Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The 50 Funniest American Writers (According to Sage), Part 1

Sage as a monkey in Thailand
I’ve been a fan of Andy Borowitz for a while.  His humorous news reports arrive on my phone by email, often providing a nice chuckle to lighten up the day.  Recently Borowitz published a new anthology of America humor: The 50 Funniest American Writers* (*According to Andy Borowitz).  I started looking at the list and realize that I agree with many of Borowitz’s selections, but not all of them.  I also thought there were a few that he left out so I decided to create my own anthology of humor.  After all, I know what’s funny.  Just about every time I visit my grandmother, now in her mid-90s, she recalls those summer evenings when I was a kid and would stay at her house and get into my uncle's old Archie comic books and Mad Magazines.  If there are others around, like my daughter, she’ll tell them how I would lay on the couch reading and laughing so hard that tears would run down my eyes.  I’ve always enjoyed funny stuff.  So, here is the first half of what could be a bestseller, The Fifty Funniest American Writers (According to Sage).  Since I don’t have the “funny man” credentials of Borowitz, I’ve given an insight into why I chose each author. 

1.        Mark Twain, “Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral” in Roughing It and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date)”.  Mark Twain is so good that he needs at least two entries!

2.      Guy Owen, The Ballard of the Flim-Flam Man Good Ole Boy stories about a kid running around  and getting in trouble with a con artist in the part of the world where I sprouted roots.

3.      Robert Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee, I didn’t want the poets to feel left out…  Now close that door, I’m feeling a draft.

4.      Patrick McManus, The Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? Everything I read by McManus is funny, even though I think he stole the title from me (A story that I thought I told, but can't seem to find so...  I'll have to tell it soon).. 

5.      Mike Royko (a column he wrote in late 1993 about Provo, UT being named as America’s most livable city),  Royko was a classic witty newspaper columnist.  R.I.P.

6.       P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell  I felt the need to include at least one Right-winged conservative.  I might have included some others like Rush, but they really believe what they are saying and people take them seriously, which makes them very scary.

7.      Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?  At least she gave us something to laugh about as we begin the new millennium with Georgie Boy in the White House.  As a flaming liberal, perhaps the only one ever to come out of Texas, Molly tips the scale away from O’Rourke. R.I.P.

8.      John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces A very funny book!  Too bad Toole decided to end his life; I would have loved to have read more from him. 

9.      Robert Traver (John D. Voelker), Trout fishing at its best.

10.   Bill Bryson The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Although Bryson alternates living between the US and Great Britain, he was born here, so we’ll claim him even if he didn’t come close to completing the Appalachian Trail.  Most of his stuff is drop-dead funny.

11.    J. Maarten Troost Getting Stoned with Savages I’ve read three books by Troost and they all had me laughing.  We’ll claim him as an American as last I heard he was living in California even though he probably has passports from Canada and the Netherlands and maybe a few South Sea Islands.

12.   Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy, Good Ole Boy morality stories from Southeastern North Carolina.

13.   Dave Barry, It’d have to chose one of his columns on water saving toilets

14.   David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Downright funny.

15.   Ed Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The book may have helped groups like Earth First organize, but this book is also funny…  “The first gentile-Jew in Moab!”

16.   Michael Malone, Handling Sin  The only chase scene that’s better than the one in the Monkey Wrench Gang is Malone’s chase scene in Stone Mountain Georgia. 

17.   Carl Hiaasen, Skinny Dip, Hard to know which of Hiassen’s books to pick as I’ve laughed through bunch of them, so I’ll go with my first…

18.   Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days Keillor is a classic.  Lot’s of highlights in the book, from the Brethren boy dating, to the new 95 Thesis, to the way the girls ran the high school (I was shocked to learn that Keillor must have been in my high school graduating class).

19.   Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic A Jewish Yankee sets out to discover why the South is still fighting the war and becomes involved with groups reenacting the war by wearing scratchy and hot wool pants…  I read this book on a plane and no one around me was able to get any peace due to my laughing. 

20.  Harry M. Caudill, Slender is the Tread: Tales from a Country Law Office Some good old boy tales from the hill country around Kentucky and Virginia.

21.   Roy Blount, Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor.  This collection is great and Roy’s piece about Southerner’s eating dirt and Yankees eating sushi is a classic.

