Tag Archives: humor

The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy by Sheila Moeschen

Standard
The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy by Sheila Moeschen

Moeschen, Sheila. The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy. Running Press Adult, 2019. ISBN 978-0762466641 232 pp. $20

*****

I just finished binging The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and have been wondering who she was based on and who her real-life influences were besides Lenny Bruce and Moms Mabley. While neither question is addressed in this collective biography, it was a nice transition from the the show.

Self-proclaimed comedy nerd Sheila Moeschen presents this browseable, humorous and highly readable overview of fifty famous female comics: their start, their breakout roles, their signature jokes, their often! acclaimed and award-winning work, their influences, and for some, their legacy. Ladies are grouped by ten in no particular order in each section: intellectual comics, character comics, controversial comics, misfit comics, and trailblazers. The book showcases Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabley; Gilda Radner, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy; Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler, among others.

Each section opens with an overview to introduce the category, and includes additional names that couldn’t included with full bios due to limited space. Icons are mixed in with up & comers. The cast of characters is refreshingly diverse by age, location, ethnicity, and sexuality. Best of all, while occasionally partners are identified, most of the bios focus on career only, and the merit of the woman’s achievement.

Moeschen is quick with a quip and funny in her own right, and so are YOU, evidenced by the YOU that is the last person listed in the book under the “Extra Extraordinaires” block that lists even more funny women in the final chapter, and the afterword reiterates to the reader no, really! YOU are funny, too!

No sources are cited, and a short, non-annotated reading list follows. A timeline and index are lacking, and would be helpful to include if there is indeed, a sequel.

Whales on Stilts (M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales) by M.T. Anderson

Standard

Anderson, M.T. Whales on Stilts (M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales). Sandpiper, 2006. ISBN 978-0152053949. 224 pp. $6.99

*****

At first, I couldn’t decide if this book is brilliantly satiric, or abysmally bad. Are the ads and made-up brand names another slam at our consumeristic way of life from Anderson, or is he spoofing himself? Either way, this tongue in cheek tale will find it’s audience.

In the vein of Lemony Snicket, Anderson introduces three buddies out to save the world from delusional but well-meaning adults who can’t recognize an evil world-domination plot when it smacks them across the forehead. Authorial intrusions and lapsing into stream of consciousness abound, without the dreary woe of A Series of Unfortunate Events as ordinary Lily, often overshadowed by her two best friends, gets to shine when she discovers that the company her dad works for is a cover-up for a group of mad scientists assisting an pod of angry aquatic mammals.

With a nod to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, locations are cliché (an abandoned warehouse, a deserted cove), and boy wonder Jasper Dash uses quaint expressions such as “Great Scott!” Techno-gadgets coupled with slapstick comedy and absurd footnotes make this hyperbolic tale completely silly, but the underlying plot structure and character development support the goofiness well enough for us to just suspend our disbelief and hang on for the ride. And occasionally, such unexpected gems of truth erupt amidst the silliness, such as Grandma’s words of wisdom to Lily: “You know how, when you’re remembering, you put beautiful things everywhere? You spread them out, and they fill the whole memory. Even if there weren’t fireflies every night we played there, those were firefly times, Lily.”

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Standard
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Halpern, Justin. Sh*t My Dad Says. It Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0061992704 176 pp. $16.99

Not what I expected–I follow Justin’s often hilarious Twitter stream, and was pleasantly surprised this is well-written and well-composed–anecdotes that reveal character, and not just a rehashing of the set-in-the- present Twitter stream. Chapters are arranged mostly in chronological order of Justin’s life. In between each chapter are half a dozen stand-alone quotes of his dad’s ramblings, some recollected from childhood. Although one or two in each group may be familiar, this doesn’t have the feel of a revamp. There were many laugh-out-loud moments. I especially love the warm portrayal of a father who may sometimes think Justin is a bonehead, but will still stand up for him. Justin is admiringly fearless in showing his dumb moments, and what he learned from them. This memoir finishes on a highly appealing note, with just the right blend of poignancy and funny.

