Funnymen

(by Ted Heller) (2012) “Dying is easy: comedy is hard.”* As is tragicomedy, which Funnymen achieves magnificently. Presented in the literary version of cinéma vérité, the book recounts (to a diligent interviewer called ‘Ted’ via sound-bites from a cast of over a hundred characters) the life and career trajectory of Sigmund Blissman (aka Ziggy Bliss) and Vittorio Fontana (aka Vic Fountain), who hook up in the Catskills and take their haywire mugging, kvetching, crooning act on the club circuit in the ’40s, forming a team that puts them on the top, from the Copa to Vegas to Hollywood and all…

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Cat’s Cradle

By Kurt Vonnegut (1963) Something of a succès d’estime in reverse, this book won admiration for its bleak humour, deadpan reportage and sci-fi elements, until the rot set in and everyone realised that it wasn’t hugely good, with its glib, jerky, episodic micro-chapters, cardboard characters and terrible snatches of verse. Vonnegut was not yet really a novelist; Cat’s Cradle is not really a novel. But here Kurt is an accumulator of ‘bits,’ an amasser of literary bitcoin, and some of his stock is quite brilliant.  His false religion, Bokononism, owes something to Spinoza, but with typical jokey authorial touches –…

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Jonathan Swift

November 30, 2020 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Comedic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

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(30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) The great Irish satirist still has great things for us to hear, even over the distance of more than two and a half centuries. He anticipates Phillip Roth, without the laughs. His calm venting of spleen as fact, his wit, style  and imagination, his quill aimed stiletto-like at the pompous, the prideful, and the pedantic (“Pedantry is properly the overrating any kind of knowledge we pretend to. And if that kind of knowledge be a trifle in itself, the pedantry is the greater“) still resonate. “So, naturalists observe, a flea Hath smaller fleas…

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Right Ho, Jeeves

(Written by P.G. Wodehouse) (1934) Your correspondent has a terrible confession to make.  The unburdening of this shocking secret, whilst cathartic, may very well lead to a global un-platforming. No, I haven’t been selling or buying on the Dark Web; I’m not a secret member of Antifa or Neo Nazis; I didn’t cast 134,000 votes for Joe Biden just before dawn the day after the U.S. election.  It is much worse: I recently read “Right Ho, Jeeves” and didn’t find it funny at all.  It’s about as funny as a child molester, actually. Which is not to say it isn’t…

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Donald E. Westlake

July 12, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Comedic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

(July 12, 1933 – December 31, 2008) He seems to have mostly written pulp, but superior pulp (we rather like 2 films scripted by him – The Stepfather and The Grifters).  But The Varnished Culture particularly remembers Donald on his birthday for his very funny literary work, A Likely Story. Journeyman writer Thomas Diskant (i.e. Westlake) writer of the novel The Pink Garage Gang and important non-fiction commissions covering El Alamein, Golf Course of America, The Ins and Outs of Unemployment Insurance, The Films of Jack Oakie, among others, proposes the ultimate Christmas Book – a seasonal compendium with eclectic contributions from…

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