22 of the Funniest Novels Since Catch-22 (according to the NY Times)

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Seems like a good excuse for a poll. Here's how the article starts:

When it comes to fiction, humor is serious business. If tragedy appeals to the emotions, wit appeals to the mind. "You have to know where the funny is," the writer Sheila Heti says, "and if you know where the funny is, you know everything." Humor is a bulwark against complacency and conformity, mediocrity and predictability.

With all this in mind, we've put together a list of 22 of the funniest novels written in English since Joseph Heller’s "Catch-22" (1961).

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/14/books/funny-novels-humor.html

Poll Results

OptionVotes
The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker (1988) 3
The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (2015) 2
I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett (2009) 2
Money: A Suicide Note, by Martin Amis (1984) 2
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018) 2
Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth (1969) 2
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend (1982) 1
Lightning Rods, by Helen DeWitt (2011) 1
American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis (1991) 1
A Far Cry From Kensington, by Muriel Spark (1988) 1
Oreo, by Fran Ross (1974) 1
Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin (1978) 1
Heartburn, by Nora Ephron (1983) 1
Private Citizens, by Tony Tulathimutte (2016) 0
Pym, by Mat Johnson (2011) 0
The Wig, by Charles Wright (1966) 0
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz (2007) 0
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris (2007) 0
The Quick and the Dead, by Joy Williams (2000) 0
Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding (1996) 0
Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls (1982) 0
Lake of Urine: A Love Story, by Guillermo Stitch (2020) 0


o. nate, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:12 (two months ago) link

Not detecting any Magnus Mills in that list.

Really need to read Lightning Rods. The Last Samurai is many things, and one of those things is hilariously funny at times

imago, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:14 (two months ago) link

Where's Charles Portis? Why is every book list terrible?

Chris L, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:14 (two months ago) link

Also, I recently read Angela Carter's Wise Children, which is amazing, and hilarious, and this list is incredibly American isn't it

imago, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:15 (two months ago) link

I've only read three of them. Portnoy's Complaint seemed funny when I read it, but that was a long time ago. My Year of Rest and Relaxation was pretty good but not what I would consider laugh-out-loud funny. So I guess that leaves The Sellout as my vote.

o. nate, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:15 (two months ago) link

that laff riot Oscar Wao

poppers fueled buttsex crescendo (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:15 (two months ago) link

where is A Little Life? A joek on every page.

poppers fueled buttsex crescendo (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:15 (two months ago) link

Mrs. Caliban also just depressing.

Chris L, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:16 (two months ago) link

Chris L is otm x2

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:17 (two months ago) link

tales of the city is funny but some of the later ones are funnier

(ok i just looked this up bcz i couldn't remember all the other titles and discovered ppl also say "tales of the city" to mean the entire run, which gets them off the later-funnier hook but puts them on another hook imo)

mark s, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:24 (two months ago) link

There's funny, and then there's literary novel "funny"

longtime caller, first time listener (man alive), Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:30 (two months ago) link

For "Tales of the City", they said they are counting the first three novels in the series:

You can dip into these warm, accessible, heavily peopled and sweet-and-sour novels almost anywhere, but for the purposes of this list we're going to stick with the first three, which have been collected under the title "28 Barbary Lane."

o. nate, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:34 (two months ago) link

I'm going for Adrian Mole because I am a provincial middlebrow lower-middle-class gen x Englisher and that is my soul food, but I would have liked the chance to vote for Second From Last In The Sack Race or a Flashman novel or just something a bit less wry and NYT-friendly.

This is Dance Anthems, have some respect (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:45 (two months ago) link

The "Read this if you like" hints are particularly cute. E.g. "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" is recommended for fans of:

"Chaise Longue" by Wet Leg, Trazodone, Fran Lebowitz, clean sheets, Aubrey Plaza

o. nate, Thursday, 14 March 2024 18:53 (two months ago) link

Some post-1961 books that deliver solid belly laughs, not just wry half-grins:

Miranda July - The First Bad Man
John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
Sam Selvon - The Housing Lark
Iris Owens - After Claude
Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Mark Leyner - Et Tu, Babe and My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist
Elif Batuman - The Idiot and Either/Or
Douglas Adams - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy

o. nate, Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:30 (two months ago) link

wtf like someone else said where is Charles Portis

a (waterface), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:35 (two months ago) link

saw this list this morning and my response was that it's such a narrow concept of "funny" - it's all either very dark humor or cutting satire or somewhere in between. feels like it was written by one person based on their very specific tastes, though it appears to have multiple authors. bridget jones' diary is an amusing outlier

na (NA), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:39 (two months ago) link

ffs

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:39 (two months ago) link

wtf like someone else said where is Charles Portis

^this

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:40 (two months ago) link

a very funny novel that i never see mentioned anywhere is treasure island!!! by sara levine

na (NA), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:41 (two months ago) link

Delivering out loud belly laughs via written prose is one of the rarest talents.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:42 (two months ago) link

How can you not mention Patricia Lockwood, who is actually funny? 'Pym' is ok, it's satirical and I may have had a mental "heh" at some points, but I certainly did not laugh.