The Kindle version doesn’t have the photos! Thankfully, they are posted on Amazon. Hilarious!

This is a book with wide appeal, because there are a lot of universals here: first fight, first girlfriend, first self-discovery, the family road trip… it’s a hard book to put down, and it’s an easy, breezy read. I can see it being reassuring that no matter how tough life feels sometimes, you’ll get through it and maybe even find a bit of humor. I think funny books get a bad rap. Humor is HARD to write, and write well, and I never feel like Justin’s going for a cheap laugh, or just making crap up. it’s great to find a funny book that is genuine and not filled with hyperbole (Chelsea Handler) or shock value (Sarah Silverman).

The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcum

Standard
The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcum

Marcum, Lance. The Cottonmouth Club. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374315627 336 pp. $

I devoured Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books books when I was growing up, and The Cottonmouth Club was a total throwback to the feeling of those books. Set in the early 1960’s not the 1920’s, The Cottonmouth Club has many of the same elements as Soup: historical fiction with a semi-autobiographical tone, best friends, boyish pranks, a carefree summer, overalls, burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, and farm life.

Having a dad in the Air Force means a lot of moving, and friendships can be few and far between, so Mitch, nearly twelve, is really looking forward to the big plans he’s made with his buddy Tick for the summer after a rough sixth grade experience. Mitch’s mom decides it’s time he and his brother Charley get to know her family, since her Paw-Paw is getting on in years. As quickly as that, Mitch’s plans are derailed and the family sets off from civilized California to rustic Louisiana, where know-it-all Charley bonds with cousin Woody, and Mitch is left to prove himself to a trio of older cousins named Barry, Larry and Gary, and the cool kid in town, Finn. Mitch finds himself treed by a bull, belly flopping into the creek, climbing a water tower and coming face to face with snakes. There are also real bonding moments over monster movies, comic books and baseball.

The humor, adventure and farting make this an appealing book, but the pace occasionally slows to a crawl, and the subplot of a drunk driving accident from several years back mars the coming of age story a little. Still, Marcum delivers the message of forming your own identity and not worrying so much about being cool with grace and subtlety.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

Standard
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

David Lubar. Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie. Speak, 2007 (reprint). ISBN 978-0142407806 288 pp. $

Lubar excels at funny lists, so it’s no surprise that his protagonist does too. This deeply layered comic novel strings together multiple subplots and several narrative forms, including diary entries, dialogue, and lists, to a carefully plotted and believable conclusion. Scott Hudson, an ordinary guy anxious about being a freshman, somehow manages to have an extraordinary year as he tries to get Julia, the girl of his dreams to notice him by pursuing her through her extracurricular activities. With comedic timing, he’s always just a little bit off and his plans go awry. Plus, his parents drop the bombshell that Mom is expecting, and her pregnancy cravings and mood swings add another element of humor to the story.

Being a nice guy gets Scott in trouble regularly: he donates his lunch money to a thug, says “yes” to projects he’d rather not take on, and can’t bring himself to tell the freaky goth girl, school bully or an excessively verbose acquaintance to go away. His mishaps and letters to his unborn brother/sister and the rotation of Spanish language teachers, most of whom can’t speak enough English to teach Spanish, are laugh-out-loud funny. The best scene is when the gym teacher takes over the Spanish class, and makes the students take a pushup break halfway through–“But we got to count in Spanish,” says Scott.

Other high points include a point of view exercise that takes us from third person omniscient back to first person limited, and Scott (or Lubar!) breaking the rule that one never finds expository, descriptive, narrative, persuasive and writing in one spot. The information Scott imparts to his fetus sibling, the description of high school hell, the narrative of the ups and downs of Scott’s life and Lubar’s proven argument that life is a constant state of flux, begs to differ.

