Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sharing an article: Fifteen Funniest Writers of All Time

Today, I'd like to share an article published on

Everyone needs to laugh. It’s pretty much the only thing that separates most people from fully succumbing to the overwhelming tragedy of it all. From the lowliest college student to the stuffiest, wealthiest CEO to the spacey young clerk at the local record store with an ironic moustache and creepy preoccupation with female bassists, we all need a chuckle now and then. Fortunately, all media lends itself to the distribution of yuks. Since reading is fundamental, this list focuses on the funny as it is written rather than as it is told in song, dance and on television.
As with all things creative, comedy comes burdened with a hefty load of subjectivity. What one finds riotously knee-slapping, another will scoff or take offense. So read this list as such rather than something definitive and solid. Anyone who grows irritated over omissions or inclusions should probably just step away from the internet for a while and reassess a priority or two. Follow an adaptation of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mantra – "It’s just an article. I should really just relax."
  1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series remains a classic of both science-fiction and comedy, with the initial radio series spawning five novels by Adams (and one by Eoin Colfer), a miniseries, stage shows, a computer game, comic books and a feature-length film. Even beyond that, though, he wrote a plethora of other essays and novels, with the Dirk Gently series comprising one of his more famous humorous contributions following the Hitchhiker’s juggernaut. With considerable cheek, wit and irreverence, he relentlessly prodded politics, religion and society, creating some delightfully absurd and memorable characters, situations and descriptions along the way.
  2. Woody Allen: Though known primarily as an influential, if not outright legendary, filmmaker, plenty of Allen’s short stories and essays stand up as some of his most essential works. "The Whore of Mensa" highlights many of his strengths as a writer and comedian. His familiarity with genre literature and films allows him to play with — if not outright subvert — the associated cliches and tropes. The descriptions and dialogue alike crackle with wry, dry delivery spiked with a tinge of neurotic tension, made especially apparent in the sample readings available on his website.
  3. Jane Austen: Contemporary audiences thrill to Jane Austen’s Regency romances, proclaiming them ever so sigh-worthy and clamoring to find Mr. Darceys of their very own. This mindset, unfortunately, entirely precludes the author’s status as one of the sharpest satirists to ever write in English. Beloved classics Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility all humorously pick apart English society, particularly the upper classes, and romances in a way that appears perfectly straightforward on the surface. Understandably, when the books have been completely and progressively further removed from their initial context, it is difficult for most first-time readers to pick up on their abject hilarity.
  4. Michael Ian Black: The State and Stella alum’s bizarre, surreal humor doesn’t appeal to every audience, but his blog and essay collection My Custom Van elicit liberal laughs from the people who find such things appealing. Best described as whip-smart dumb comedy, he gleefully parodies the raunchy observations of his "edgy" mainstream contemporaries — when he isn’t penning some of the silliest, most absurd prose this side of Monty Python, anyways. For fans who enjoy their Cracked splashed with few shots of McSweeney’s, Black is definitely a writer who needs to be read to be believed.
  5. Margaret Cho: Even factoring her stand-up and performance art out of the equation, Margaret Cho is a formidable comedienne. At a time when women receive wrong-headed dismissal regarding their capacity for humor, she challenges popular assumptions with acidic takes on gender, sex and sexuality, race, politics, body image, substance abuse and more. All of Cho’s works — comedic or not — provoke viewers and readers into thinking about serious issues, most especially her memoir I’m the One that I Want and the politically-charged I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight. Neither book is intended to be read as comedy, but her blog certainly delivers a regular dose of both humor and insight.
  6. Warren Ellis: Comic books comprise most of Warren Ellis’ literary output, with Transmetropolitan and Nextwave standing out as the most kinetic and gut-busting of the lot. Frenetic silliness characterizes his more hilarious offerings, with his only novel (as of now) toning it down slightly. Crooked Little Vein injects the writer’s fondness for bizarre, obscure sexual practices into a twisting, deconstructed noir narrative that easily equals his transhumanist and superheroic graphic fare. Even those who have yet to pick up any of Ellis’ printed works still pop over to his blog and Twitter feed for boozy, hyperactive good times.
  7. Sandra Hill: She writes romance novels involving time-traveling Vikings. No, seriously. Cajuns, too.
  8. Christopher Moore: Moore’s books overflow with humor, all of them his love of parody and deconstruction. As of this article’s publication, he has released eleven novels, most notably Lamb, You Suck, Fool and A Dirty Job. Like a hybrid of Terry Pratchett and his hero Kurt Vonnegut, he blends fantasy and humanism into such diverse narratives as a hitherto-unknown disciple dishing on Christ’s childhood and an everyman thrust into a career dealing in souls. At least three of his books have landed on bestseller lists, too — certainly a not-insignificant accomplishment.
