These are my Top 5 Most Difficult Jobs: 5. Middle-school teacher; 4. Rahm Emanuel's relaxation consultant; 3. President of the United States; 2. Donald Trump's barber; 1. Comedian.
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I've long had a fascination with stand-up and improvisational comedy — with the courage it takes to stand in front of an audience, declaring that you are indeed capable of making them laugh. It is an impressive feat of daring, and the very best comedians are among our greatest artists and cultural truth-tellers. I've learned more about freedom and morality from listening to George Carlin routines than any social studies textbook.
There are two types of books by comedians: funny books that essentially re-create the comedic material they present in other media, and memoirs that offer glimpses into the minds of people who decide they want to be funny for a living.
The former category includes briefly entertaining but ultimately forgettable books such as Jerry Seinfeld's "SeinLanguage" or Ellen DeGeneres' "My Point … And I Do Have One."
It's the latter category that's most interesting to me, and it contains a number of my favorite memoirs of all time.
Some highly recommended reading:
"Nigger: An Autobiography" by Dick Gregory. A typical Gregory joke went like this: "I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark." Gregory was the first African-American comedian to highlight the inherent cowardice of white supremacists. Co-written with Robert Lipsyte (himself one of our greatest sportswriters of all time), this is the story of Gregory's life and his journey to crossover success and civil-rights activism. Without Dick Gregory there would be no Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle.
"Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life" by Steve Martin. Martin became famous for his "silliest" material, like wearing an arrow through his head or his "wild and crazy guy" character, but the subsequent years have demonstrated him to be a polymath capable of writing a play that has Albert Einstein in conversation with Pablo Picasso ("Picasso at the Lapin Agile"), and playing banjo in a world-renowned bluegrass band (Steep Canyon Rangers). This memoir shows the biographical roots of his unique genius and provides fascinating insights into one of our most creative minds.
"Bossypants" by Tina Fey. This book has one of the most disturbing covers ever, a kind of parody of the typical comedy memoir where Tina Fey's fetching face is cradled in what appear to be Ed Asner's hands. While there are plenty of jokes in "Bossypants," the most interesting chapters are on Fey's years in Chicago as a young and struggling performer.
"You're Not Doing it Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations" by Michael Ian Black. Black is not nearly as well known as the previous entries, but you'll know his face when you see him. "You're Not Doing it Right" is a surprisingly acute and nuanced look at how we negotiate living our lives with the people we love.
There are another half-dozen books on my list, including ones by Rachel Dratch, Sarah Silverman and Darrell Hammond, but if I've learned anything from these performers, it's to get off the stage while the getting is good.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "Middlemarch" by George Eliot
2. "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg
3. "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley
4. "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
5. "The Last Policeman" by Ben H. Winters
— Rachel S., Hometown
For Rachel, I have the perfect book. It's the "Lean In" of suspense writing. Edited by Sarah Weinman, "Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense" collects short stories by some of our best writers of suspense who happen to be women, including Gillian Flynn and Tana French, two previously Biblioracle-recommended writers.
1. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark
2. "The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro
3. "The Dinner" by Herman Koch
4. "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe
5. "A Killing in the Hills" by Julia Keller
— Jill L., Naperville
This is almost a book that I can recommend without having read it, but now that I've had a chance to finish it, I can give it my official seal of approval: "The Lowland," by Jhumpa Lahiri.
1. "Roseannearchy" by Roseanne Barr
2. "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery
3. "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman
4. "Chaos" by James Gleick
5. "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett
— April A., Champaign, Ill.
Russell Banks has a new collection of stories coming out this week; another book for my TBR pile. I think April will enjoy one of his previous books, the haunting novel "The Sweet Hereafter."
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