff at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2005

Ben Elton is a bestselling author in the UK and is quite funny. Well, personally I find his books hit-and-miss, but you can't go wrong with Popcorn or Stark.


Well you can, obviously. But for argument's sake lets say you can't.
posted by Skyanth at 11:00 AM on April 6, 2005

Everyone is mentioning Terry Pratchett, but another fantastic author, less known in the US, is Robert Rankin. Like Pratchett, he is British, and very funny, but the similarities pretty much end there.

Rankin is a master of the tall tale -- his stories are zany and bizarre, in the Vonnegutian sense, without being obscure or unreadable, although some his most recent work bear signs of having been shoved out the factory a little too early, with puns, self-references and digressions taking the place of the plot (much like, in fact, later Vonnegut).

Rankin has a large and varied output, but I'm particularly fond of his Brentford series of novels, which are his most subtle and well-written, about two ne'er-do-wells, Jim Pooley and John Omally, charming and forever young and penniless layabouts with a thirst for beer and a knack for ending up in cosmic battles between good and evil.

Although the books can be read independently, the references and recurring characters are better appreciated by reading them chronologically. Start with The Antipope, about the return of Pope Alexander VI, the last of the Borgias.

Following the Brentford books, Rankin quickly established himself as the king of the absurdly plotless adventure with Armageddon trilogy (Armageddon: The Musical, They Came And Ate Us, The Suburban Book Of The Dead), about what happens when a time-traveling vegetable lifeform named Barry convinces Elvis to swap lives with an impersonator in the 1960s so that he can save the world from the Antichrist.

One word of caution: An American friend of mine didn't "get" the books. Your mileage may vary. Finding the books in the US may be a little difficult. Oh, and ignore the cheesy covers; he used to have some really stylish ones, but as with Pratchett, somebody less competent took over after a while.

Also highly recommended is Connie Willis, especially To Say Nothing of the Dog, a gem about time travel, the Victorian age, and traveling down the Thames on a sunny summer's day in a little wooden boat -- to say nothing of the dog.
posted by gentle at 11:12 AM on April 6, 2005

but as with Pratchett, somebody less competent took over after a while.

If we're talking the UK Pratchett covers, a big part of the change was Josh Kirby's death in 2001.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:44 AM on April 6, 2005

Like robotspacer, I would recommend Douglas Coupland. I do find his work a little inconsistent, but Microserfs is one of the funniest things I've ever read.
posted by peep at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2005

Love him or loathe him: Will Self.

Personally, I love him. I particularly recommend Great Apes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:37 PM on April 6, 2005

Spider Robinson's 'The Lady' and 'Callahan' series are a riot. The earlier stuff is better, imho.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2005

If we're talking the UK Pratchett covers, a big part of the change was Josh Kirby's death in 2001.

I know about Kirby, and I don't mind the new painter. What bugs me is the huge embossed bestseller-style lettering used for the title and author's name. They even use it on the hardcover editions. The old layout was much more elegant. Pratchett's books, like so many other paperbacks, are horribly typeset and designed in general.

Those newer American editions of Going Postal, Monstrous Regiment, The Wee Free Men etc. are lovely, though.

As for Rankin, he did his covers for a while. They really sucked. Recently they have gotten sexier again.
posted by gentle at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2005

I'll second Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys (his other novels are fantastic, but that one got the most laughs from me), and add Nick Hornby, another Brit from the dry wit school. Probably most famous in this country for High Fidelity, which got turned into a decent movie, as did About A Boy. How to be Good was the one that made me laugh out loud most often. If you like international football I'd also suggest Fever Pitch.
posted by turtlegirl at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2005

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst is also funny if you like that kind of thing (funny, but kind of mean). I haven't decided quite yet if I do or not.

I would also second (or whatever number it is) Lucky Jim--I keep trying to read other of his books and hating them, but that one is hilarious and great.

Wodehouse's Psmith books are my favorite of his--I know you said you'd read him already but you might have missed those.

---Here are a few young adult novels that are really funny:

Feed by M.T. Anderson had me laughing out loud from the first sentence:
"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons will make you laugh and then probably make you cry.

Holes by Louis Sachar is one of my favorite books, ever. The movie is also really excellent.

And finally, anything by Daniel Pinkwater, especially The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2005

Just off the top of my head among recent reads....

Bill Fitzhugh is good but uneven. On the good list: Pest Control, Cross Dressing, Heart Seizure. Organ Grinders was OK and I though that Fender Benders and Radio Activity were only so-so.

John Welter is also pretty good. Start with "Night of the Avenging Blowfish" and move to "I'd like to buy a vowel" and "begin the exit here". They're all very good and funny.

You might also want to check out Christopher Moore, in particular "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" and "Bloodsucking Fiends". Very easy reads....

If you can get your hands on it, although I think it's out of print, try checking out "Inherit the Mob" by Zev Chafets...

