Saturday, September 14, 2013

My recommended reading list

 A number of you have asked what books/articles/plays I'm having my USC comedy class read.   So here's the list.  I recommend these to you too. 

Required Reading---

John Kennedy Toole – Confederacy of Dunces
Neil Simon – Odd Couple (play)

Recommended Reading --

John Vorhaus – The Comic Toolbox
Dan O’Shannon – What Are You Laughing At?
Ken Levine – Blog:  (archives)
Woody Allen – Without Feathers
Woody Allen – Getting Even
Tad Friend - “What’s So Funny?”
John Morreall – “Historical Theories of Laughter”
Henri Bergson – Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic
Steve Martin – Born Standing Up
Douglas McKwan -- My Lush Life
Tina Fey – Bossypants
Marc Maron – Attempting Normal
Andy Goldberg – Improv Comedy

What I expect to happen is this:  You'll recommend a bunch of other ones.  That's great.  Some of your suggestions you may feel are be better than what's listed above, but I have reasons for each selection.   In any event, you can't go wrong.  And I'm not making anyone read Beowulf


Trevor said...

Great list! I've been looking some of them up on Amazon and found that "Laughter: an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic" is free right now on the Kindle. Can't get better than that!

Kirk said...

Monty Python Speaks! by David Morgan.

Jennifer said...

Whyyy is it that you come to my school the moment I graduate? Oh well. Interesting reading list, I've read a few of them at least.

Deborah Levinson said...

There are so many great and good comedic works. I am more curious as to the reasons for the inclusion of each on your list above, rather than offering you suggested addenda.

Pat Hobby said...

Is this an undergraduate course? And people get credit for this?

Kind of a weak reading list for a class that claims to be about the foundation of comedy.

Ken Levine said...


Draw up a better one when you teach the course. :)

l tuerk said...

Geesh, Pat, where did you go to school?

Lighten up. :)

Marsha Mason said...

I really liked "You're Lucky You're Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom" by Phil Rosenthal, as well as "Neil Simon Rewrites".

This is great, I'm always looking for books to read!

Mike said...

Recommended Reading -- Blog: (archives)
Pay particular attention to my comments, kids. I'm hoping to subvert an entire generation.

15-Seconds said...

A better question for Pat would be:

Would you show us a list of your comedy)credits?

If it tops: MASH, Cheers, Frasier etc...we'll concede you may be able to teach Ken a thing or two.

Scott Squires said...

Other writing/performing comedy books-

The Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve Kaplan - Excellent insights

The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisational Manual - In-depth manual on the 'Game' at UCB and how to play it

Anonymous said...

It would be really great to see some more diverse authors on this list. It's a little frustrating to think that white guys have the monopoly on what's worth learning about comedy.

RCP said...

I'm looking forward to checking these out and wish I could take the course. I've read a few of them, including 'My Lush Life' by Douglas McEwan (misspelled on the list) which is hilarious and one of my favorite books.

Carol said...

Personally I think Much Ado About Nothing is a flawless comedy - kind of the original Rom Com.

I'd recommend reading anything by Terry Pratchett, too. That's a man who can mix high comedy, low comedy, observational comedy, satire and philosophy into an amazingly entertaining story.

Sung said...

Anything by Jack Handey? Especially What I'd Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats, because, well, it's my favorite!

Mr. Hollywood said...

Ken, I would highly suggest anything by Max Shulman. Superb wit and comedy mind, creator of Dobie Gillis, amongst others. An idol to Woody Allen as well...

Hamid said...

Without Feathers is wonderful, especially Match Wits With Inspector Ford.

Woody Allen gave an interview to the BBC recently in which he said Mort Sahl's return to stand-up has inspired him to consider doing stand-up again as well, which is the best news I've heard in a long time. His films may occasionally be hit and miss (though I thought Midnight In Paris was a joyous masterpiece), but the prospect of Woody doing stand-up again is beyond exciting.

Pat Reeder said...

Maybe this is going back too far if you just want to concentrate on modern sitcom/standup/improv comedy, but I liked "The Funny Men" and "The Funny People" series by Steve Allen. Rare because it's profiles of comedians by someone who's both a thoughtful analyst of humor and a comedian himself.

If you really want to go way back, then "The Silent Clowns" by Walter Kerr is the best book I've ever read on silent comedy. And his comments about comedy restarting at square one whenever a new medium is invented even apply to the Internet, where YouTube has as many footballs-to-the-crotch as Mack Sennett had pies-in-the-face.

brian t said...

A slightly unusual suggestion: "The Road to Mars" by Eric Idle. (Yes - that Eric Idle.) Though it's a novel, it's also highly analytical about comedy, as seen by a robot character who analyses the heck out of every aspect of it.

Haven't read "A Confederacy of Dunces" - but it just moved to the top of my reading list.

Breadbaker said...


Your thoughts on this article might make an interesting Friday question. Of course, I was always a Rhoda fan.

Johnny Walker said...

