Full disclosure: I’ve already started compiling a second edition of this list because there are so many awesome books about comedy. If you’re a comedy history nerd, you will love these books. Also full disclosure: while there are plenty of laughs in this list, the “tears of the clown” trope exists for a reason. The golden age of comedy in particular was littered with tragedy. (awkward beat.) Let’s dive in!
Saturday Night Live by Alison Castle
Taschen books are always aesthetically beautiful, and this one is no exception. The book chronicles the history of the ground-breaking sketch show as well as its daily operations, and ends with an interview with Lorne Michaels. Whether you’re an SNL-hopeful or just a fan, this book is a delight.
Yes, I Can Say That by Judy Gold
Judy Gold is an Emmy-award-winning TV writer, stand-up comedian, actress, podcaster, and producer. This book is an important read for comedians in particular. Judy writes about political discourse and the necessity of comedians. It’s not a perfect book. She defends some comedians, like Roseanne Barr, without acknowledging the power that comedians have over their audiences. This is a nuanced conversation that deserves more airtime and discussion, but “Yes, I Can Say That” reminds us of the vital role the jester plays in society.
I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder
Oh boy. This book. This is the book that inspired the Showtime show of the same name (when you’ve finished this book and the TV show, and still want more of the Comedy Store, check out the docuseries,”The Comedy Store”.) This is a raw account of the comedians coming up in the golden age of comedy, from household names like David Letterman and Robin Williams to the lesser known comics who never quite hit that next step. This book is hilarious, heartbreaking, and at times enraging. It will make you want to move to L.A. to try to your shot at the Comedy Store, but also check on your comedian friends and make sure they’re doing okay.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture by Josh Karp
The timeline of this book overlaps quite a bit with “I’m Dying Up Here”, but while the previous book is all about the LA comedy scene, Stupid Gesture takes place mostly on the East Coast, and is more of a singular character study than an overview on the NY comedy scene. The character in question is Doug Kenney, the co-creator of National Lampoon. Yes, this book was made into a movie for Netflix, and yes, the movie is funny and informative. Watching the movie in no way lessened the experience of reading this book.
Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow
Wow. This book is a series of interviews with various comedians, which are often inspiring, but the real charm of this book is in Judd Apatow himself. He began these interviews when he was just a plucky teenager. He was 17 when he snagged a one-on-one with Jerry Seinfeld and Garry Shandling. I’ve been reading an interview a day as a quick little jolt of motivation.
My Thrift Books Rant
I would be remiss to write a book post and not mention Thrift Books. I am a big time library-patron but for children’s books and books that I re-read often, I like to shop at Thrift Books, a huge online thrift store for books, DVDs, and games. These books are available for less than $10, some of them are less than $5. When you spend a certain amount of money, you earn points and can cash in for free books. It’s nothing out of reach, either. I’ve earned three free books since December. Now, do I spend too much money on books? I mean maybe. But still. Here’s the breakdown of their rewards programs:
Tell me in the comments what your favorite book about comedy is!