  9. Terry Pratchett: What Douglas Adams did to (and for) science-fiction, Terry Pratchett did for fantasy. The highly immersive, engaging and absolutely hysterical Discworld series turns all the familiar elements of the genre upside-down, inside-out and probably some directions that have yet to be invented. Running amongst the eponymous land (which rests upon the back of four elephants, who in turn balance themselves upon a giant tortoise) with some of literature’s most memorable and absurd characters.
  10. Amy Sedaris: Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, both of whom could have easily forged a spot for themselves on this list, teamed up with this amazingly funny lady for the after school special send-up Strangers with Candy. They also collaborated on a novel, Wigfield, about a small, fictional town cowering in fear over the announcement that a nearby dam is scheduled for demolition. But her deliciously twisted literary career extends beyond that particular team effort. Sedaris once penned the hilarious "Sedaritives" advice column for The Believer, continuing the subversive, politically correct spirit of her television show. For crafty types looking to add a lot of cheek (and more than a bit of naughtiness) to their projects, I Like You and Simple Times make for required reads.
  11. David Sedaris: His charming essays about dysfunctional family life and periods of self-doubt and self-delusion charm audiences who see a little bit of themselves in his work. David Sedaris specializes in wonderfully self-deprecating essay collections, with Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day standing out as two of the more popular. NPR listeners catch him as a frequent This American Life guest, where he ruminates on many of the same subjects found in his books — expatriate life in Paris, homosexuality, drugs, odd jobs, family, mistakes and plenty more. Along with blisteringly brilliant sister Amy, they’ve written a few plays under the banner of "The Talent Family."
  12. Jonathan Swift: When Ireland faced a nasty famine thanks to British meddling, Jonathan Swift’s suggestion poked the perpetrators by snidely suggesting his people nosh on babies for sustenance. "A Modest Proposal" stands as one of the finest examples of English-language satire ever published — a must-read for anyone searching for a few yuks that transcend time periods. The sprawling epic Gulliver’s Travels also continuously attracts fans in the modern age, painting English society in an escalating series of absurd, thoroughly delightful adventures. Though published in 1726 and altered in 1735, many of the classic’s themes and razor-sharp observations on human behaviors resonate loud and clear even today.
  13. Mark Twain: Samuel Langhorne Clemens — better known by his pen name — possessed a legendary wit that served him quite well in his writing career. His short stories and novels especially exhibit his flair for equal parts whimsy and wryness. Most literary aficionados consider "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" his first notable publication and an essential example of Twain’s heavily celebrated humor. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, an undeniable classic of American literature, blends comedic elements with action, absurdity and a relatable depiction and celebration of youthful imagination. However, his talents extended far beyond his more playful prose. Many also forget that Twain could fire off acidic, sarcastic barbs of comedy gold just as well as he could more lighthearted fare.
  14. Sarah Vowell: Like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell’s appeal comes from her wry, intellectual recounting of life’s little weirdisms. Everything from visiting famous presidential assassination sites to her obsession with The Godfather yields plenty of amusing anecdotes. An unapologetic history buff, readers fascinated with learning about some of the stranger corners to be found in the country will certainly find Vowell’s short stories and essays both delightful and informative. But, as with Sedaris as well, her most poignant works revolve around her family, most especially the interesting relationship with her father. The pair stand diametrically opposed when it comes to religious and political topics, and tales culled from the Take the Cannoli collection wring humor and pathos from the strain. Some may nod their heads and chuckle accordingly as she comes to terms with her American identity in the funny, highly provocative The Partly Cloudy Patriot as well.
  15. Kurt Vonnegut: Even the most ardent detractor of the science-fiction genre can likely appreciate this author’s famously sharp observations about pretty much everything. Considered one of the most influential English-language writers in existence, enduring classics such as Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle boil over with pitch-black satires of religion, politics, society and plenty more. He dissects preconceived notions, ideas and practices about the world and challenges readers’ assumptions about the nature of all that surrounds them. And all throughout his impressive oeuvre, Vonnegut infused the narrative with a humanistic spirit that undercuts some of the overarching darkness.

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