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I Gotta Funny Feeling: Writers That Make Us Laugh

What came first- the written word or the pun?

Jasper Fforde, Bill Bryson, Sloane Crosley, and other writers we turn to when we want a laugh!

Thursday Next

Do you know the one about..

…. A funny writer? A well written turn of phrase can make you laugh like nothing else.  And writers have so many tools at their disposal- the pun, the exaggeration, the art of allusion, and the satisfaction of a well deserved put-down. From the quietly observed snark of Jane Austen (“it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”), to the bawdy front-bencher humour of Shakespeare, to- of course- the oft quoted witticisms of Oscar Wilde- nothing brightens a day as much as the work of a truly funny writer.

Making a list of the ones we love is near impossible- but that’s what we do at My Big Red Bag here, so here are some of our favourite living humorists- who we turn to when sad, unhappy or just in need of a belly laugh.*

A woman walks into a bar…

Anyone who holds the surprisingly popular opinion that women are not as funny as men has clearly not met the MBRB girls (“ahem”); or read the story-essays of Sloane Crosley. Her sharply observed pieces speak to our generation with a specificity that is uncanny. Its like she has my parents, my concerns, my voice (if I was about fifty times a better writer) and my fear of growing up. She also has the kind of insane quotability that keeps you returning to your well-thumbed copy of “I Was Told There Will Be Cake”, for a funny put down every time life throws a shoe at you!

Because, ten-year-olds of the world, you shouldn’t believe what your teachers tell you about the beauty and specialness and uniqueness of you. Or, believe it, little snowflake, but know it won’t make a bit of difference until after puberty. It’s Newton’s lost law: anything that makes you unique later will get your chocolate milk stolen and your eye blackened as a kid. Won’t it, Sebastian? Oh, yes, it will, my little Mandarin Chinese-learning, Poe-reciting, high-top-wearing friend. God bless you, wherever you are.”

Cigarettes smoked: 5, Weight gained: 3 lbs. Vodka shots- Aww who gives a F!

Let’s hear it for Helen Fielding – for giving us imperfect women hope! Her Bridget Jones series is just the shot of courage we need before downing that extra vodka shot or eating that extra cupcake. We’ve said it elsewhere in the pages, and will say it here again- to us, the Bridget Jones series is about her and her gaggle of friends. The romantic entanglements are entirely dispensable except as a representation of her desires. Fielding’s pen has created a character who makes us laugh in equal parts mortification and recognition. And we root for her happiness with all our heart more than we do for any other fictional being. Keep smiling,Bridget!

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.”

What do you get when you cross a PhD with the Class Clown?

Most people know John Hodgman as the face of the PC in those pesky MacBook vs PC ads that were all the vogue about 5 years ago. Truth be told- if any one is a real life embodiment of a “Macbook”, its probably John Hodgman. He is a true renaissance man, who pops up often as a Daily Show correspondent, as a sidekick in unexpected movies (hey, everyone needs the money); and is the writer of three hilarious books with bombastic titles such as “The Areas of My Expertise”, and “More Information Than You Require“. Remember the Children’s Encyclopedia or Manorama Year Books your devoured as a kid? Now imagine then written with absolutely nonsensical facts instead of carefully researched statistics. That’s the kind of work that Hodgman does, and there is no one else like him in the entire publishing world.

“A stopped clock is correct twice a day, but a sundial can be used to stab someone, even at nighttime.”

What came first- The Dominican Republic or New Jersey?

There is something special about that last loud guffaw before a big ugly cry. And Junot Diaz recognises this better than anyone else. His two books of short stories and his large-hearted novel- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – are hilariously observed tragedies. Before you’re devastated by the denouement, you laugh with him as his narrator Yunior flits between nerd-imagery, Spanish curse-words, tales of his horn-dog libido and the history of the Dominican Republic, in a sharply observed patois from the streets of New Jersey.

“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”

Why did the Time Detective cross the road?

Jasper Fforde did it once, with his amazingly inventive and hilarious Thursday Next series, and then again with his surprisingly gut wrenching Shades of Grey (no relation to you-know-what) stand-alone novel . If word puns and clever allusions with a dash of cheek are your thing, you will love every single one of his books. Thursday Next is a funny, competent, slovenly, idiosyncratic and downright brilliant woman- a character type rarer than it should be. And the books are populated with so many lovably sketched sidekicks (and are such a delightful game of “spot-that-literary-reference”) that every next edition is met with excitement by his legions of dedicated fans. Our favourite part of his books? His encyclopaedic website, which can leave you drowned in the minutae of hie work for weeks!

“He spent his life immersed in books to the cost of everything else, even personal relationships. “Friends,” he’d once said, “are probably great, but I have forty thousands friends of my own already, and each of them needs my attention.”

What’s That Thing They Say About a Spoonful of Sugar?

Of all the writers in this list, Bill Bryson has the unique gift of making dry-as-sandpaper subjects (like the history of science), down right entertaining and full of whimsy. He is clearly a British writer in an American’s mortal body, and his crisp travelogues and treatises about the English language betray such a deep love for the planet (and its crazy inhabitants), that -come Diwali- we want him as the uncle who comes to our house bearing his gift of laughter and bonhomie!

Everyone has a favourite Bill Bryson, but we have to express a special fondness for Notes from Down Under (maybe because it was our first Bryson?)- our go-to book in times of despair.

“It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. …It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players-more if they are moderately restless.”

*Yes, dear reader, we know that Terry Pratchett belongs in this list as much as anyone else. But we have been relying on him to complete our lists too often in the past weeks, and hence decided to give him a break for today. Our love for him remains undiminished. 

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