The very literary elements to the novel make this a perfect choice for curriculum. Scott is a reader who loves to experiment with words, and we get a smattering of poetry, some Tom Swifties, and SAT words, but always without pretension. Characters have depth that is slow to reveal; no one is who they appear to be, and they evolve throughout the novel, as does our hero, from Scott’s underachiever big brother Bobby to quirky Lee to talkative “Mouth.” Someone, awkward Scott learns the tough lesson that things change with grace as well as humor. And Lubar epitomizes coming of age milestones like the first slow dance with brilliant lines like “the dance lasted a lifetime, but it ended in an eyeblink.” Recommended for public and school library collections serving middle and high school students.

My Perfect Life by Dyan Sheldon

Standard
My Perfect Life by Dyan Sheldon

Sheldon, Dyan. My Perfect Life. Candlewick, 2005. ISBN 978-0763628284 208 pp. $

***

In this sequel to Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (Candlewick, 1999), Sheldon skillfully weaves in details from the first book to make this a stand-alone title without boring returning fans while refreshing their memories. The irrepressible Lola Cep is still competing with the class alpha female Carla Santini. When Carla decides to run for school president, Lola immediately becomes interested in politics, but instead of nominating herself, shoves her quiet pal Ella into the spotlight.

Ella is the narrator and protagonist of this story. The shift in voice shows Sheldon’s writing talent; the two friends are very different. Ella lacks the vivacious drama of Lola, but makes up for it with wit and slight sarcasm. Her voice is subdued in spite of the drama of her real life –a father who is never around, and a mother who drinks too much. When the buildup of issues couples with the stress of running for office, the shrinking violet predictably yet satisfyingly blossoms and faces her family issues as well as her own social issues.

The major flaw of the novel is that the characters and plot read more like middle school than high school; the race for a school presidency, complete with debates, is more plot device than reality. The language is squeakily clean and the characters are not terribly complex, and the outcome is predictable.

Fans of the first book will want more Lola stories, this may satisfy less demanding readers.

Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson

Standard
Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson

Anderson, M.T. Burger Wuss. Gardener, 2005. ISBN 978-1844282890 220 pp. $

*****

M.T. Anderson serves up a McHit in this hysterically funny satire of the teen problem novel, revenge, and employment in the fast food industry. Mr. Nice Guy Anthony, age 16, has done everything right and been a perfect gentleman with his girlfriend Diana–why does he find her horizontal with her co-worker Turner from the burger joint O’Dermott’s? Diana quits her job when the scumbag wants nothing to do with her, and Anthony takes her job in a plan to exact revenge on Turner. Wuss no more, Anthony gets into fights, steals a promotional condiment dump, and creates a bona-fide fiasco involving Burger Queen, O’Dermott’s rival restaurant. Will Mr. Nice finish last in this tale?

This is a laugh-out-loud funny book. Anderson has a keen ear for teen dialogue, and the words sound genuine. Quirky yet real characters include the nosy but well-meaning neighbor who eavesdrops on her cell phone, Anthony’s best friends Rick and Jenn, who are sickeningly sweetly in love, and anarchist co-worker Shunt, determined to destroy O’Dermott’s from within.

The in-your face cover and strong title will make this book leap off the shelves into reader’s hands; the humor and honesty will keep the reader engaged to the end. Highly recommended for fans of Rob Thomas and Ron Koertge.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon

Standard
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon

Sheldon, Dyan. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Candlewick, 2005 (reprint). ISBN 978-0763628277 272 pp. $7.99

****

Mary Elizabeth “Call me Lola” Cep is the new girl at Dellwood High in NJ. A star at her old school in New York, she discovers the role of drama queen at Dellwood is already taken–by her soon-to-be rival Carla Santini. The two girls vie for the same part at auditions for the school play, and compete for invitations to a party given by THE band of the minute.

This is a funny, funny story. Sheldon is dead on with her insights into teen fashion and pop culture, high school social hierarchy, and parent/teen relationships. Lola is a likable character with a strong voice. Her melodrama and tendency to twist the truth, even outright lie, make the story a giggle-out-loud riot. Supporting characters are uneven, some realistically zany, some weak and predictable. There isn’t enough humorous fiction published for teens, and they badly need a dose. Pass this one on to someone who needs to laugh.