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:43 (two months ago) link

Also agree that Charles Portis is the big miss from this list.

Also:
Donald E Westlake
Carl Hiaasen
Terry Southern

The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer
Modern Baptists by James Wilcox
Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Vineland by Thomas Pynchon

Much prefer Something Happened to Catch 22, tho it's prob not as funny.

At least there's no fucking Pratchett, that's something.

Ward Fowler, Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:49 (two months ago) link

Lol

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:50 (two months ago) link

they definitely seem to be avoiding genre fiction unless it's a literary fiction author dipping their toes into a genre exercise

i love muriel spark, joy williams, and helen dewitt. they certainly all have humor in their writing but it's never the point of their writing. "lightning rods" is probably the closest to "funny" of the books i've read on this list but it's also very fucked-up.

na (NA), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:58 (two months ago) link

Can’t remember if I’ve read Bill, the Galactic Hero, perhaps I should investigate.

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 20:13 (two months ago) link

I read some others of his, kind of liked the one about the Atlantic Chunnel which has different names on the different sides.

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 20:16 (two months ago) link

If it’s even half as amusing as What Mad Universe I’m in.

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 14 March 2024 20:17 (two months ago) link

Also Patrick DeWitt's books, those always get some good laughs from me.

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Friday, 15 March 2024 04:31 (two months ago) link

haven't read that particular percival everett, and it may be problematic for me personally to find his writing humorous, but also he is both funny as shit and occasionally oscar-winning

mookieproof, Friday, 15 March 2024 05:23 (two months ago) link

Julian Barnes’s Talking It Over would be my nomination.

Keillor would be pissed or sad not to be on this list.

paisley got boring (Eazy), Friday, 15 March 2024 06:20 (two months ago) link

I love Catch 22, and I've only read three of the ones on this list but i suspect most of them don't hold a candle to it. But it's made me realise that funny novels are pretty lacking in my reading practise, I maybe manage one a year.

Tibor Fischer, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Patricia Lockwood seconded (though TF is now a Viktor Orban loving prick). I'd add O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker and The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem. That's pretty much it!

gene besserit (ledge), Friday, 15 March 2024 09:10 (two months ago) link

Spark's A Far Cry From Kensington because the phrase 'pisseur de copie' now forever floats around in my head.

cajunsunday, Friday, 15 March 2024 09:56 (two months ago) link

Fran Ross was a joke writer for Richard Pryor and that novel is crammed with lols

cozen itt (wins), Friday, 15 March 2024 10:04 (two months ago) link

Didn't know that about Fischer, depressing.

Re: Bill, the Galactic Hero - my copy has blurbs from The Irish Times ("The Catch-22 of SF") and Pratchett ("Simply THE funniest science fiction book ever written", like he would know).

Never heard of Fran Ross before, thanks for the rec.

Ward Fowler, Friday, 15 March 2024 10:13 (two months ago) link

Spark's written funnier than A Far Cry from Kensington; Joy Williams' short stories are haha-funnier than her novels. Etc.

poppers fueled buttsex crescendo (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 15 March 2024 10:17 (two months ago) link

a very funny novel that i never see mentioned anywhere is treasure island!!! by sara levine

― na (NA), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:41 (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

I was coming to say this. Possibly the funniest novel i've ever read.

a hoy hoy, Friday, 15 March 2024 10:17 (two months ago) link

Both The Idiot and Either/Or by Elif Batuman had a decent number of belly laughs.

enochroot, Friday, 15 March 2024 12:11 (two months ago) link

This seems to be a good list of good books, but a shitty list of funny books? Seems like it's been assembled for the kind of people who laughed at every joke in a Woody Allen movie.

I'm reading and enjoying A Far Cry... but it doesn't seem especially funny ha ha.

I voted for Heartburn, which has many, many good jokes that are funny as opposed to smirky/amusing. Otherwise I'd vote for At Freddie's which has a lot of great one-liners.

