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How to Make a Humor Book Not Funny

July 5, 2012



This might make something not funny. Yes, I know I should leave the mimes alone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem with humor is that so much of it is subjective.  I laugh at the television show The Big Bang Theory, and my wife stares impassively (then complains about the annoying laugh track, and she’s probably right).  My wife laughs at all the Real Housewives shows, and I stare impassively (praying that my wife never becomes like them).

Both my wife and I laugh at videos where guys get hit in the nuts.  That kind of humor is universal. 

When I travel or go on vacation, I like to read humorous books.  When I’m in the airport or on a plane, I still have the urge to read but I can’t concentrate much, so I need something that isn’t challenging.  Two years ago, I read Sh*t My Dad Says and last summer I read Bossypants.  I’m not sure what I’m going to read on my next upcoming vacation, so I’ve been perusing samples on my e-reader. 


Writing a humorous book is probably difficult because the author has to make hundreds of pages funny.  Some comedians have a tough time making five minutes funny.  And a writer of humor has to write more material for a book than a comedian does for a routine. 

If a comedian has a routine that goes on for an hour, he/she probably has to come up with about 10- 20 pages of stuff (estimate with no empirical data to back that up).  Talking takes longer than reading silently (unless you have to mouth the words as you read).  Then a comedian has to pause for laughter (if he’s any good).  The comedian needs bonus material for (planned) spontaneity, such as asking a bunch of audience members where they’re from. 

That doesn’t mean it’s easier to be a comedian.  A comedian has to be comfortable on stage (I’d probably dry heave, which would be more entertaining than the rest of my act, but I would be uncomfortable doing that in front of people).  A comedian has to interact with the audience (I avoid interacting with people when I can).  A comedian has to deliver his/her lines in an entertaining way (I have a monotone voice).  So while writing lots and lots of (attempted) humor can be time consuming, being an actual comedian is far more difficult than writing (attempts at) humor. 


As I mentioned earlier, I need a humor book for my upcoming vacation, and below is a group of possible choices.  I don’t want to be critical of the books I’ve sampled because I probably analyzed them too much.  Since I didn’t laugh much (because I was analyzing rather than reading for enjoyment), I realized that analyzing humor takes all of the funny out of humor books. 


I Hate Everyone, Starting with Me by Joan Rivers- I can hear Joan River’s voice in my head when I read this silently.  I don’t think I want to hear Joan River’s voice in my head when the (legal) pills start to kick in on the airplane. 

Hilarity Ensues by Tucker Max-  Some critics would say the title is not accurate. I started reading this and then realized that this is the third book in a trilogy.   A trilogy?  I didn’t know getting-drunk-humor books came in trilogies.  There have been fantasy trilogies, vampire trilogies, even a bondage trilogy, and now there’s a getting-drunk-humor trilogy.  Technically, I don’t think the Tucker Max trilogy is really a trilogy because in a real trilogy, if you started on the third book (like I did) you’re supposed to be confused, and I knew exactly what was going on. 

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang and a bunch of other books by/about Chelsea Handler- A late night talk show host on a cable channel has written(?) five books in (I think) seven years.   Five books is more than a trilogy.  I don’t think Johnny Carson wrote five books (I don’t think he even wrote a trilogy), and he was a slightly more successful talk show host than Chelsea Handler.  If Johnny Carson had written a trilogy, I would probably read it.  Chelsea Handler seems like a younger Joan Rivers, and if I can’t have Joan’s voice in my head when I’m in an airplane, I don’t think I can handle Chelsea’s either. 

Not Taco Bell Material by Adam Corolla- This might turn out to be a good book, but it starts out with Adam’s childhood.  Despite what authors might think, childhood is usually the least interesting part of a person’s life (unless something traumatic happened).  I did laugh at the hippie mom and her boyfriend with some weird science fiction like name that I can’t remember, so I might come back to this book.  

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess)- Jenny Lawson keeps saying how crazy she is and how much her writing needs editing.  She also writes long, rambling sentences, and I have nothing against long, rambling sentences, but when I’m on an airplane and the (legal) pills have taken control of my senses, long, rambling sentences might confuse me.   Plus, if a woman keeps telling me she is crazy, I stay away from her. 

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern- I already reviewed the title and the book sample a few weeks ago. It was okay. 


