The Comedy Book (or Bok)

I’ve been reading my new copy of This Mitchell and Webb Book, and this may shock you, but I really like it. And it got me thinking about the concept of the comedy book. And again, brace yourselves for this shocker, but I think the English do it better than we Yanks do.

Well, that’s not really true. I’m not saying there are no funny books in America. Woody Allen’s three books are about as funny as they get, for example. I’m a big fan of George Carlin’s Brain Droppings. Steve Martin has written some fun books as well. I’ve read and enjoyed all of these and more. But really, they’re just so, I don’t know, book-y. I like reading Woody Allen’s essays parodying existential novels or about absurd takes on philosophy, religion, death, the mafia, whatever. But the Mitchell and Webb book, when taken with its spiritual successor, the Monty Python books (or boks, I suppose), show a sort of new way forward for what a comedy book can be.

I suppose it’s not really fair to compare a book of essays or stand-up bits to a book with lots of pictures and goofy formatting. But these English-style broad comedy books (call them sketchbooks, I suppose. Or Boks. Let’s go with “Boks”) are quite a bit more interesting for the casual reader. There’s a sort of anarchic freedom that comes from having no limitations on your writing, except that it’s going to have to fit between two covers of as-yet indeterminate size and it can’t be constructed so as to get the publisher sued. Mitchell and Webb can zip from short comedic essay to bits from That Mitchell and Webb Look to parodies of newspapers and magazines and give the reader something very different on each page. I’m not saying it’s better than Getting Even or anything. It’s different. And there’s nothing really like it in the US.

The closest parallel I can think of without researching anything is the Daily Show’s America, the Book. It shares the illustration heavy, frenetically paced tomfoolery of the Boks. Even so, it’s still limited by the fact it’s clings relatively closely to parodying traditional textbooks, which forces it into discrete chapters with similar formatting. The fun zaniness is tempered by the depressing cynicism of the content as well.

Again, let me be clear about this. American humor books (all 11 of them*) are good. I just wish that when Monty Python wrote the Big Red Bok back in the 1970s, the style made the trip across the Atlantic. It’s a very fun type of book, which can be skimmed, picked up and opened to any page, and enjoyed. Like Mitchell and Webb themselves, there’s not really anything like it here.

*This is probably a rant for another post, but I get immensely depressed when  I go into Barnes and Noble and check out the humor section. There’s very little actual “humor” there. It’s mostly old Garfield compilations, Jeff Foxworthy books, and books with titles like “You Know You’re Over 50 When…” and “Evil Cat Pictures” and “101 Ways to Be a Supervillain.” It doesn’t really paint American Humor in a positive light.

I suppose there could be a correlation/causation thing between having lots of interesting sketch comedy and having interesting boks. Still, Mr. Show never had a book. I bet it would have been hilarious. So if you get a chance to check out one of these style books, do it. You probably won’t be disappointed.

Hello, friends! Jim Nantz here, taking a break from preparing for next years Masters. Did you know you can subscribe to receive Moonside updates via email? Check out the box at the top of the page! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ask Nick Faldo what color socks to wear on my date tonight!

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One Response to “The Comedy Book (or Bok)”

  1. Hmm, now I want to get This Mitchell and Webb Book (Bok)! The State published a book during their prime called “State by State with The State” that’s supposed to be really funny, but is extremely rare nowadays and runs you about $100 for the paperback.

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