As a teenager I thought Tim Sandlin's Grovont novels were pretty funny but I'm gonna guess they don't hold up that well.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 15 March 2024 12:16 (two months ago) link

Has Tom Robbins fallen out of favour? It’s been a long time since I read his books but I always thought he was extremely funny

braaam.flac (flamboyant goon tie included), Friday, 15 March 2024 13:07 (two months ago) link

There are some extremely depressing novels here (Mossfegh) that I’ve also found very funny so I like that about this list

braaam.flac (flamboyant goon tie included), Friday, 15 March 2024 13:10 (two months ago) link

i don't think i've read any percival everett but his profile in the new yorker this week is pretty funny

na (NA), Friday, 15 March 2024 13:16 (two months ago) link

not mad at the list because i think i share the authors’ sense of humor and like the books on here that I’ve read, but something by sam lipsyte should be on here imo

flopson, Friday, 15 March 2024 13:37 (two months ago) link

Bizarre list, the ones of these I've read I don't think of as "funny" at all. Batuman, Confederacy of Dunces, esp. Mark Leyner mentioned above much better choices. If we were really going to do dark/wry/funny, fuck it, I'd put The Bell Jar and A Fan's Notes on this list instead of what's there.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Friday, 15 March 2024 15:52 (two months ago) link

Don't know if they're top 22 but Carl Hiaasen has some funny novels...

m0stly clean (Slowsquatch), Friday, 15 March 2024 15:57 (two months ago) link

This is a good 'subjective nature of humour' thread because I would say Confederacy of Dunces is one of the funnier novels on the list.

Ward Fowler, Friday, 15 March 2024 15:59 (two months ago) link

i am not sidney poitier was genuinely very funny, voted for that one

the defenestration of prog (voodoo chili), Friday, 15 March 2024 16:00 (two months ago) link

i guess what irks me about the nyt is that they _are_ working within a certain niche, a genre. i like lit fic, but there's this idea that lit fic is somehow a superior form of fiction. the whole "great american novel" thing. i wouldn't claim that "hitchhiker's guide" douglas adams is one of the funniest novels of the late 20th century - the man wasn't even a novelist. at the same time i wouldn't claim it was one of the funniest _science fiction_ novels of the late 20th century...

i guess if anything i'd say lit fic has a sort of "unmarked" status. i don't like it when things are given an unmarked status.

Kate (rushomancy), Friday, 15 March 2024 16:11 (two months ago) link

a very funny novel that i never see mentioned anywhere is treasure island!!! by sara levine

― na (NA), Thursday, 14 March 2024 19:41 (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

I was coming to say this. Possibly the funniest novel i've ever read.

Grabbed this from the library, thanks for the rec!

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Friday, 15 March 2024 16:12 (two months ago) link

Other lit fic that I found very funny at times - Joshua Cohen's 'The Netanyahus', Adam Levin's 'The Instructions' (I know that one is divisive and it's been awhile, but I enjoyed it quite a bit at the time).

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Friday, 15 March 2024 16:15 (two months ago) link

Charles Willeford books make me laugh pretty hard, with the unpublished Grimhaven being the funniest, most fucked up attempt at career sabotage I've ever read.

Judi Dench's Human Hand (methanietanner), Friday, 15 March 2024 16:20 (two months ago) link

Thank you o nate, for mentioning Mark Leyner. My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist and Tetherballs of Bougainville were favorites when I was younger.

peace, man, Friday, 15 March 2024 16:21 (two months ago) link

Treasure Island!!! seems awesome, thanks for the rec. ILB comes through again.

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 15 March 2024 19:52 (two months ago) link

i loved my cousin, my gastroenterologist on first read but every time i've thought abt picking it up again i find i'm thinking "why do i need to, i know how it works"

maybe i shd try again, it must be 30 years lol

mark s, Friday, 15 March 2024 20:06 (two months ago) link

Actually, I never read it again either! Never occurred to me to! But I did read The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack and that book is just as weird and glorious as the title makes it sound.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Saturday, 16 March 2024 02:06 (two months ago) link

Can I throw an iron into the fire by suggesting this list is lacking both Tom Sharpe and James Herriot

shave and a haircut, two brits (Matt #2), Saturday, 16 March 2024 02:45 (two months ago) link

i think Stanley Elkin might be my fave funny serious writer. The Magic Kingdom is a very funny book about terminally ill children going to Disney World. its amazing. but all his books are so funny. Peter Devries might be second on my list. and then maybe Bruce Jay Friedman. i dunno. there are lots of funny writers out there. Harry Crews used to make me laugh. and Barry Hannah. Lydia Davis can give them all a run for their money though.

