The Best Comedy Books of 2022

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Publishers

What even is a “comedy book”? That’s not a distinction used on signs hanging over a shelf in many if any bookstores, nor is it used to narrow a search at any online booksellers, and it’s not something publishers, editors, or critics use. It’s kind of an umbrella title we use here to describe a book about comedy or an adjacent figure or subject. Like obscenity or passive-aggressive behavior, it’s hard to define in the abstract; we just know it when we see it.

A comedy book is a book about being funny; or what is funny; or what it takes to be funny; or about the business, industry, or process of being funny, usually written by someone who has made a decent living for themselves and/or become a living legend via continued acts of comedy — comics, comedic actors, screenwriters, sitcom showrunners, self-proclaimed “humorists,” and such. A comedy book might also be a book that is just plain funny, on purpose, like a comic novel. We basically just mean any book a voracious comedy nerd would enjoy, the kind of book for someone who reads Vulture’s comedy coverage on a regular basis. In other words, these are books you will enjoy. And as luck would have it, the comedy books released so far in 2022 that we’re writing about here — arranged chronologically by release date — are all pretty terrific.

Photo: Publisher

In the past few years, audio comedy has emerged as a viable format for funny things. An outgrowth of stand-up comedy and podcasts, entries in this medium add structure and polish to observations and stories not generally afforded by those more free-form pursuits, packaging humor and storytelling into what’s essentially an audiobook — the tropes and setup of a physical book plus the delights of the theater of the mind. One of the better audio-comedy productions in recent memory, which will certainly drive the nascent format in its relative infancy, is So You Need to Decide, conceived and led by Beth Lapides. The project is a collection of probing interviews in their original audio, so none of the intensity or intimacy is lost in a translation to print. Lapides, a comedian and the creator of the legendary Los Angeles UnCabaret show, doesn’t only interview funny people about their craft — the subject of plenty of books and podcasts — but also goes into the hows and whys, the bigs and the smalls, of decision-making. The choices we make have consequences, good and bad, and Lapides gets very funny people including Margaret Cho, Merrill Markoe, and Baron Vaughn to weigh in on the topic, comically and otherwise.

Photo: Publisher

One of the smartest and most thoughtful TV comedy creators and showrunners around, Michael Schur followed up the nice-mining Parks and Recreation with the ambitious philosophical fantasy The Good Place, a show about ethics and what it means to be a good person. Somehow such a heady, cerebral, and compassionate show ran on network TV for four seasons. How to Be Perfect is Schur’s The Good Place companion piece; it’s like an afterword, a DVD bonus feature in the form of a book. It’s a clearinghouse for all the big, random, amusing, and heartbreaking thoughts about the silliness of being an animal forced to have forethought of its own demise that he couldn’t fit into the strict confines of a situation comedy about dead souls. The title isn’t even that wry; it’s almost accurate. Schur uses humor to invite in the reader and disarm them into what feels like a conversation about ethics, and they leave feeling pretty good about themselves and the inherent goodness of humanity, as you do watching an episode of Parks and Rec with a Good Place chaser. It really does function as a life guidebook while remaining extremely, gently funny.

Photo: Publisher

You can breeze through this book of jokes in an hour or two, well worth the purchase price because it benefits charity. It’s Twitter minus the toxicity and crushing relentlessness and instead more art, finesse, and precision. Haiku, editor Gabe Henry tells us, is essentially the art of the one-liner, arranged into a three-line system and a 5-7-5 syllable scheme. Working within the parameters of the world’s shortest poetry format challenges comedians to be funny in an extremely economical space. It’s impressive that they can be so clever and so crisp. And no, this isn’t like in high school when you had to write a haiku and you did a silly one to be a smart-ass; according to Eating Salad Drunk (named after the first line of an entry by comedian Josh Gondelman), haiku originated as a scatological form, so this book is a back-to-basics deal. The jokes herein are elegant and oddly beautiful as much as they are ridiculous.

Photo: Publisher

Mike Sacks is a master of a particular type of writing that he probably invented or at least perfected — a dazzling, tricky act of written performance art, composing an entire manuscript from the point of view of a fictional character. In doing so, he satirizes stuffy literary conventions and loathsome segments of society at the same time. Following Stinker Lets Loose, the novelization of a late-’70s Smokey and the Bandit knockoff that doesn’t exist, and Randy, a faux self-published memoir from a Maryland dirtbag, Sacks takes on the all-too-familiar and aggravatingly toxic phenomenon of the failed comedian who becomes a self-styled “un-PC” right-wing pundit purporting to tell it like it is, a career path born out of professional desperation that gives voice to the rage and anger they’ve always had for women and non-white people. Skippy “Batty” Battison, the first-person “hero” of Passing on the Right, sure does think he’s funny and totally blowing your mind, except he’s excruciatingly not funny but rather dangerous and horrible, so deeply pathetic and sad that it comes around the other side to funny again. Passing is an astute and provocative character study of a guy who so desperately wishes he were Greg Gutfeld, and Sacks’s first-person commitment to the bit is a master class in postmodern meta comedy.

