Category Archives: Comedy

Literature to make you laugh

Exploring the world with Bill Bryson

He’s sharp and witty and regarded as one of the world’s best writers of travel. Bill Bryson has penned numerous books that have made readers snort out loud and laugh until tears were streaming down their faces. He’s been a favourite in our household for years and we always look forward to his next release. Bill Bryson is one of those authors who sparks the reading bug where once you turn the last page in one of his books you’re instantly looking for his next.

Here are a few of our favourites…

The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain. In 2015, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed. Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognise any more. Once again, with his matchless homing instinct for the funniest and quirkiest, his unerring eye for the idiotic, the endearing, the ridiculous and the scandalous, Bryson gives us an acute and perceptive insight into all that is best and worst about Britain today.

 

 

Bill Bryson’s African Diary

Bill Bryson goes to Kenya at the invitation of CARE International, the charity dedicated to working with local communities to eradicate poverty around the world. Kenya, generally regarded as the cradle of humankind, is a land of stunning landscapes, famous game reserves, and a vibrant culture, but it also has many serious problems, including refugees, AIDS, drought and grinding poverty. It also provides plenty to worry a nervous traveller like Bill Bryson: hair-raising rides in light aircraft, tropical diseases, snakes, insects and large predators. Bryson casts his inimitable eye on a continent new to him, and the resultant diary, though short in length, contains all his trademark laugh-out-loud wit, wry observation and curious insight. All the author’s royalties from this book, as well as all profits, go to CARE International.

 

 

In a Sunburned Country

Turning his attention to Australia, Bill Bryson takes a truly outrageous tour Down Under, revealing hundreds of entertaining eccentricities about the world’s largest island and about himself. Leaving no Vegemite unsavored, readers accompany Bryson as he dodges jellyfish while learning to surf at Bondi Beach, discovers a fish that can climb trees, dehydrates in sweltering deserts, and tells the true story of the rejected Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. Definitely worth a read.

 

 

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

Bill Bryson has the rare knack of being out of his depth wherever he goes even (perhaps especially) in the land of his birth. This became all too apparent when, after nearly two decades in England, the world’s best-loved travel writer upped sticks with Mrs Bryson and his family and returned to live in the country he had left as a youth. Of course there were things Bryson missed about Blighty but any sense of loss was countered by the joy of rediscovering some of the forgotten treasures of his childhood: the glories of a New England autumn; the pleasingly comical sight of oneself in shorts; and motel rooms where you can generally count on being awakened in the night by a piercing shriek and the sound of a female voice pleading, ‘Put the gun down, Vinnie, I’ll do anything you say.’ Whether discussing the strange appeal of breakfast pizza or the jaw-slackening direness of American TV, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on that strangest of phenomena – the American way of life.

 

 

…and finally the book that prompted our love of Mr Bryson…

 

Notes From a Small Island

This book was voted the nation’s favourite book on modern Britain in a World Book Day BBC poll. After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a while, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a week, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and it was thus clear to him that his people needed him. But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation’s public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells, people who said ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and Gardeners’ Question Time.

…and once you’ve read all of the above treasures you may want to have a look at these

Enjoy!

The Books that are the Playlist of my Life

Sometimes, the books you read, and the authors you love, are like staging posts, reflecting particular stages and events in your life; you grow from the experience and move on.  Sometimes, what you crave is a life partner – someone whose books engage and resonate with you year after year, come what may.  While most authors excel at writing in a specific genre or for a particular age group, there are many who write more broadly and are potential “life partners”.  Here are three popular authors who write across genres and age groups… do you have more you can recommend?

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is best known for his children’s stories – including his acclaimed and very entertaining autobiography Boy – but his adult fiction is also incredible.  He is a master of the short story, able to evoke a vivid scenario, then throw in a gasp-inducing twist, all within a handful of pages.  Where Roald Dahl’s twisted humour makes his children’s stories fantastical, it turns his adult stories hyper-real, emphasising the sinister, nasty side of human nature.  A celebrated example is The Champion of the World, a short story about pheasant poaching contained in his compilation Kiss Kiss; its twistedness was then transformed into Danny the Champion of the World, an altogether more whimsical story about the father-son bond and beating the establishment (and pheasant poaching!).

