Monday, March 4, 2013

Fart Jokes, Anyone? The Best Book Ever Written About Comedy

And now for something completely different: a Reno Dispatch exclusive on a terrific new book on comedy. But how best to kick off such a story? How about with something like this: A funny thing happened to me on the way to the book store. No? OK, how's this: Take my book... pleaseStill no good? Alright, alright, put that tomato down! Here's one that's sure to grab you: I never forget a book, but in your case I'll make an exception! Don't like that one, either? Sheesh. You're a tough room. 

All seriousness aside, ladies and germs, I've just finished reading this delightful new book titled Funny: The Book / Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Comedy, by David Misch, and I can die happy now. 

Of course, I don't really wanna die or anything. It's just a joke. And so is this book. That is, it made me laugh, sometimes so hard that I scared the cat. But it also made me think. I thought I was a student of comedy, but I learned a lot from Misch's tome - and not just the great fart jokes. This is easily the best book on comedy I've ever read.

It's always a danger to try to analyze humor. As soon as you do it can become, uh, humorless. Like when you try to explain a joke to your accountant. But this book, which covers everything from comedy's ancient origins to Mark Twain to vaudeville to the modern worlds of movies, TV and stand-up, is the happy exception. Like Monty Python, Misch's book is that rare combination of silly and smart. 

If anyone is qualified to write such a book, it's Misch, a former comic folk singer and stand-up comedian who has taught comedy at USC and UCLA. He's best known for his impressive writing credits, which include Saturday Night LiveMork and MindyDuckman, Police Squad!, and The Muppets Take Manhattan

A personable, unpretentious guy who refreshingly lacks the self-loathing angst and insecurity that curiously afflicts so many great comic minds, Misch lives, eats and breathes comedy. Instead of hearing voices in his head, he undoubtedly hears rim shots and slide whistles
Misch tells me he wrote the book because of an "insatiable thirst for knowledge" and the belief that "a first-time book on an unlikely subject by an unknown writer would be a slam-dunk best-seller. Lucky I had that insatiable thirst stuff."

Misch notes that like all artistic forms, comedy depends on the principles of tension-and-resolution, pattern recognition, misdirection, and surprise. 

"As a joke’s being told, you expect something to surprise you but, if it’s a good joke, you don’t know what or how or even exactly when," he says. "Sometimes, to let out the tension, you even start laughing before the end, a phenomenon known as premature ejokeulation."

Misch goes on to say that one of comedy’s more distinguished performers was a Frenchman named Joseph Pujol, who a century ago "presented a program of musical odorless farts which, according to contemporary accounts, caused women to swoon - although historians disagree about whether that was due to the beauty of his farting or the deadly combination of helpless laughter and tight corsets."

Misch, who shares my passion for Monty PythonGeorge Carlin, Lauren & Hardy, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton, Robert Benchley, the Marx Brothers and Richard Pryor, among other comic icons, says a 1992 study of humor and health found that adults have around 15 or 20 laughs a day, while children have almost 300. "This explains why young people live so much longer than old people," he quips.

This Wednesday, you'll have an opportunity to hear Misch talk in person about all things comedy when he invades the appropriately stuffy confines of the San Diego County Library (Encinitas branch). Misch’s whirlwind San Diego tour schedule Wednesday takes him to the following stops: “Good Morning San Diego” (KUSI News/ABC), 6-7 a.m., “San Diego Living” (San Diego 6-The CW), 9-10 a.m., and the library gig, 5-6 p.m.

Meantime, check out Funny: The Book (you can purchase it here). After all, where else can you find both rare tidbits of ancient history... and fart jokes?! 


  1. As a joke’s being told, you expect something to surprise you but, if it’s a good joke!! hahahahah

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