Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing. So said Mark Twain, and he is not someone we are inclined to argue with. But when life gets too crazy, like snow in April, disappearing airplanes, and Bourbon Street after midnight, ordinary, run-of-the-mill humor doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes you have to go offbeat.
So allow us to present to you a collection of books (and other things) that take humor for a ride that is not suitable for those with weak funny bones. Some of these are aimed at kids, some are aimed at the kid inside all of us, and some you really need to pay attention to the content warnings they have.
And if you know of some other good offbeat humor items please let us know. We can always use a good chuckle, or, snicker, or evil laugh. Mwahahaha!
Chris: Let’s start this off old school. Or should that be preschool? I’m talking about “The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover“, by Jon Stone, with illustrations by Michael Smollin.
This is a post-modern Little Golden Book (no, really) that served for many children as their first exposure to the breaking of the fourth wall. The plot is pretty straightforward. Grover, the star of the book, sees the title and becomes fearful of the monster waiting at the end. He pleads with the reader not to keep turning pages, and tries various tactics to keep you from doing so, such as tying and cementing the pages together. A read that may well appeal more to the adult reading it than to the child being read to, it even features a plot twist at the end. It is also the best selling Sesame Street book of all time.
Christina: Like a lot of people, I use humor as a coping mechanism. Some tragic and life-altering recent events have caused me to seek refuge in laughter, and this is the approach Allie Brosh uses in her insanely hilarious blog “Hyperbole and a Half”. Brosh’s crazed illustrations and clever ability to mock herself and the world around her has made her book debut one of the most anticipated books of last year. Her take on depression, growing up, and having a wild goose attack her and her boyfriend make this one of the funniest books I have ever read (and that is saying something).
Demetri Martin is another illustrator/humorist whose book “This Is A Book” (great title) is chock full of strange, amusing drawings and sly observations. He’s been compared to deadpan comic Steven Wright and the late great Mitch Hedberg. Add a boyish charm to that kind of humor as well as some flair/fridge-worthy art and you’ve got Demetri.
Demetri most likely was a fan of this guy:
Chris: I was never much good at Joust, and nobody is much good at surviving Tomb of Horrors. What do these have to do with anything? Well, they are both plot elements in Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel “Ready Player One”. In a slightly dystopian future people spend even more time online and playing video games than they do now. When the creator of the biggest and most popular game dies, he leaves his wealth to whomever can solve the puzzles and challenges he left behind in the game. Our hero Wade must beat virtually every player in the world, many sponsored and supported by evil mega-corporations, to claim both the prize and the girl.
Many of the puzzles center around 80s pop and geek culture. And we aren’t talking about a few key references, we are talking about dozens and dozens of them. You don’t have to be a child of the 80s to enjoy this fun read, but those of us who are will get a little something extra out of it.
Christina: I am not an expert on anything, and my memory is terrible. Still, I love trivia, and since my sense of humor tends to be dark, I frequent Cracked.com (not for the easily offended). Once I saw that Cracked had a book out called “You Might Be A Zombie (And Other Bad News)”, I got my hands on it as soon as I could. If you want to read articles like “Three Colors You Don’t Realize Are Controlling Your Mind”, “Five Fun Things That Will Kill You”, and “The Four Most Insane Attempts To Turn Nature Into a Weapon”, you should too.
If you’re wanting your nonfiction to be a little less heavy on the trivia, I’d suggest “F in Exams”, which is a compilation of real test answers that are really…well, take a look:
Chris: Gary Larsen. The Far Side. Do I even need to say anything else?
Christina: How-to books are all the rage these days, with people looking to take on projects and generally improve themselves. Alternative comic Eugene Mirman offers his interesting take on self-improvement in “The Will to Whatevs”, in which he guides the reader with sections like “Nine Steps to Being Comfortable at a Party”, “How to Make a Baby Cry More”, and “He Wants to Blah Blah and She Wants to Whah Blah Whah: Compromising in a Relationship”.
From the show of some of Mirman’s contemporaries:
Chris: For me the creme de la creme of humorous literature is the five book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, by Douglas Adams. Originally a radio comedy, Adams adapted it to book form and the rest is history. The story follows the exploits of Arthur Dent, an ordinary and boring Englishman who wakes up one day to discover aliens are about to destroy the Earth and that his best friend is from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.
Poor Arthur comes to rely upon the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide as stumbles from one zany spot of trouble to the next. Oh, and the Guide’s entry on Earth? That simply says “Mostly Harmless”, which is also the title of the fifth book of the trilogy. (And you thought maybe that was a typo, didn’t you? Technically, there are six books in the trilogy, since Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) wrote a 2008 installment that no one much talks about, although I think the Cthulhu job interview scene is wonderful.)
The series is very British with its humor, and is a quick, fun, laugh out loud read. The movie version isn’t too shabby either, and Adams’ Dirk Gently books I also recommend.
Christina: I enjoy YA books, even though they tend to get a bad rap. One series I keep recommending to people is the Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. It follows the adventures of Georgia Nicolson, a British teenager who is like a combination of Regina George (Mean Girls) and Cher (Clueless). Georgia is rather immature (though she does show signs of growing up by the series’ conclusion), but her odd take on life (as well as her zest for it) is beyond infectious. These are the kind of books that you quote to your friends and family incessantly, mostly because of Georgia’s way with words:
“I feel that we have shared past lives together, and they have all been crap.”
“I can’t believe I am once more on the rack of romance. And also in the oven of luuurve. And possibly on my way to the bakery of pain. And maybe even going to stop along the way to get a little cake at the cakeshoppe of agony.”
“He took my face in both his hands (I don’t mean he ripped it off my neck) and he leaned down and kissed me.”
Even if you don’t like YA, you should check out this series. The titles alone are hilarious, and I think that “Stop in the Name of Pants!” is always going to make my list of best titles ever.
Chris: Movie time! Let’s not forget our fave offbeat films. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, do I dare?, the holy grail of funny movies. As in it is the funniest movie ever. Of all time. Doubt me and I shall taunt you a second time.
Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy. It is a full on zombie movie, plenty of blood and gore, but sweet and funny as well. Sorry, a bit of an understatement. The dual scenes early on when Shaun goes to the corner store before and after the zombie outbreak are brilliant filmmaking. Shaun of the Dead is arguably the funniest movie of the modern era.
Mel Brooks made many a slapstick masterpiece, but I think his best is Young Frankenstein, starring and co written by an incomparable Gene Wilder. (Before you ask, no relation. His birth name was Jerome Silberman.) A parody of classic horror movies, it is in black and white, which almost helps to hide just how silly it gets. Obligatory zombie reference: Mel’s son Max wrote World War Z.
A more recent offbeat comedy we quite enjoyed was 2013s This Is The End, which tells the tale of party goers trapped in a house as the apocalypse begins. It doesn’t just star actors such as Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, and more, but they all play…themselves. Clever and outrageous, it also was the very last film rented from a brick and mortar Blockbuster.
Have we left anything off our list, or do you have any suggestions? Comment and let us know what makes you laugh!
A list of titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:
(Edited 12/5/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)