'Humor Me': An Eclectic Anthology Of Funny

Humor Me
Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing (Plus Some Great Old Stuff Too)
Edited by Ian Frazier
Hardcover, 336 pages
Ecco
List price: $25.99
Read An Excerpt

We're not even halfway through yet, but we can probably all agree that 2010 is not going to go down as the funniest year of the millennium. The country is in the midst of two wars and a recession with apparent zombie-like staying power, which has rendered the national mood not only "unhappy," but "16-year-old listening to The Cure in his room with the lights out on prom night" depressed. It might not seem like the best time for a humor anthology, but if the news keeps getting worse, Americans are going to need either to laugh, or to just hide in bed until 2011. Ian Frazier's new Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing (Plus Some Great Old Stuff Too) isn't going to make you forget the state of the world, but it's cheaper than a new bed, and much more fun than another article about how melting glaciers are going to kill us all.

Frazier, a humorist best known for his essays in The New Yorker, has done a deft and surprising job in selecting the 54 pieces that make up Humor Me. Judging by his choices, Frazier's sympathies seem to lie with the absurdist, dark and almost postmodern — fiction writer George Saunders is represented by his hilarious story "Adams"; the title of one brief essay by Jake Swearingen is "How Important Moments in My Life Would Have Been Different If I Was Shot Twice in the Stomach at Close Range." (You might think this isn't exactly what it sounds like. It is.) The usual suspects (Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris, Roy Blount Jr.) aren't neglected, but the most fun contributions are from newer authors, like Padgett Powell's gleefully profane and bizarre "Scarliotti and the Sinkhole," and Ian Maxtone-Graham's equally profane 11-word essay "Fair Warning." Frazier has cast a wider net for humorous pieces than previous anthologists have, and it turns out to be a wise decision. Although Jamaica Kincaid and David Mamet might not be the first names you think of when someone mentions comedy, their short contributions are standouts, and their inclusion proves that comic writing doesn't have to be zany and punchline-oriented.

Frazier supplements the anthology with nine "great old" essays and stories, ranging from Bret Harte in 1867 to Elizabeth Bishop in 1979. It's a nice touch, and it's fun to see how well the pieces have held up. Humor Me isn't definitive, by any means, of course — its focus is chiefly on contemporary American writers, though the contributors do cover a fairly wide range of writing styles. (Like pretty much every mainstream humor anthology, Humor Me is dominated by male writers — fewer than a quarter of the contributors are women — but it's a problem, unfortunately, not unique to this book.) It doesn't have to be comprehensive to be funny, though, and on that count it succeeds remarkably well. Don't use it as a humor textbook; just enjoy the laughs next time a volcano has stranded you in an airport.

Excerpt: 'Humor Me'

Humor Me
Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing (Plus Some Great Old Stuff Too)
Edited by Ian Frazier
Hardcover, 336 pages
Ecco
List price: $25.99

OK, I'm under control now. I did kind of lose it there for a bit, laughing and all, coffee going up my nose, etc. What your old-time Protestant types might call "excessive mirth." But I'm cool now (h-h-h-h-h). No! I'm not going to start (h-h-h-h-h-h) again. (H-h-h-h-h-spb-spb!) Control! MAINTAIN RIGID CONTROL! No laughing any more! I have to explain about this — Ha! — stop laughing! — this — Ha! Spb! Sputter! — this anthology — Oh hahahahahahahaha heeheeheehee sorry I just can't help it the thing is so FUNNY hahahahahahahaha oh help me!

STOP! GET A GRIP! OK, now take a deep breath, start again. I can do this. I'll give myself a stern talking-to: You, Ian Frazier, do not have all year to finish this introduction, and if you keep breaking up like this you'll be here forever, and you'll be wasting your own time and the publisher's time and the editor's time and everybody's time and none of us wants that. You are an adult, and a professional writer, and more, quite frankly, is expected of you. So — are you feeling better now?

Yes. All right. I think I've got the thing back in the box. No more hilarity or hysteria.

I'll proceed.

This anthology, which you, the reader, hold in your hands, has been assembled of the very best humorous essays of this or indeed of any age. The anthology, called Humor Me, is a special publication whose proceeds will benefit 826 Seattle programs, which provide free after-school tutoring and writing workshops to students of all ages. This is not only true but important: 826 is great! Thanks, praise, and kudos to 826 Seattle!

Now let us turn our attention to the anthology itself, and its (h-hh- h-h-h-h).

