How Comedy Conquered Culture–and the Magic That Makes It Work
by Jesse David Fox
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Pub Date 07 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 30 Nov 2023
"Comedy Book changes the way we talk about an art form that is more diverse and exciting than ever before.” —Seth Meyers
"A sharp, loving, well written exploration and analysis of the art form that makes us smile, helps us relate, and is perpetually mysterious." —Jenny Slate
From a beloved comedy critic, a wisecracking, heartfelt, and overdue chronicle of comedy’s boom—and its magic.
Comedy is king. From multimillion-dollar TV specials to sold-out stand-up shows and TikTok stardom, comedy has never been more popular, democratized, or influential. Comedians have become organizing forces across culture—as trusted as politicians and as fawned-over as celebrities—yet comedy as an art form has gone under-considered throughout its history, even as it has ascended as a cultural force.
In Comedy Book, Jesse David Fox—the country’s most definitive voice in comedy criticism and someone who, in his own words, “enjoys comedy maybe more than anyone on this planet"—tackles everything you need to know about comedy. Weaving together history and analysis, Fox unravels the genre’s political legacy through an ode to Jon Stewart, interrogates the divide between highbrow and lowbrow via Adam Sandler, and unpacks how marginalized comics create spaces for their communities. Along the way, Fox covers everything from comedy in the age of political correctness and Will Smith’s slap to the right wing’s relationship with comedy and, for Fox, comedy’s ability to heal personal tragedy.
With memorable cameos from Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney, Ali Wong, Kate Berlant, and countless others, Comedy Book is an eye-opening education in how to engage with our most omnipresent art form, a riotous history of American pop culture, and a love letter to laughter.
A Note From the Publisher
"Compendious, deeply considered, provoking, and rather dizzying . . . There’s a rhythm and an expertise about comedy criticism right now (Fox’s very much included) that reminds me of good jazz writing from the ’50s and ’60s: savvy, insidery, immersed, excited, with its own developing vocabulary . . . A bonus side effect of reading Comedy Book, of reading about all these comedians and their processes, was that I was cured, finally, of my sentimental attachment to the idea of the stand-up as truth-telling philosophe." —James Parker, The Atlantic
★ “This electric debut . . . serves up trenchant observations on the roles context, laughter, timing, and other factors play in comedic movies, television shows, and standup sets from 1990 through the early 2020s . . . There are fresh perspectives on every page, and the style is as humorous as one would expect . . . Brilliant and a pleasure to read, this raises the bar for comedy studies.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An impassioned argument for why comedy matters . . . [Jesse David Fox examines] breakthroughs from the past 30 years to make the case for comedy as an art form that deserves to be analyzed and appreciated. Fox is funny in his own right, combining comprehensive knowledge with superfan enthusiasm.” —Maris Kreizman, Vulture
“Jesse David Fox is not only very funny but also one of the most thoughtful writers about comedy working today. Comedy Book catalogs the most inventive voices in the field, but also changes the way we talk about an art form that is more diverse and exciting than ever before.” —Seth Meyers
"I thought I was the ultimate obsessed comedy nerd but after reading Jesse David Fox’s comprehensive Comedy Book I realized there is someone out there much sicker than me." —Judd Apatow
"This is a book for people who love comedy, and for people who know nothing about comedy and are curious about who is in there and how it can all work. This is a sharp, loving, well written exploration and analysis of the art form that makes us smile, helps us relate, and is perpetually mysterious. Comedy Book is excellent for many reasons, but my favorite one is that Jesse David Fox lays it all out in a way that still allows the reader to wonder. He writes about the power and mystery of comedy in a way that only adds to that very power and that very mystery." —Jenny Slate
“Not a single person alive knows, consumes or truly loves comedy like Jesse David Fox." —Tig Notaro
"Many people write about comedy but nobody writes about it with such passion and knowledge as Jesse David Fox. His Comedy Book is a thorough and caring ride through the world of comedy. I am honored to write a blurb for the book so hopefully he will write nice things about me for many years to come!" —Nick Kroll