On the political side, Christopher Buckley does some pretty good stuff. His best is "Thank you for smoking". Others worth checking out (in order of my preference) are "Little Green Men", "The White House Mess" (written in the mid-80s and, I believe, re-enacted by the Clinton white house), "Flowrence of Arabia" and "No way to treat a first lady". If you like that kind of inside-the-beltway political humor, you might also be interested by "The People's Choice" by Jeff Greenfield and "Purple Dots" by Jim Lehrer.

I'll second (third?) the votes on Bryson (though I think he can be uneven), Fry, Sedaris, and of course Scott Adams (RIP). BTW, if you like Bryson, you might want to check out two quirky little travelogues: "Driving Mr. Albert" by Michael Paterniti, and "Trials of the Monkey : An Accidental Memoir" by Matthew Chapman.
posted by TNLNYC at 1:47 PM on April 6, 2005

Slab Rat, by Ted Heller.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 1:56 PM on April 6, 2005

I like de Vries. I've been recently caught laughing out loud on the subway reading Slouching Towards Kalamazoo.

If you (or anybody reading these comments) give him another chance, I highly recommend that book, as well as The Cat's Pajamas & Witch's Milk; Two Novels, and Consenting Adults: Or, the Duchess Will Be Furious , as well as his short story (which I haven't found in any collection except an audio book), "I, Voluptuary".

The Mackerel Plaza and Peckham's Marbles seem to have been more popular, but I didn't find them as funny as the former list.

I don't know, maybe I just find the over-intellectualization of everything from sex and religion to feeding the cat funnier than I should.
posted by ThePants at 2:02 PM on April 6, 2005

I once nearly injured myself on a rush hour el train trying not to burst into screams of laughter whilst reading The Restraint of Beasts.
posted by scody at 2:13 PM on April 6, 2005

Robert Benchley!
posted by Lizzle at 2:31 PM on April 6, 2005

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst is also funny if you like that kind of thing (funny, but kind of mean). I haven't decided quite yet if I do or not.

*picks jaw up off floor*

Funny? Funny? I think we can all agree that humour is subjective, but unless you are reading for the bleakest of social satire set against tragedy, I wouldn't call The Line of Beauty funny, by any means.

But then again, I also loathe Tom Robbins with a passion, so what can you do.

But I don't suppose that this is constructive, so here some other names tossed into the funny pile: Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle; anything by Moredecai Richler, but particularly Barney's Version or St. Urbain's Horseman; Jeanette Winterson's Oranges are Not the Only Fruit; and depending on your tastes, the Diaries of Adrian Mole have made me laugh until I cried, and on rereadings as well as the first time round.
posted by jokeefe at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2005

Michael Marshall Smith has some really funny books.
posted by Navek Rednam at 2:43 PM on April 6, 2005

Ugh. That's Mordecai Richler, and jonmc, snap.
posted by jokeefe at 2:45 PM on April 6, 2005

The entire Fletch series, by Gregory McDonald. Don't be put off by the wretched movie with Chevy Chase. The Flynn books are also excellent.

And I know you all meant to mention Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but you just forgot. Possibly the funniest book ever written.
posted by zanni at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2005

I definitely second the recommendation for Jonathan Ames, he's even funnier when you see him read live, especially the piece about him being intimate with his hairbrush as a child (and now he's bald! oh the sweet irony)

I'd also recommend the whole series of "drunk english guy in a pub takes on a stupid bet and writes a really funny book about it while losing his girlfriend."

My favs are:

Danny Wallace's Join me. This book is so laugh out loud funny i read the whole thing aloud to my SO and she liked it (and note, officially she has only liked 2 books I've recommended to her during the last 3 years, and she reads more than some blue states combined.) This maybe the funniest book I've ever read, I think only Catch 22 has been close in the number times i actually have to put the book down to laugh.

Tony Hawk's Round Ireland with a Fridge, well the title pretty much says it all.

Dave Gorman's Are you Dave Gorman? which all about one man's quest to find all the people in the world who share his name.

What is it with the British and stupid bar bets?
posted by lips at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2005

Peter Ustinov. Spike Milligan. Classic humour.
posted by elphTeq at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2005

I'll second Boyle, but caution that The Road To Wellville only occasionally hit it's mark with me. I've found what I've read of Water Music to be much funnier.

And I'll second Morrow, though I must strenuously object to the inclusion of This Is The Way The World Ends in any list of funny or humorous works. It's a good book, but it is Morrow in full-on preaching and rubbing your face in it mode. It is bleak, crushing, depressing and SOOOOOOOOOOOO not funny. Not meant to be.

