Claire: In the summer of 2001 my family visited North America. We saw relatives in Connecticut (which tickled me; I kept an eye out for signage toward Stonybrooke), went to Boston (Heinz’ beans are better), New York (very tall), Martha’s Vineyard (horseshoe crabs? AWFUL), and up on some kind of hell train to Niagara Falls.
I was fourteen, and that’s a lot of travelling, so my parents bought me books. I first read The Princess Diaries on that trip, which was a love story that lasted, but more relevant to this conversation I also found myself holding Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. You know when a book is so good you can’t stop reading it even though you’re walking down a busy street, or are on public transport and will get sick if you don’t look out of the window, but you just can’t bring yourself to leave this compelling, infectious world? My priorities were somewhat shortsighted — I was in dat country from the TV shows for this one short period of my life, should I not pay attention to my actual experiences? Yes–but I’ll forgive me. I’ve always been weak to books.
Angus Thongs, as we tend to shorten it, is a funny-ass book. I cried on a New York bus on the way to see the Statue of Liberty, and it was not because of #freedom. It was because Georgia Nicholson went to a party dressed up as a stuffed olive. Oh, my word, I laughed. It felt amazing. My amusement was so pure! It was a new way of being alive.
The next year I was on a school trip to Holland and took Georgia with me. My boyfriend of the time, I suppose, called me for some reason, and this happened while I was reading it. Once again: “She weh. She- She wehehe. She went to a PARTYYYYY dr!! She [krang voice] WENT TO A PARTY dressed as a stuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh”
The boy was like “Right… Uhuh.” He did not get it. He was not a good boyfriend for me.
Al Rosenberg: I don’t laugh that much. In fact I do this thing that I would find incredibly annoying if others did in front of me, but I cannot seem to break myself of it: instead of laughing like a normal human, I say “that’s funny.” Sometimes even, “that’s really funny.” (If I type ‘lol’ to you, I’m almost definitely lying. I am absolute garbage.)
A few years ago I read my first A. Lee Martinez book, A Nameless Witch, and was neither drunk nor nervous, but could not stop laughing. Martinez writes humor-fantasy, and it is good. A young witch, whom, you might have guessed, is nameless, journeys with her talking, demon-possessed duck to fight evil and find herself and make me laugh until I almost pee myself.
Romona Williams: Al, I get where you are coming from. I actually laugh a lot, but if I don’t think something is funny, I’ll smile great big and say “that is funny.” If I’m not actively laughing but am actively convincing people something was hilarious, it was not funny. What can I say. I’m a people-pleaser.
But I have read several books that made me laugh for real, and I wasn’t humoring them at all. The first that comes to mind is Megahex. This is a book that grapples with depression, addiction, toxic friendships, and plenty of other serious matters. But the contrast between the no-nonsense topics makes the jokes that much better. I was in tears when Megg and Mogg gave Owl the joint rolled with basil. When it zeroed in on Megg’s smirk — perfection. Comedic genius.
I think what makes the punchlines hit so hard is how real it is. Completely relatable. I’ve never tricked someone with a basil joint, and as far as I know, no one has ever done it to me. But I do remember a friend telling me a story about some guy selling everyone catnip and telling them it was pot, and some people said it was “really good shit.” I don’t care who you are, that is funny. Funny as in it makes you laugh in the moment, without overthinking the situation.
Another good one is Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes. My favorite parts were her reactions to movies, and this:
Christa: I’m sure there are plenty of books that made me laugh out loud as a child but the first distinct memory of not being able to stop myself from laughing in public was when I read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. The bizarre and unexpected things that had happened to him and the humorous way he spoke about them was like nothing I had ever read before. He talked about dark or taboo subjects in a frank and honest way, while still managing to put a comedic spin on it. I just couldn’t help but chuckle along. To this day it is one of my all time favourite books.
Then along came Jenny Lawson and Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. My “chuckles” while reading Running With Scissors seemed like nothing when I started reading this truly wacky memoir. It made me howl with laughter…on the subway in Toronto…during rush hour. Needless to say there were a few raised eyebrows and confused stares pointed my way.
I can think of quite a few novels that I found genuinely funny, but it’s almost exclusively been memoirs that have left me unable to control my laughter. Probably because I know there’s a real person attached to those stories, making it even easier to imagine it happening in the real world.