Photo: Publisher

Finally, one the greatest comedy minds and comic actors of his generation wrote his memoir. Following the likes of genre pillars like Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama offers rare insight into the mind of a next-level genius who is usually inscrutable and lets his work speak for itself. Read now as Odenkirk rises through the ranks of the Chicago comedy scene; through Saturday Night Live, The Ben Stiller Show, and Mr. Show With Bob and David; and shepherding Tim and Eric to TV. His sensibility has shaped comedy and television, and this memoir shows how he wormed his way into the comedy mainstream and bent it to his impeccable standard, then as a second act became a Peak TV icon with his complex portrayal of shady lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

Photo: Publisher

That title is fully in line with Gadsby’s blunt, deconstructive/reconstructive approach to comedy and performance, but this book is so much more than an explanation of Nanette, the comedian’s landmark 2018 special that questioned and redefined comedy and inspired a billion think pieces from people who didn’t like Nanette or thought it was bad because they didn’t get it. Not only does Ten Steps to Nanette help explain why Nanette worked, as well as outline Gadsby’s aims for the project, but it’s also the sweetest, warmest, and most delightfully and casually funny comedian memoir in a decade. Yes, Gadsby addresses traumas and frightening moments in her years as an unabashedly sensitive child and young person, but the book is, by and large, the answer to the question that most memoirs never really address because the author remains too guarded: Who is this person, really, and why do they do the work that they do? For someone who made something as polarizing as Nanette, it’s a book we needed.

Photo: Publisher

Apatow is a creator, curator, or producer of some of the most definitive comedy of the last three decades. He is known for character-driven, emotions-first movies including The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The King of Staten Island as well as progressive, auteurish TV like The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks. Even from his perch as the ruler of funny Hollywood, Apatow remains a student of comedy — interviewing luminaries of the form the same way he did as a host for his high-school radio station. Following 2016’s Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy, Apatow has compiled Sicker in the Head, another anthology of his probing, open-ended, long-form interviews with funny people about the hows, whys, and whats of their particular style of comedy. A couple of ’80s-era interviews are real gems, but the most fascinating moments happen when Apatow lets legends in the making — like Bowen Yang and Ramy Youssef — speak their piece with the barest of prompting and directing.

Photo: Publisher

If there is any book sorely in need of a mocking, it’s Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s didactic polemic of a novel that has justified the behavior of generations of smug and selfish dudes. Andy Spain’s first novel, Cash Grab, is a long-awaited takedown of the themes inherent in Atlas but also of blind, well-meaning idealism as it follows Buddy, a TV-loving dreamer who is crushed to learn that the entertainment industry is hollow, nasty, and free of art and magic and that selling out just might be inevitable.

Photo: Publisher

Ideally, a comedian memoir should help explain the motivations behind the subject’s singular work, and this one does. That fun title that obviously references Hello, Dolly! is apt, as Hello, Molly! feels like a mid-century musical, though much darker, actually funny, and about the indomitable human spirit in the face of tragedy and the plucky individual who rises above with charm. Molly Shannon is a goddamn national treasure. It’s a funny book, and it’s about funny things, but really it’s about how comedy and humor can be used as a vehicle for escape, identity, and support. The thesis of many of her Saturday Night Live characters is to live life with defiant joy, and the permission to go find that joy is a main theme of Hello, Molly!

Photo: Publisher

Comedy was a family business for the late Joan Rivers, as she was long managed by her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, and took on her daughter, Melissa Rivers, as a sidekick turned partner in the last couple decades of her career. The latter recalls their working and personal relationships in blunt and clear-eyed detail in Lies My Mother Told Me, the first insider biography of Joan Rivers that isn’t a mere rehash of her staggering comedy and showbiz accomplishments. The younger Rivers writes with a voice similar to that of her mother’s, telling alternately warm and embarrassing behind-the-scenes stories with deep affection and respect crackling just underneath the sarcasm.

Photo: Publisher

Gary Janetti is a TV lifer, a writer for snappy sitcoms like Will & Grace and adult-oriented animated fare like Family Guy and The Prince, and a read of Start Without Me, his melancholy but shockingly self-deprecatingly funny memoir, shows that he’s probably the guy in the writers’ room penning all the best lines for Stewie Griffin and the fictional Prince George. Unlike how funny people usually craft their memoirs, Janetti is truly and honestly open, not going to any lengths to make himself look good nor showing how his stifling upbringing foreshadowed a big career in entertainment. No, Start Without Me is a series of loosely connected stories about an excruciatingly lonely little boy who can also be quite rude. Janetti’s flaws are on display and he doesn’t care, and therein lies the comedy.

Photo: Publisher

The rules and rituals of love, dating, sex, and relationships change so often but always remain so baffling, arbitrary, and just plain stupid that there’s an infinite amount of comedy to be mined from the topic. Comedian and writer Ginny Hogan specializes in the humor of sexual politics, following up her delightful and savage 2019 collection, Toxic Femininity in the Workplace, with I’m More Dateable Than a Plate of Refried Beans, a series of self-deprecating, fatalistic essays and deceptively bouncy visual pieces designed for quick, easy consumption and relatable entertainment, not unlike little dates, only way more fulfilling and sillier.

Leave a Comment