Start again: Now let us turn our attention to the anthology itself, and its contents, which include an eminent piece by the eminent writer Mark Twain on the subject of Shakespeare farting. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah, oh God why did I start with that one? There's no way I can describe the farting piece without breaking up completely, oh God oh jeez. What now? Heeheeheeheeheeheehee! A-hee. A-ha. A-hee. Deep breath. Breathe . . .

This may be hopeless. I do apologize. I should have better command of myself than to fall apart laughing this way. It's just that, for example, when I describe the wonderful piece by Roy Blount where he's heeheeheehee in the army and living hahahahahaha in married officer housing and he's hanging up diapers on a clothesline and his haahaahaa superior officer walks by and Roy — hahahaha — and Roy has this diaper on his HAT oh hahahaha this one is even harder than the Twain to describe without howling heeheeheehhhhheeeegasp, gasp, gasp, oh please . . .

OK, sorry. Won't happen again.

SPB! SPUTTER! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA the Lynn Caraganis piece where the rat comes out hahahahee and the HOHOHOHOHOHOHO and Bill Franzen with all the weird twister ruination, and the HAHAHAHAHAHAHEEHEEHEEHEEE Veronica Geng Godfather parody, the best parody of all time, hohoho oh help me hehehehaahoo and Scott Gutterman's "Gum," where Susan Sontag has a hilarious cameo if you can believe it hoohoohoohoohoo and "What I'd Say to the Martians," by Jack Handey, the funniest piece of the last ten years, ahaaahahhaaaahaaa and Jamaica Kincaid's heeheeheeheehee "Girl" with that incredible recurring line, hahahahaha, the line about "the slut you are so bent on becoming" hohoho hahahahahahahaha and the Glengarry Glen Ross scene with the guy named James Lingk why does that name aways crack me up hahahahahahah? Glengarry Glen Ross is a piece of writing from our time sure to survive, and hahahahaha Steve Martin a-haa, a-haa, a-haa-haha- ha-heeheehee on the subject of the Third Millennium and how it's been going so far hoohoohoohoo and, and, and Ian Maxtone- Graham's "Fair Warning," which HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAGHA AHAAHAAHAAHAAHEEHEE (this is an exact transcription of my laughter) AHAHEEHEEHEE, A-HOO , A-HEE AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HEEHEEHEE HEEHEEHEE HEEHEEHEE, a-gasp, ghik, gasp h'h'h'h'h oh help me. . . .

Gasp. Gasp. Pant. I'm exhausted from all that laughing, and I've only made it, alphabetically, to the early M's. I can't go on. The pieces after the early M's, and the Old Stuff in Part II, are all just as hilarious as the ones in Part I, if not more so. If I go on I might injure myself. In my overview just now I skipped a lot of pieces in this anthology, and when I made the anthology I left a lot of good pieces out of it entirely. (I'm sorry, Thurber.) If I'd put in all the good ones I skipped, I'd've risked my own health, what with all this laughter's stress and strain on my diaphragm.

Also, unconnected to anything, here's a note, just FYI: The John Updike piece, "A Mild 'Complaint'," which concludes Part I, was famous at the New Yorker as the piece that the magazine held on to the longest before it was published. Updike wrote the piece, and the magazine bought it, in the mid-1950s, when he was a young man. For inscrutable reasons the New Yorker then kept the piece for twenty-some years and finally ran it in the 1970s, when Updike was in his middle years. The piece is included here as a testament to the resilience of literature, and as a wave to Mr. Updike, wherever in the afterlife he may be.

Now to conclude this introduction, let me say this: I hope you, the reader, will enjoy this anthology as much as I have. There are great pieces in here, so you SHOULD enjoy it. If you don't, the problem is with you. I hope you will get a lot out of delving into this anthology, and you will learn from it, and grow, and become a wiser person as a result. But most of all, and most deeply, I hope you will BUY this anthology. And I don't mean buy just one copy on Amazon for a penny or on Kindle or any of that noise — I mean multiple copies, each at 100 percent full non-discount price. I will not be satisfied (as Mr. Mamet's salesmen say) with anything less than TOTAL COMMITMENT! Twenty-five full-price copies, at the very least, is what I am asking of you. Do not disappoint me, please.

Excerpted from Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing (Plus Some Great Old Stuff Too) edited by Ian Frazier. Copyright 2010 by 826 Seattle. Excerpted by permission of Ecco.

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An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing (Plus Some Great Old Stuff Too)

by Ian Frazier

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