Book review: The 50 Funniest American Writers

Andy Borowitz brings you the 50 funniest American writers


I rarely do this, because most books about humor writing or purportedly filled with humor writing aren’t funny. This one is. That’s why I’m adding Andy Borowitz’s The 50 Funniest American Writers*: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion¬†to this site’s esteemed list of Books About Humor Writing.

I only post books to this list that I have read and that I think have value. I’m not like Oprah. I don’t just throw any old thing up there and then give away cars so that everyone will like whatever books I tell them. I actually read these things and only have one car to give away and it’s not a very exciting one.

The 50 Funniest Writers is a collaboration between Borowitz and The Library of America. Borowitz grew up a huge humor nerd. He spent his youth avoiding girls and reading the likes of Mark Twain, Woody Allen and National Lampoon. Borowitz writes:

“So how did I choose the fifty selections in this book? I showed the people at The Library of America my favorite humor pieces; they showed me theirs; and when we found fifty we agreed on, we stopped. To celebrate, we ordered Chinese food, using much the same process.”

The 50 funniest American writers are Mark Twain, George Ade, O. Henry, Sinclair Lewis, Anita Loos, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Langston Hughes, Frank Sullivan, E.B. White, Peter De Vries, Terry Southern, Lenny Bruce, Tom Wolfe, Jean Shepherd, Hunter S. Thompson, Woody Allen, Bruce Jay Friedman, Philip Roth, Nora Ephron, Henry Beard, Michael O’Donoghue, George W.S. Trow, Fran Lebowitz, Charles Portis, Donald Barthelme, Veronica Geng, John Hughes, Mark O’Donnell, Garrison Keillor, Bruce McCall, Molly Ivins, Calvin Trillin, Dave Barry, The Onion, Susan Orlean, Roy Blount Jr., George Carlin, Ian Frazier, David Rakoff, Bernie Mac, David Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, Jack Handey, David Owen, George Saunders, Jenny Allen, Sloane Crosley and Larry Wilmore.

This book is best enjoyed slowly, taken in over the course of many weeks, so that each piece can be fully breathed in, not unlike a fine scotch, or a photograph of Mitt Romney¬†mowing the lawn. That’s why it has taken so long for me to review it. I never do this with books. I usually power right through them. But you don’t just power right through H.L. Mencken. You’ll miss the way he makes fun of everything and everyone, including you.

The book contains a number of absolute must-reads for anyone who loves humor-writing, including:

“A Presidential Candidate” by Mark Twain

“Imperial Purple” by H.L. Mencken

“More Alarms at Night” by James Thurber

“Across the Street and Into the Grille” by E.B. White

“How to Talk Dirty and Influence People” by Lenny Bruce

“The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member” by Jean Shepherd

“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent” by Hunter S. Thompson

“A Look at Organized Crime” by Woody Allen

“Curb Carter Policy Discord Effort Threat” by Veronica Geng

“Vacation ’58” by John Hughes

“Rolled in Rare Bohemian Onyx, Then Vulcanized by Hand” by Bruce McCall

“Tips for Women: How to Have a Relationship with a Guy” by Dave Barry

“Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia” by The Onion

“If I Were in Charge of the Networks” by George Carlin

“Ask the Optimist” by George Saunders

“If Not an Apology, at least a ‘My Bad'” by Larry Wilmore

I could go on, but I won’t.

The book is available here.

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Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.