I think Only Begotten Daughter may be his funniest novel, and I've read them all, even the out-of-print-for-good-reason early and clumsy but intriguing sci-fi stuff.
posted by NortonDC at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2005

Ahh, nothing makes me prouder than screwing up homonyms in a literary recommendation...
posted by NortonDC at 3:26 PM on April 6, 2005

Oh, god, Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, yes. Satan arrives in Stalinist Moscow and wreaks havoc on the bureaucracy. The first book I ever had to put down because it was making me laugh so hard. More in this December 2003 thread.
posted by mediareport at 3:35 PM on April 6, 2005

If you liked Master & Margarita, look out for Victor Pelevin - he's got a collection of short stories called "A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia" and a novel translated as Homo Zapiens (Zapping=channel surfing... doesn't translate exactly but you get the idea). I dunno if it's exactly "comedy" but we've got salman rushdie & jeanette winterson in here already, so...
posted by mdn at 4:15 PM on April 6, 2005

Not strictly novels, either of them, but consistent characters and ambiguously plot-like chronologies:

Mama Makes Up Her Mind, Bailey White
(her Sleeping at the Starlight Motel isn't as hilarious to my mind, but still clever and worthwhile)

The Puttermesser Papers, Cynthia Ozick
(mind what you pick up of her, though--she also does theory, Israel-related current events, and Holocaust stories, none of which are light reads)
posted by hippugeek at 4:17 PM on April 6, 2005

I highly recommend Down on Ponce by Fred Willard. Some of your funnier writing about criminal activity. I haven't read his follow-up, Princess Naughty and the Voodoo Cadillac, but probably should.
posted by kindall at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2005

Response by poster: May I say I'm overwhelmed? In a good kind of way. A thousand thanks to all of you, I expected nowhere near so much stuff, much of which I confess I had never even heard of. Clearly I, and I trust many of you, have my, your, work cut out for me, you.

Which is a good thing.

Oh, PS- I forgot to mention Brahms & Simon - "A Bullet in the Ballet" among other titles. Also "The Marsh Marlowe Letters" by Craig Brown; "Squire Haggard's Journal" by Michael Green (18th Century rake. Funnier than the tv adaptation); " The Papers of A.J.Wentworth, BA" by H.F. Ellis. Oh, and Anita Loos, how could I have forgotten? ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". The movie has nothing on the book, of which this was not the only one); "A Melon for Ecstasy" by John Fortune (Ok, I haven't read it, from what I hear....)

Again, many, many thanks. (And that goes for any who come after this comment as well.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:31 PM on April 6, 2005

Well, yes. I thought The Line of Beauty was funny, not as a whole, obviously, but there were many scenes and people and events that I laughed at.
The overall effect wasn't funny, it was sort of bleak and mean-spirited, but come on, you didn't go 'heh' just a little when he danced with the Prime Minister?

But then again, I do like Tom Robbins, sometimes.

And speaking of Margaret Atwood, I also think The Edible Woman is hilarious.
She's really funny in person too, by the way.
posted by exceptinsects at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2005

It's not a novel, but Pure Drivel by the inimitable Steve Martin is laugh-out-loud funny; I thought far funnier than Shopgirl.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2005

Bad Wisdom. Just out there.
posted by bdave at 7:58 PM on April 6, 2005

Tony Hawk's Round Ireland with a Fridge

Not a novel, but yeah, one of the funniest books I've read. I stopped reading it on the bus because I got tired of people staring at me when I giggled uncontrollably.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2005

Wow-- so many comments and no one's mentioned Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. If you like Twisted Social Satire, it's The Funniest Book Ever.

Also, in the trippy Sci-Fi vein, you gotta check out Sewer Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff.

"Ruff is a protean talent. . . . Very much in the absurdist tradition of Pynchon, Heller, Robbins, and Vonnegut."
--The Washington Post

Product Description:
Sewer, Gas & Electric is the exuberant follow-up to Matt Ruff's cult classic and critically acclaimed debut Fool on the Hill. High above Manhattan android and human steelworkers are constructing a new Tower of Babel for billionaire Harry Gant, as a monument to humanity's power to dream. In the festering sewers below a darker game is afoot: a Wall Street takeover artist has been murdered, and Gant's crusading ex-wife, Joan Fine, has been hired to find out why. The year is 2023, and Ayn Rand has been resurrected and bottled in a hurricane lamp to serve as Joan's assistant; an eco-terrorist named Philo Dufrense travels in a pink-and-green submarine designed by Howard Hughes; a Volkswagen Beetle is possessed by the spirit of Abbie Hoffman; Meisterbrau, a mutant great white shark, is running loose in the sewers beneath Times Square; and a one-armed 181-year-old Civil War veteran joins Joan and Ayn in their quest for the truth. All of whom, and many more besides, are caught up in a vast conspiracy involving Walt Disney, J. Edgar Hoover, and a mob of homicidal robots.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:39 PM on April 6, 2005

Response by poster: In Canada, we have the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Is there an American equivalent?

Not so far as I know, more's the pity, and thank you for the link. Shows you what we're up against down here.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:11 AM on April 7, 2005

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