Kaz Cooke

Kaz Cooke is a fearless, frank and funny feminist – the sort of person you wish were your cool best friend, or fun auntie. Kaz works as a cartoonist, journalist, and agony aunt – and she has used these skills to create a range of advice books for women and children. From pregnancy (Up the Duff) to puberty (Girl Stuff) and women’s health (Women’s Stuff), Kaz has pretty much every life stage covered. What I love about these books is their excellent balance between irreverence and information – they are funny and easy to read, yet meticulously researched. Kaz also champions a body-positive message that helps readers block out the BS and learn to love and trust themselves and be more confident.

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot is best known for The Princess Diaries, which amply showcases her chatty style and deft balancing of comedy, romance and sweet earnestness. Through a series of fifteen books, we see Mia come of age, from a gawky teenager to a confident princess, developing her own personality while honouring duty, and juggling the demands of family, friendship and romance.  Meg Cabot has extended this series up into Chick Lit territory with Royal Wedding, where an adult Mia prepares to get married (but not before lots of drama!); and also down into junior fiction, with the spin-off Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.  Not content with one hugely successful series, Meg Cabot has also written in other genres, including series of paranormal romance, and murder mysteries.

Painfully funny; Comedians making us uncomfortable with their books.

“Humour is a rubber sword, it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”

-Mary Hirsch

A good stand-up comedian has the ability to draw out and emphasise humorous elements of everyday mundane occurrences and circumstances that most of us don’t even notice. But it is a brave comedian that takes us on a journey to the punch line while wandering through rather uncomfortable territory ridiculing the darker elements in society in order to help generate discussion.

Brave comics play an important function in society as they hold up a mirror and force us to confront realities that we would often prefer to ignore. Beneath their humour lies a rich layer of social commentary about race relations, stereotypes and our behaviour. It offers a unique lens through which we can see the world around us, changing our perspective and sharing a truth that you often don’t  find elsewhere, and it can be a very valuable thing.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is currently in full swing so we’d like to share our favourite comics from all over the world who help us confront our own social bias.

 

Friendly Fire by Wil Anderson

In this book, Australian comedian Wil Anderson explores a diverse range of topics- from childhood obesity to Valentine’s Day, trackie pants to terrorism, aging to four-wheel-drive etiquette, and exercise regimes to VB beer ads- putting his own unique spin on it all. Nothing is sacred as Anderson shifts from topic to topic, stating his views on each and raising some intriguing questions (for example, why is it that you can always come up with the perfect comeback for an insult about thirty seconds too late?). But he also looks at some more serious issues, like the pitiful amount of money that pensioners receive every fortnight and Australia’s binge drinking culture.

Many fascinating points are covered in this funny and often satirical novel. You can hear more of Wil Anderson in his Wilosophy podcasts, as he interviews such interesting characters as Tim Minchin, Jane Caro, Nazeem Hussain, Charlie Pickering and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.

 

 

Storm by Tim Minchin

A storm is brewing in the confines of a London dinner party. Small talk quickly descends into a verbal and intellectual battle between science and belief, as comedian Tim goes head to head with the mysterious fifth guest at the table – a hippy named Storm. With stunning original artwork, Tim’s sublime ranty beat-poem weaves through the world we live in, where alternative medicine is given credence and public funding, psychics have primetime TV exposure and people are happy with mystery rather than answers. While Storm herself may not be converted, audiences from London to Sydney have been won over by Tim’s lyrical wonders and the timely message of the piece in a society where science is attacked as the enemy of belief. STORM is the illustrated book born from the acclaimed internet sensation – the animation that has become an anthem for critical thinking worldwide, attracting over three million views. Now fully reimagined, STORM is a masterpiece that sparkles with beauty, wit, reason and rationality.

 

 

The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

The plight of refugees is in the spotlight once more, making this a great time to revisit this heart-warming book.  The Happiest Refugee is comedian Anh Do’s memoir, which begins with his family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam.  During their journey in a leaky fishing boat, Anh and his family nearly die from disease, starvation, dehydration and pirate attacks.   Even when they are rescued and resettled in Australia, there is no simple Happy Ever After: Anh and his family face many hardships while they rebuild their lives.  Fortunately, hard work, determination, a loving family and a sense of humour help them to overcome many difficulties and pave the way to success.

