Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2020 November 20 • Friday

Attempts at analyzing or explaining the human sense of humor are famously destructive in addition to not being funny.

But Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves co-wrote a book that manages to hurdle both of those obstacles.

Only Joking: What's So Funny About Making People Laugh? is a fascinating survey of various perspectives on comedy: social, psychological, political, religious, historical, evolutionary, etc.

The two authors mostly write in one voice although there is an occasional digression of a personal note from one or the other of them specifically.

The authorial voice itself sounded like Jimmy Carr to me most of the time, but of course his is the only voice of the two that I know.

Everything in here was fairly interesting and much of it was new to me.

I had no idea, for instance, about the fuss that was kicked up about Jerry Springer — The Opera even though I had been aware of the production itself.

Carr and Greeves have been thorough and wide-ranging enough to make thoughtful comparisons of, for example, Lenny Bruce with Dario Fo and Franca Rame. And they're particularly good on comedy's frequent mean-spiritedness, it's wispily veiled (if not actually naked) aggression toward a looked down upon "other" about whom the audience and comic share the same feelings.

They persuasively draw a line between jokes that stop being jokes and start being a kind of harm or rabble rousing or political statement or just plain offensivity.

But best of all, the book is full of jokes. There are over 400 of them in there, most of them quite good, and with at least one on every page. That alone is reason enough to give this book a look.