22.  Bill Watterson, “Calvin and Hobbes”  Greatest comic strip of all times (in my opinion)

23.  Gary Larson, “The Far Side”  Greatest single frame comics of all time.

24.  Mad Magazine  I relished the day I introduced my kids to this magazine so I could once again read them.

25.  Jonah, yeah, that book in the Bible.  If you don’t chuckle reading it, you’re too serious.

As for Borowitz’s selections, here they are: 
Mark Twain, A Presidential Candidate; George Ade, The Lecture Tickets That Were Bought but Never Used; O. Henry, The Ransom of Red Chief; Sinclair Lewis, from Babbitt; Anita Loos, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Ring Lardner, On Conversation; H. L. Mencken, Imperial Purple; James Thurber,  More Alarms at Night; Dorothy Parker,The Waltz; S. J. Perelman, Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer; Langston Hughes, Simple Prays a Prayer; Frank Sullivan, The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down;
E. B. White, Across the Street and into the Grill; Peter De Vries, The House of Mirth; Terry Southern, from The Magic Christian; Lenny Bruce, from How to Talk Dirty and Influence People; Tom Wolfe, The Secret Vice; Jean Shepherd, The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again; Hunter S. Thompson, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved; Woody Allen, A Look at Organized Crime; Bruce Jay Friedman, The Tax Man; Philip Roth, Letters to Einstein; Nora Ephron, A Few Words about Breasts; Henry Beard, Michael O’Donoghue, George W. S. Trow, Our White Heritage; Fran Lebowitz, Better Read Than Dead: A Revised Opinion; Charles Portis, Your Action Line; Donald Barthelme, In the Morning Post; Veronica Geng, Curb Carter Policy Discord Effort Threat; John Hughes, Vacation ’58; Mark O’Donnell, The Laws of Cartoon Motion; Garrison Keillor, The Tip-Top Club; Bruce McCall, Rolled in Rare Bohemian Onyx, Then Vulcanized by Hand; Molly Ivins, Tough as Bob War and Other Stuff; Calvin Trillin, Corrections; Dave Barry, Tips for Women: How to Have a Relationship with a Guy; The Onion, Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia; Susan Orlean, Shiftless Little Loafers; Roy Blount Jr., Gothic Baseball; George Carlin, If I Were in Charge of the Networks; Ian Frazier, Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father; David Rakoff, The Writer’s Life; Bernie Mac, from I Ain’t Scared of You; David Sedaris; Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?; Wanda Sykes, It’s So Hard; Jack Handey, What I’d Say to the Martians; David Owen, Your Three Wishes: F.A.Q.; George Saunders, Ask the Optimist!; Jenny Allen, Awake; Sloane Crosley, The Pony Problem; Larry Wilmore, If Not an Apology, at Least a “My Bad” 


  1. I'm definitely going to have to scour these lists a bit more because there were a lot of authors and books I am not familiar with. The addition I would make to any humor writing list would definitely be one by Tim Cahill. Road Fever has me seriously thinking I was going to die with laughter reading the scene where he bright lights the oncoming traffic somewhere in South America.

  2. Ed, I have a whole list of other writers to select my second half... I read Road Fever and it's funny, but it isn't on the list but maybe I'll have to rethink it. Have you read others by him?

  3. #10 Bill Bryson~~~ one of my ABSOLUTE favorites!! I know when I read him before turning out the lights at night, I'll go to sleep laughing!
    Good picks here...a few I will now need to check out myself. Thanks:)

  4. I first got hooked on Tim Cahill when he wrote for Outside Magazine. He has a whole host of books that are collections of essays that he is written on his travels with funny names that I have read. Off the top of my head they are:
    Hold the Enlightenment
    Pass the Butterworms
    Jaguars Ripped My Flesh
    A Wolverine is Eating My Leg
    Pecked to Death by Ducks
    Recently he has taken to editing a collection of humor writers and publishing books with them in it by the name of Not So Funny When It Happened.
    I think the only book he wrote that I haven't read and I'm not sure how it happened is Lost In My Backyard about his living next to Yellowstone. I will have to add that to my list when I add the ones above.

  5. Great choices! And I picked up the Borowitz book last week - it's absolutely hilarious.

  6. Other than Mark Twain and Bill Bryson, I haven't read any of the others (including Jonah)!

  7. Topics like this are always good for an evening's discussion, provided it doesn't degenerate into a fistfight.


  8. Of your list - Bill Bryson is my favorite. "A Walk in the Woods" is one of my favorite books. And I am partial to Roy Blount, too. I always enjoy his essay on the back page of Southern Living magazine. :)

  9. I used to always, every month always get MAD magazine and I liked it but never laughed out loud over it. I think I liked the fold up back cover best.

  10. Thanks for the recommendations! That monkey picture's gonna be hard to top though.

  11. I'd agree with most of these, at least the ones I've read. I didn't care for a Confederacy of Dunces much.

  12. I have read Twain and Keillor. Actually I heard him read. Keillor that is. And he is funny, but, and it's a big BUT, reading him and listening to him you can easily understand how Athens sent Socrates to the hemlock. Keillor is small dose funny.

  13. Sage
    Haven't made it thru your whole list, but I do like 'Molly Ivin's can's say that, can she?' I found a copy of it in the back of the Ace Hardware store ........... and am really enjoying it!!

  14. A fine list. There are several I don't know but there are several I do. What would we do without people who can make us laugh?

  15. I definitely agree with many of those choices, and I will try to remember to check out those I don't already know. Michael Malone, David Sedaris and Bill Bryson are all priceless, IMO.

  16. nice...what a great me some bryson for sure and hiaasen, sedaris stuff....

  17. there is nothing like a touch of humor in a story to keep me interested. Great writing, great plot and humor, that keeps me there til the end.

  18. My Twain pick would be "Journalism In Tennessee"... I laugh out loud every time.

    "Ransom Of Red Chief" contains, early-on, the best and funniest description of a boy-child's attention span ever put on paper. O. Henry could be amazingly funny... "Let Me Feel Your Pulse" will double you over with laughter.

    Texan William Cowper Brann (January 4, 1855 – April 1, 1898) was an outspoken agnostic whose anti-establishment frontier writings are surprisingly funny to me... considering I am a Christian! Sample line: "I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough" :)

    One name I didn't see here that I expected to was that of Stephen Leacock (30 December 1869 – 28 March 1944)... Wikipedia says "In the early part of the 20th century he was the best-known humorist in the English-speaking world." Little wonder... his stuff is hilarious!! [and nowadays you can just read most of it right from for free.

    Anyway great blog, brother.


  19. Oh... and McManus' tales of the boyhood antics of "Crazy Eddie Muldoon" could be made into the funniest movie ever... but then again Hollywood would certainly ruin them so never mind :D

  20. He left out Edward Bison, author of Mr Bison's Journal It is a laugh out loud read.