The Happiest Refugee has won many awards, and was so popular that it became a live show that toured Australia.  What makes it so special is Anh’s irrepressible optimism – he can find the silver lining in even the darkest cloud. Anh Do has written a children’s version of his book, named The Little Refugee, which tells the same story in a more age-appropriate manner.

 

Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse by David Mitchell

Why is every film or tv programme a sequel or a remake? Why are people so f***ing hung up about swearing? Why do the asterisks in that sentence make it ok? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? These and many other questions trouble David Mitchell. Join him on a tour of the absurdities of modern life – from Ryanair to Richard III, Downton Abbey to phone etiquette. Funny, provocative and shot through with refreshing amounts of common sense, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse celebrates and commiserates on the state of things in our not entirely glorious modern world.

 

 

 

I Am America (and so can you!) by Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert was The Daily Show’s longest-running and most memorable correspondent. His right-wing, super-patriotic persona, his insight and general rightness led to The Colbert Report, a half-hour TV platform for his views on the issues of the day and, more importantly, why everyone else’s views are just plain wrong. I Am America (And So Can You!) features Stephen’s most deeply held knee-jerk beliefs on everything from The Family to Race and Immigration and provides the ultimate satirical guide to the glorious marvel that is American Life. He bravely takes on the forces aligned to destroy America – whether they be terrorists, environmentalists, or brand-name breakfast cereals – and tackles difficult issues like religion, sexuality, and nature (‘I’ve never trusted the sea. What’s it hiding under there?’) With hilarious illustrations and charts (‘Sports to Ignore’) and a complete transcript of Colbert’s infamous speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, this is a brilliantly funny book as well as a very clever commentary on America today.

 

 

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

Before becoming one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood, Judd Apatow was the original comedy nerd. Thirty years later, Apatow is still that same comedy nerd—and he’s still interviewing funny people about why they do what they do.

Sick in the Head gathers Apatow’s most memorable and revealing conversations into one hilarious, wide-ranging, and incredibly candid collection that spans not only his career but his entire adult life. Here are the comedy legends who inspired and shaped him, from Mel Brooks to Steve Martin. Here are the contemporaries he grew up with in Hollywood, from Spike Jonze to Sarah Silverman. And here, finally, are the brightest stars in comedy today, many of whom Apatow has been fortunate to work with, from Seth Rogen to Amy Schumer. And along the way, something kind of magical happens: What started as a lifetime’s worth of conversations about comedy becomes something else entirely. It becomes an exploration of creativity, ambition, neediness, generosity, spirituality, and the joy that comes from making people laugh.

 

 

…and a little something extra…

Australian Comedians Boxset DVD

Three of Australia’s greatest and most beloved comedians performing at the peak of their powers.

Dave Hughes – Pointless
Hughesy’s first love and real passion is stand-up, so much that he threw in his breakfast radio show and gave up the host chair on The Project to set off on an epic stand-up tour. The shows sold out everywhere from Melbourne to Sydney, Darwin to Tamworth and Cairns to Kalgoorlie before heading off to London, Edinburgh and Los Angeles.  The result is Hughesy’s funnies show yet, captured here at a secret, exclusive show at Sydney’s iconic Comedy Store.

Wil Anderson – Wiluminati
Wiluminati was performed for 11 months in 4 different countries including a standing ovation at the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.  Almost twenty years of leaning on a mic stand has brought Wil to this point – a home town show on one of the world’s most prestigious stages.

Adam Hills – Happyism Live
Recorded at London’s famous Hammersmith Apollo, the host of ‘Spicks and Specks’ and ‘Adam Hills Tonight’ delivers a first class evening of comedy, anecdotes and audience participation all delivered in his refreshingly unique, laid back style. Accompanied by BSL Sign Interpreter Catherine King, Adam recounts jaw-dropping tales of meeting the Dalai Lama (and to his surprise making him laugh!) as well as his excitement at meeting The Muppets. Happyism is not only the title, but also his newly formed cult religion and is guaranteed to leave you with a more positive outlook on life.

Enjoy!