Funniest books ever. Part II: The funniest books ever, an extremely subjective list

After wrapping up the would-be funniest books in the previous entry, it’s time for the actual list of the funniest books known to me.

Actually, it’s more like funniest authors and their funniest books as you’ll see, but that’s good news as it means more books for you to enjoy!

Here they are, not necessarily sorted by magnitude of hilarity, but they kinda are.

Ephraim Kishon, master of the slippery slope.

Kishon is the all-time best-selling humorist in Germany.
But don’t let that fool you, he’s actually very funny.

Born and raised in Hungary, he left for the newly established state of Israel in 1949 at the age of 25 and within two years was publishing satirical columns in Hebrew, not only mastering the language but also inventing new words  and expressions which have remained till today.

What makes his stories so funny is that they are a based on everyday situations which rapidly descend down slippery slopes into exaggerated proportions and madness.
You will encounter such unforgettable inventions as the traveling washing machine, the feuding neighbor who pretends to be a barking dog, Kishon’s incredibly neurotic redheaded son Amir and numerous bureaucrats and small crooks.

His stories have appeared in dozens of compilations in Hebrew and German.
The best ones are the three collections dealing with his family, his travels and the satire collection.
unfortunately I can’t vouch for the English translations but the few reviews on Amazon seem to indicate a successful transition.

S. J. Perelman, the language virtuoso. 

These days Perelman is known mainly for his ties to the Marx brothers (he co-wrote a couple of their scripts) and Woody Allen (he provided the template for his style of funny prose),  two names which will in no way feature again in this list.

It’s extremely hard to characterize and define his work, at least according to his Wikipedia entry, but he is certainly the greatest acrobat of the English language that I’ve ever encountered.
If you are not a native speaker of English you will need a dictionary to understand a substantial part of the vocabulary he uses.
Even if you are a native speaker, you will still be dumbfounded by his use of obscure words and serpentine sentences.
Some things in history and art  like Newton’s writing on physics and Da Vinci’s sketches seem to transcend what Homo Sapiens can achieve, it’s like watching a totally different class of brain at work.
At it’s best Perelman’s stories have a similar effect, like a skyscraper built out of cotton candy it is dazzlingly light, impressive and improbable at the same time.

It’s also very funny.
My favorite collection of stories is “Acres and Pains”, documenting his   purchase of a small farm in the country and subsequent mental and financial deterioration.
His travelogues and early zany pieces from The New Yorker are also a hoot.

Jack Handey,  unfrozen caveman comic.

There’s a fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime and even a finer line between Zen sayings and the rambling of a simpleton.
Jack Handey has built his whole career on that very fine line.

He is famous for his SNL section called Deep Thoughts which featured such gems as
“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate.
And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never
expect it.”

After only publishing tiny booklets of these “deep thoughts”, he finally released a book containing some brilliant short stories as well as some SNL sketches in 2008.
From the opening piece “What I’d say to the Martians”, which could serve as mankind’s epitaph to his nature documentary based on cruelty to animals, he hits most of his targets in a wonderful deadpan style.

This is easily the most conventionally funny book on the list and is an ideal present for someone who appreciates great literary humor.
Here’s a sampling to give you the taste.

The Marx brothers radio show, still crazy after all these years.

A transcript of an old radio show?
Aired in 1932?
Canceled after one season?
Presumed lost until 1988?

Doesn’t sound very promising, does it? an archaeological curiosity and a relic no doubt.
But if you are a Marx brothers fan, then this book will make you laugh out loud on every page.
For when you are a Marxist, you will read the dialogues in Groucho and Chico’s voices in your head  and their delivery will be picture perfect.
There’s a party in your head and the greatest comedy team of all time is trashing the place.

The show chronicles the adventures of a crooked lawyer and his incredibly annoying dumb Italian assistant who is even more crooked.
Conning their unsuspecting customers usually takes a backseat to them insulting and trying to con one  another with some terrible puns and outrageous ploys.

It’s unbelievable how fresh some of the dialogue is and how no one has stolen more of the stuff.
Insulting the rich and stuffy gentlemen and any distinguished institute is so much fun and Chico’s Italian accent jokes are so awful they’re great.

To sum up, if you are a Marx brothers fan GET IT!
If you’re not, why not?

Woody Allen, the early funny one.

These days I don’t even bother with most Woody Allen films.
Like old Bob Hope “road to” movies, or the newer “Debbie does”, all his recent flicks follow a distinct pattern and feature Young gorgeous girls who wander across some European city looking for a substantial plot.

But he’s earned it.
He can do whatever he wants to do, whether it’s time-bending Ingmar Bergman tributes or playing his clarinet.
The man is a Genius and this compilation of short stories is the pinnacle of his comedic achievements.

Covering a range of subjects from UFOs to Hassidic tales and their meaning, Woody takes a swing at many targets and hits everything straight on the jaw.
Almost 500 pages that run the gamut from wise observations to the silliest situations imaginable, this is the single funniest book on earth.

But since it’s a compilation, and since writing a funny short story is much easier than writing a novella, the title of funniest author must go to…


 John Swartzwelder, the Keyser Soze of comedy writing.

Who is John Swartzwelder and why is he the funniest man in the world but not a household name?

All that will be revealed in my next entry dedicated to the elusive Mr. Swartzwelder and his one-of-a-kind Frank Burly series.

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