"As someone who has been in the comedy game for 15 years and also loves to nerd out, this is one of the most comprehensive and delightful books on comedy I've ever read. It's such a joyful read from someone who, for as long as I've known him, has the purest love of stand-up, sitcoms, improv, and everything else comedy related. I'm proud of Jesse and this book and it's an honor to have him tell our story and also teach me some thangs! It's a must read!” —Phoebe Robinson
"A fascinating snapshot at a crucial moment in the fast-mutating world of comedy. Jesse David Fox has taken a loving look at where comedy stands today, and this will become a hilarious, and much-referred to, historical document when it all warps and mutates again." —Patton Oswalt
"Taking comedy seriously sounds mighty fishy to me. Then I read this juicy book and said, ‘Well, hold on a second, I think the kid has a point!’ And you know what? Everyone else in my cult agreed!" —Aparna Nancherla
"One of my favorite activities in life is talking with a smart friend about something they are obsessed with. Jesse David Fox’s brilliant Comedy Book captures that feeling flawlessly. A deep dive into the divine art of comedy by one of comedy’s most obsessive critics, this book is a beautiful blend of history, philosophy, memoir, and deep, deep study of an art form that, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, 'gets no respect.' A perfect book for fans of comedy, practitioners of comedy, or simply anyone interested in one of the greatest mysteries of the universe: what makes us laugh." —Isaac Fitzgerald, New York Times-bestselling author of Dirtbag, Massachusetts
"Jesse Fox’s Comedy Book knocks our socks off showing how comedy not only became a major cultural force, but a form of literature unto itself, and a high art." —Jerry Saltz, author of Art is Life and senior art critic for New York
"A thoughtful assessment of how, for better or worse, humor ages . . . [Fox is] clearly passionate about his subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern humor . . . A well-informed, appreciative assessment of the current state of comedy." —Kirkus Reviews
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 11 members
I feel like I have been waiting for this book for a really love time, and I'm so glad Jesse David Fox finally wrote it. I've been a fan of his writing for years and years, always knowing he's the go-to for thoughtful comedy criticism and its role in pop culture. As a comedy fan (nerd/obsessive/harsh critic), this book was everything I could have asked for.
Fox examines how we use and view comedy in our everyday lives, how laughter has the power to transform our feelings about all aspects of life (for good and bad), and the role of the comedian in today's society. It's certainly no small task. Comedy trends ebb and flow, and right now it's sticky and I have a lot of complicated feelings about it, and I'm glad that Fox did not shy away from the hard stuff when talking about the funny stuff.
It was delightful to see lots of my favorite comedy people name-checked as well. Pulling from both classic and really current comedians, bits, shows, etc, Fox is able paint a full, in-depth, and critical perspective on what comedy means, and why it is so meaningful to so many of us. I didn't want it to end and could have read like, 10 more chapters honestly. It's like sitting with an old friend who shares all of your inside jokes but you can also have a philosophical discussion about why the things make you laugh make you laugh, and how our world is shaped by the people with the microphones, or better or for worse.
A must-read for culture vultures and alt-comedy fans like myself (and then let's chat about it!)
As the subtitle of Jesse David Fox's first book (of many?) asserts, comedy has ascended to cultural centrality. Culturally important forms require deft, connected, insightful, and sensitive critics to help make sense of movements while they are in... movement. We are incredibly lucky to have Jesse David Fox as our guide to this moment in comedy. His interpretation of connections between cultural phenomena and seemingly silly little jokes is so rich, drawing from his deep knowledge of comedy history, especially recent history, as well as a downright beautiful appreciation for the human experience. Yes, I am an avid listener to Fox's podcast, "Good One." Other listeners will surely love this book. But, I will be recommending it widely, to anyone I think appreciates culture, comedy, and a deeply thoughtful author who doesn't take himself or his writing too seriously. Good one, Jesse!