Only Joking: Book Review

Only Joking: What’s So Funny About Making People Laugh? (2006) is a book about jokes written by British comedian Jimmy Carr and his best friend Lucy Greeves. I just finished it today, and loved it.

The book covers a huge variety of topics, including the importance of jokes, the science of laughter, clowns (the precursor to stand-ups), humour differences between the sexes, offensive jokes, ethnic jokes, political jokes, and more. The book also includes about 400 jokes, from cringe-worthy to shaggy dog to laugh-out-loud funny.

I told the traffic warden to go forth and multiply, though not exactly in those words.
-Woody Allen

Only Joking is well-written (as it should be: Carr is one of Britain’s most intelligent comedians, and Greeves is a copywriter) and easy and enjoyable to read. It somehow manages to be engaging and interesting AND light-hearted and humorous: neither too serious nor too comical.

I went out on a first date, but I don’t think I’ll be seeing her again. She got mad when I didn’t open the car door. I just swam to the surface.
-Emo Philips

The book looks at why we joke, how we joke, the history of joking, and what we can joke about. It uses a mixture of personal knowledge and anecdotes, interviews, historical examples, and studies to make its points. For instance, did you know that in ancient Rome, there was a separate slave market for fools, where you could buy “genuine idiots”? Apparently they were quite expensive.

“Sort of” is a harmless thing to say. It’s just a filler, it doesn’t mean anything. Except after certain phrases, like “I love you…” Or, “You’re going to live…” Or, “It’s a boy!…”
-Demetri Martin

Only Joking spends a full four chapters talking about subjects that are often “taboo” in jokes: race, religion, and politics, as well as sexy stuff that gets labelled “dirty” – you can get arrested for that, you know (Lenny Bruce was arrested numerous times for obscenity, though the court was in actuality prosecuting because they were offended by his religious comments; one of the words he was prosecuted for using was “cocksucker” *gasp* …admittedly this was the 1960s, the prudes).

An escalator can never break; it can only temporarily become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the Convenience.”
-Mitch Hedburg

This book seems to cover just about everything, from ancient Roman fools to present-day stand-up comedians. It’s written from a British perspective, but I thought that Carr and Greeves’ ideas apply to North America equally well (some of the cultural references were lost on me though). The book concentrates on joking and stand-up comedy, not ALL humour, so stuff like improv, sketch, and musical comedy is left out. I would have been interested to read in detail about what it’s like being a professional stand-up comedian, but perhaps they’ve left that for a sequel.

Cats have nine lives. Which makes them ideal for experimentation.
-Jimmy Carr

And now for some weird German board games. May I present: Kackel Dackel (aka Crapping Dog)

Oh yes, there are more where that came from…


About whoseroses

Rose is an arts administrator from Victoria, BC. She has worked at some of Canada's biggest and best festivals, including the Victoria Fringe Festival, Just for Laughs in Montreal, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and the Victoria Film Festival. She co-founded the Winnipeg Spoken Word Festival, and helped produce the Victoria Spoken Word Festival. Rose is passionate about theatre, spoken word, comedy, and her community. She runs on festivals.
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