I haven’t decided which book (or trilogy) I’m going to read yet, but I’m leaning toward the Adam Corolla book.  I laughed a couple times when I read the sample. I figure that if I laughed a couple times when I was analyzing the humor, then I might enjoy it even more once I don’t care if the book is funny or not.

  1. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned (if I had, I’m sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed your critiques). However, I chuckled quite a bit at this post because I found everything you put in the parentheses especially funny. (especially “(legal)”).

    • Thanks. I complained a couple weeks ago about authors using gimmicks in their writing, but the use of parentheses is probably my gimmick. Plus, I think it’s important for people to know that every pill I take (even on airplanes) is legal.

  2. I personally loved Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, and all her other books. I also love Tucker Max’s books (though I feel I need to shower after reading them) but I’d start from the beginning with those….I haven’t read the others but you can never go wrong with a classic like Joan. And herein lies the point of your post–humour is subjective! What I find hilarious most people find perverse. And you seem to be the least interested in the ones I’m drawn to. So I won’t be offended if you ignore my recommendations….

    Your wife is bang on (pun intended) about the Big Bang laugh track. Terrible! But great show.

    • Upon re-reading I just realized that you didn’t actually ask for recommendations. You just said you were looking for a new book to read. So now you can really ignore my recommendations! Idiot.

      • No, you were actually right the first time. I’d like recommendations, even if I didn’t directly ask (I probably should have asked). I might like the Chelsea books (and because of your recommendation, I know which one to read), but the airplane might not be the best place for me to read her books.

    • I never noticed the laugh track on Big Bang Theory until she mentioned it, and now that I’m aware of it, the laugh track ruins some of the moments for me. I’d kind of like to see/hear a laugh track on Real Housewives.

  3. I think writing humor books is hard because you start by calling it humorous, so the reader has high expectations. I’d rather just write a book that happens to be funny instead of explicitly calling it humor. That being said, I have read some hilarious humor books.

    • You’re right; it’s difficult to be funny when people expect it (unless they’re drunk). Humor is usually funnier when it’s unexpected.

  4. love RH franchise…and don’t even get me started on Mob Wives! (and yes, my husband also looks on in horror and prays I never resemble any of their personalities :o))

    • Well, I can kind of understand the Mob Wives’ behavior because they’re in the mob, If the husband is expected to get whacked or forced into the witness protection program (or both), the wife probably is not expected to be demure (probably the wrong word). But you’re right; I hope my wife never acts like that.

  5. I don’t think I would read any of those books. This is because I can’t stand the majority of them. I have an aversion to people who consistently call attention to themselves (I know I have a blog about me, so this is somewhat hypocritical). One of the funniest books I have ever read is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. He’s a scholar, not a comedian or late night host, but if he was I might actually stay up and watch. If I had to choose fron the list, I’d go with Not Taco Bell Material.

  6. Marytg66 / 1Real Girl permalink

    Comedy writing is an art form with skill and technique. As a student of comedy, yes I STUDY, as in comedy writing classes, write, fellowship etc. Comedy is not taken seriously. Oxymoron I know, meaning a person does not get on stage to give a dance performance unless they have studied, taken class and crafted their material. Comedy doesn’t get the same respect. Some people think they are funny, which they may or may not be, yet have never studied the craft. They just put it out there wasting peoples time and stroking their egos. Comedy is subjective but there are Universal Joke Formulas. I read a lot of comedy. I just added a page on my blog of books I read. For example I read “Bossypants”. This is not a laugh out loud book, it’s has humor in it but it’s a biography about being a comedy writer. David Sedaris has written some laugh out loud books. My point is… My ego is involved here, if one has done their due diligence in study and suck, I give them great respect. If one just puts out “their version of funny” without any effort to learning the skill, please don’t call yourself a comic. All comedy comes from writing. There are different genres of comedy yet everything comes from the writing except improv. If it’s not on the page… don’t put it on the stage.

    I have so many books in my library to read regarding the art of comedy, from humorous novels to biographies of stand up comics. Now I’m reading “I Feel Bad About My Neck”… by: Nora Ephron, then up are “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m Fucked”…by: Darrell Hammond and “It Looked Different On the Model”… by: Laurie Notaro.

    My favorite podcast’s are WTF- Marc Maron and The David Feldman Show.

  7. Marytg66 / 1Real Girl permalink

    Reblogged this on 1REAL GIRL WRITER and commented:
    What is comedy?

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