A very surprising list! If you're going to include Marc Maron's memoir, then I think you should also include your own. The "Me Generation" does a great job of illustrating how to find humour in everyday life. If you're teaching a course on how to write comedy, I would have thought that was a fundamental.

Secondly, you simply MUST include Jane Espenson's blog archives. They are nothing short of incredible. Work your way forward from the beginning and see what I mean:

It's a bit of a sin that these posts aren't more widely known -- they're probably the most concentrated distillation of quality writing advice I've ever seen. (No offense, Ken!)

LouOCNY said...

A great collection of the magazine writings of the one, the only, Groucho!

Also, in case you have never read it, Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR. It almost reads like fiction now, but it is hysterically funny in some places ("Yeah....surrrre"), and gives one a great perspective of what it was like for the scrubeenies in the game back in the late 60's

One hshould also try and find a certain book by some wacky TV writer who decided he wanted to be a baseball announcer someday....

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'd add ACT ONE, by Moss Hart, which recounts his formation as a comedy writer through being a summer camp entertainment director to years of collaborating with George S. Kaufman trying to get ONCE IN A LIFETIME exactly right. There's a lot of great value in it about throwing out material you've worked hard on when it doesn't work and the process of coming up with new approaches.


Roger R. said...

ACT ONE for sure.
THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur

craig m said...

"And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft" by Mike Sacks

Tallulah Morehead said...

Thank you, darling. Lovely to be included. And little Dougie (Who did NOT write My Lush Life, all he did was take down MY dictation. You've credited a stenographer as an author!) tells me that he's even OK with his name being misspelt since it's been positioned as the meat in a Steve Martin/Tina Fey Sandwich, and he says he's totally up for that! Oh, and that Steve Martin book is really excellent.)

Pat Hobby, when you said it was a "weak" list, I'm sure you merely forgot to add "Except for Miss Morehead's work of genius." You can't really expect Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Andy Goldberg or Woody Allen to rise to my level.

Little Dougie chimes in to say he fully agrees with Pat Reeder's inclusion of Walter Kerr's The Silent Clowns. It's one of Dougie's favorite books on film and comedy, and his well-thumbed first edition never goes unconsulted for long. Kerr's book Tragedy And Comedy is also about the best book on Comic Theory he's ever read.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I can second Kerr's books. They're excellent.


Tallulah Morehead said...

Oh dear. Little Dougie tells me that this means I am now in a "Syllabus." I'm sorry. I don't mean to be "difficult" when just appearing on a reading list; you'll notice I didn't even mention the total lack of a craft services table and wet bar appearing backstage here at the Reading List, even though I'm parched!; I'm dryer than Mormon Pornography; but I must object to being in a syllabus. I am a STAR! I only ride in a syllalimo.

Also I never work before 10 AM or after 4 PM, and no eye contact from anyone billed lower than fourth, please. Cheers, darlings!

Greg Ehrbar said...

I've always enjoyed the original "Cheaper by the Dozen" and its sequel, "Belles on Their Toes." They're not yock-fests, but all of the humor is character driven and based on real people. The movies were fine, but did not do the books justice.

Speaking of Shulman, his Dobie Gillis stories are very amusing and even more sly than the TV series.

chuckcd said...

I agree with the Woody Allen books.
They are great.

Johnny Walker said...

Ugh. I didn't mean my "would have thought that was a fundamental" to sound patronizing. I meant that you could learn a fundamental thing about comedy from your memoir. Sorry!

Dale said...

Hello 15 seconds.
I don't think it is fair to demand credits. Opinions are free.

Personally it looks pretty lame to me. No Oscar Wilde?

But I am not teaching the course and do not know the students or the expected outcome. Nor the target audience.

I am a musician who found himself teaching Gangnam style not so long ago. :-)

Tallulah Morehead said...

Thank you, Dale. I couldn't agree more. what a lame list, except for my book of course, as you forgot to say in your comment. "Pretty lame list except for My Lush Life; Who the hell thinks Steve Martin, Tina Fey and Woody Allen are funny writers?" is, I'm certain, what you meant to write.

As for Oscar Wilde, he may have been my first husband. It was so very long ago, it's hard to remember which closeted homosexual was my first husband, or my second, or my fifth, sixth, and 9th husbands. In any event, Oscar just grabbed a quill and scribbled my pillow talk all down, and released it as an original work. Our bed-sheets most-common stains were absenth and ink. Lady Windemere's Fan? The original title was Miss Tallulah Morehead's Fans. The Picture of Dorian Gray? Originally based on my many pictures and the way I never seem to age. The Importence of Being Earnest? Originally titled The Importence of Being Tallulah Morehead. Neither Algernon Moncrief nor Lady Bracknell speaks a word in that play that I didn't say first. Everyone knows that when Oscar wrote the line: "Divorces are made in Heaven," he was referring to divorcing me, an attitude shared by all of the husbands I divorced. (I have been widowed a few times also, but never intentionally.)

Cheers, darling.