Comedy is wonderful. More importantly, comedy is funny. It can be difficult to do right, too — there’s lots of room for books on humor analysis and how something can be funny, when it works, when it doesn’t, and whether or not there can really be an overarching answer of “This is funny, this is not” for everyone.
Mike Sacks‘ And Here’s The Kicker is a book of 21 interviews (with a few more on the website) with some of the top practitioners of the craft, from all different eras. There’s Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart! and wrote The Graduate, Irving Brecher who wrote At The Circus and Go West for the Marx Brothers, Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show and Al Jaffee, creator of the Mad Fold-In.
Almost every subject is sparkling with wit and interesting insights — whether or not you personally enjoy their work (I’m not really a fan of Sacha Baron-Cohen, but the interview with his co-writer/co-creator of characters Dan Mazer is very engaging). Sacks also gets a good mix of folks most people know, folks only comedy geeks tend to know, and a few people who’re behind the scenes — important, but semi-anonymous. From the latter are Allison Silverman (head writer for The Colbert Report) and, to a lesser extent, Larry Wilmore (head writer for The PJs and Senior Black Correspondent for The Daily Show). Most writers have worked in TV, but there are a few different areas as well — Todd Hanson from The Onion, author David Sedaris, columnist Dave Barry and an online-only interview with Dan Clowes, the brilliant cartoonist behind Eightball and Ghost World. This mix not only lets readers see the different types of styles of writing comedy, but also underlines that they’re not that different — funny is funny.
The book is officially filed under “Writing Reference”, and to that end, there’re a few sidebar articles with tips on getting started in the business, either for submitting to magazines or getting hired to work on a television show – but not just the standard tips you might see, but from folks who would know. Folks like the editor for the Shouts and Murmurs section of The New Yorker and brilliant TV writer Ken Levine. That said this book is essential for any comedy geek, regardless of whether or not they want to try their hand at writing; there’s so much about the philosophy of comedy and what works and doesn’t work that it’s just incredibly interesting. It definitely belongs on any geek’s shelf next to Del Close and Steve Martin.