This may come as a shock, but I’m a comedy geek. I think way too much about comedy, and I tend to get obsessive over comedians I like… much like the way I do about music… and just about everything else. John Wenzel is a comedy geek too and his new book profiles many of my favorite comedians, and a few that make me think I should check them out. (For example, I’ve never actually seen an episode of Human Giant; perhaps potentially of the anti-MTV backlash Wenzel mentions, but considering that never stopped me with Wonder Showzen or Andy Milonakis… so it’s more likely a function of just never knowing when it was on.)
It’s clear that Wenzel cares a lot about comedy and is very knowledgeable about the subject. He’s a great interviewer, and gets a lot of information from his subjects. For example, most David Cross fans know that before Mr. Show, he did a show called “Cross Comedy”, but until now, there hasn’t been much about what “Cross Comedy” actually was. Likewise, Wenzel gets Patton Oswalt to talk about his early career, including a stint at MadTV in the first season — which I didn’t know about. (For the record, Oswalt thought the show was terrible too, so that’s good.)
Sometimes Wenzel’s writing can try a little too hard to be edgy — he shoehorns a few mediocre jokes (for example, one about “the trickle of comedy at SXSW” growing to “a strong, golden stream”) into the text, seemingly to try to prove his indie cred, along with lots of band-namedropping — though considering his subjects ALSO do a lot of band-namedropping, he can’t really be faulted for wanting to join in. But overall, he’s a strong writer, and considering that he was able to give the history of Gregg Turkington AS WELL AS Turkington’s creation Neil Hamburger, that’s pretty impressive.
The book is very up-to-date, which almost makes it feel like a printed-and-bound blog post. He includes more recent comedy success stories like Tim & Eric (whom I adore), and has interesting, in-depth interviews with them. The book is a little US-centric, aside from a couple pages on The Mighty Boosh — I’d love to have seen more on British educational filmstrip parody Look Around You and Chris Morris‘ body of work — both plugged in an interview with Eric Wareheim, who’s a recent convert to the latter’s Jam (which makes sense in a way, considering both Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and particularly Tom Goes to the Mayor — not in style but in the collision between surreal horror and comedy; Morris’ work is something I would recommend to anyone, regardless of one’s Tim & Eric fandom).
Overall, Wenzel’s book is very well done. The title may cause some cringes — the title screams “written by someone who doesn’t get it!” — but rest assured that Wenzel does indeed get it. Even though it sounds like one of those painful magazine articles about how awesome and edgy Dane Cook is and how maybe some of these young up-and-comers like David Cross might be the next Cook, it’s NOT. (For one, Wenzel, rightfully, bashes Dane Cook quite often, something everyone should do. Dude’s terrible.) Oddly enough, I find myself recommending Wenzel’s bibliography — a well-cited list of both articles and comedy DVDs and albums — which looks to me as close to a shopping list as a source list. If you’re interested in comedy, this is definitely a good book to check out.