scott seward, Saturday, 16 March 2024 03:15 (two months ago) link

Mark Leyner was so funny at his best! just saw him mentioned above. I loved the t.v. comedy writer Jack Douglas when I was a kid. The Neighbors Are Scaring My Wolf is a very influential book to me. Nobody reads him anymore though. and all his books are out of print. there are lots of people like that. funny people lost to the sands of time.

scott seward, Saturday, 16 March 2024 03:19 (two months ago) link

did they do the 1961 thing for that list so that the whole list wasn't Wodehouse? because he is still so very funny. i would swap out one of those on the list for one of the early funny lorrie moore books. they were so funny! i don't know if martin amis has ever made me laugh. i think david lodge has.

scott seward, Saturday, 16 March 2024 03:23 (two months ago) link

I think it's specifically meant as a list of books that are "funny" in a "RIYL Catch-22" sort of way. Unclear why that particular book is the benchmark.

Here, you will not find books stuffed with jokes. For the most part, our picks will not induce knee slapping. (“Any man who will not resist a pun will not lie up-pun me,” the great Eve Babitz wrote.) The humor these authors embrace traverses the gamut, from sardonic to screwball, mordant to madcap, droll to deranged. Writing in Heller’s shadow, but in an idiom all their own, these novelists apply his satirical tool kit — along with their own screwdrivers and shivs — to whole other categories of human experience, from race and gender to dating, aging, office cubicles and book publishing itself.

jmm, Saturday, 16 March 2024 13:53 (two months ago) link

Don't need a consensus, but would be cool to see ILBer's personal top fives...

m0stly clean (Slowsquatch), Saturday, 16 March 2024 14:51 (two months ago) link

Think I wrote somewhere that much of my favourite literature/films/TV/music could be described as "wildly ambitious supposed works of comedy which I don't find funny at all but which create worlds to explore" - don't know if there's a word for this, but it seems to be the key to getting into new things for me.

This is Dance Anthems, have some respect (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Saturday, 16 March 2024 15:21 (two months ago) link

I once recommended Mark Leyner to a friend, back in like 1996. He hasn't trusted me since.
Every time i try to recommend any book to him, his standard response is "this isn't another 'corn dog' book, is it?"

enochroot, Saturday, 16 March 2024 15:43 (two months ago) link

the back end of antkind by charlie kaufman is insane, like i dont know what im reading (& ive read it twice) but notwithstanding that it is an incredibly funny book

johnny crunch, Saturday, 16 March 2024 18:05 (two months ago) link

i've never read Catch-22. i must have been absent from class that month. i've never read Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death either.

it wasn't until i actually found an early copy of Slaughterhouse-Five that i discovered that it came out in 1969! for some reason i thought it came out in the 50s.

scott seward, Saturday, 16 March 2024 20:00 (two months ago) link

I did read half of Something Happened once. Always meant to go back to it. That book is crazy. In a good way, I think.

scott seward, Saturday, 16 March 2024 20:02 (two months ago) link

I haven't read most of these, but I gotta say that The Sellout is one of the funniest books I have ever read.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Saturday, 16 March 2024 20:05 (two months ago) link

one literary funny book i like is Comemadre by Roque Larraquy.

it is about a machine that cuts peoples' heads off.

adam t. (abanana), Saturday, 16 March 2024 20:41 (two months ago) link

"Simply THE funniest science fiction book ever written"

John Sladek is forgotten, I guess, but The Reproductive System is really funny.

alimosina, Saturday, 16 March 2024 23:31 (two months ago) link

Not forgotten by me, although I haven’t read that one yet.

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 16 March 2024 23:38 (two months ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Wednesday, 20 March 2024 00:01 (one month ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Thursday, 21 March 2024 00:01 (one month ago) link

Grebt turnout!

Don’t Want to Say Goodbye Jumbo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 March 2024 00:07 (one month ago) link

Huh, I've read a couple of Baker's novels but not that one. Guess I should give it a shot.

o. nate, Friday, 22 March 2024 19:16 (one month ago) link

I'm definitely going with the first Alan Partridge novel, I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan. Maybe the humour's too British for American audiences, but it had me laughing like a lunatic for hundreds of pages. I don't suppose I'd find many of the books in the NYT list very funny at all.

And what about Thomas Bernhard? Or Michel Houellebecq?

gravalicious, Sunday, 24 March 2024 11:27 (one month ago) link

Ah, it says the funniest novels in English. So that rules out Thomas Bernhard and Houellebecq.

gravalicious, Sunday, 24 March 2024 11:29 (one month ago) link


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