It’s the time of year when the shelves in the ‘humour’ section of every bookstore groan under the weight of new titles. Apt, really, as groan is what most recipients of these one-joke ideas, shamelessly exploitative tie-ins, and collections of purloined gags will do before consigning the ill-advised purchase to the bin.
Currently among Amazon’s bestsellers are such unedifying titles as Shag Yourself Slim, The Little Book Of Wanking and The Cat IQ test. Caxton must be so proud.
But here’s five festive stocking-stuffers that are actually rather good…
Harry Hill’s TV Burp Book
OK, so it’s a heavily promoted ITV tie-in with a gaudy cover, but like the show itself, this is an undeniably entertaining gem of oddball fun floating in a sea of undistinguished potboilers.
Presented like a kids’ annual to appeal to the family audience Hill has unexpectedly found for himself, this follows his winning formula of affectionately ribbing the nation’s vast TV output with a mixture of inspired surrealism and well-observed sarcasm.
It packs a fair bit into its 96 glossy pages: a silly Coronation Street photo-story, Alan Sugar’s get-rich-quick schemes, Bear Grylls explaining how to forage out an existence in a 5-star hotel – as well as new outlets for running jokes such as ‘Fight!’ and The Knitted Character.
The list of TV shows to watch out for in 2010 contains ideas so mad that even Alan Partridge would be embarrassed to pitch them (Kim and Aggie present How Murdered Is Your Wife); horse pundit Pony Tarsons daftly debunks broadcasting myths; while the spoof Amazulu.co.uk page parodies the vacuous celebrity publishing craze that the TV Burp book so successfully dodges.
In fact, you almost don’t miss the clips that Hill so skilfully undermines in the broadcast. Almost.
Harry Hill’s TV Burp Book is published by Ebury Press, priced £12.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £6.49
Tiny Acts Of Rebellion, by Rich Fulcher
If anyone could make Hill look sane, it’s twisted Mighty Boosh star Rich Fulcher. You might think his full-on almost sociopathic weirdness might be too intense to sustain a book, but Tiny Acts Of Rebellion offers the perfect mix of subversion and silliness, all infused with his genuinely unique voice.
Ideal for dipping in and out of, the book offers 97 ways in which you can stick it to the man, graded on a scale of rebellion from one finger (‘delightfully disobedient’) to four fingers (‘shit, are you really sure you want to do that?’) Artfully stealing a pen is thus rated a one, while walking out of your job scores a four. You can even tick them off as you go along, to help progress up the rebellious scale. It’s like Scientology for the socially awkward.
Most acts aren’t entirely random, being conceived from the Chicago-born comedian’s hatred of at minor irritations, annoying people, or humanity in general, so each defiance becomes a payoff to some peculiar rant, usually with an element of poetic justice. Through such twisted logic, he makes a convincing argument that being anti-social is actually for the greater good. And if you think that sounds plausible, fire the first salvo in your personal revolution by buying a copy of this book.
Tiny Acts Of Rebellion is published by Michael O'Mara Books, priced £10. Click here to buy from Amazon at £5.58
Instructions, Guidelines, Tuteledge, Suggestions, Other Suggestions, and Examples Etc, by Tim Key
Rivalling Fulcher for making his individual voice leap of the pages of the book comes current Edinburgh Comedy Award holder Tim Key, with his latest collection of digressive ramblings.
It’s bizarre and meaningless, written in a fragmented style replicating an easily distracted train of thought, apparently unpolished by editing. Each section is more like a jumble of notes and asides – I suspect the typesetter has never used so many parentheses – on a mass of unconnected topics.
He lists such things as ‘a collection of events which would sell out a stadium (eg Goodison Park) if anyone had the visions/contacts to make them happen’, ‘a possible new letter’, ‘things you might want to say about fireworks if the conversaion (at a dinner party; at the end of a job interview when it’s gone all relaxed; after/before/during sex; on Question Time) has somehow worked it’s way round to being about fireworks’.
Key’s normally called a poet, but this is more like witty postmodern art. One double-page spread simply contains the bold type: ‘Shove Em Up Their Fat Arses!’ and, in normal print: ‘What Louis and Sam can do with their cinema tickets’. Another page contains a photograph of a photograph… but from the back.
There’s a lot of charm to this anthology of strange and delicate delights, even if it’s off-the-wall nature may baffle a lot of readers, but if you’re open to something a little different – well, you can’t get much different than this.
Instructions… etc is published by The Invisible Dot Ltd, priced £10.95. Click here to buy from Amazon at £8.76
Chic Murray’s Funnyosities
This is one of many pocket-sized joke books out at this time of year, but has the distinction of coming from one of the most fertile minds comedy has seen.
Even though the brilliant Scottish stand-up died almost 25 years ago, most of the one-liners in this often hilarious compilation still pass muster today. Indeed, there are still – to their shame – comedians who are doing jokes like ‘She’s a classy girl... all her tattoos are spelt’ on the circuit now.
A few others are so generic that they’ve passed into common currency to such an extente that you may wonder if they were genuine Murray gags at all. But twisted logic, so succinctly expressed time and time again, mark many of the jokes as both his own, and timeless classics.
Alongside the one-liners that comprise most of this book come a couple of gag-heavy shaggy dog stories of the type that characterised his set. Few recordings of his work survive today, so such a collection – though marketed at the casual punter wanting a few jokes for the pub – is an excellent way of keeping his memory alive.
Chic Murray’s Funnyosities is published by Birlinn, priced £6.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £4.89
Why Steve Was Late: 101 Exceptional Excuses For Terrible Timekeeping by Dave Skinner and Henry Paker
If joke books are ubiquitous, cartoon compilations aren’t far behind. Mind you, there aren’t that may that come with an encouraging quote from Michael McIntyre on the front and Al Murray and Jo Brand on the back.
Why Steve Was Late was devised by stand-ups Dave Skinner and Henry Paker, and comprises (mostly) single-frame illustrations of the excuses a balding middle-age wage slave has for his tardiness.
Even gags that might seem obvious – ‘abducted by aliens’, for instance – are given an unexpected twist in the illustrations, while others are inventive and hilarious in their own right, such as the ‘got lost at a Where’s Wally convention’.
There’s a through line of running jokes that makes the best of the creators’ offbeat wit, and the tardy Steve has a hapless charm like all the best strip cartoon characters. Like any such book, it can be entirely digested over the course of a coffee break, but there are plenty of chuckles to be had in its pages.
Why Steve Was Late is published by Atlantic Books, priced £3.98. Click here to buy from Amazon at £.00
Reviews by: Steve Bennett