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Winnipeg-born comedic genius David Steinberg, who produced some of TV's most famous comedies, writes in his book "Inside Comedy" that he not only met his idol, Groucho Marx, he was 'virtually adopted' by him. Photo: Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/Getty Images

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10 Books to Make You LOL

To get you in the mood for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, here are 2021's best humour books / BY Kim Honey / July 23rd, 2021

It’s Just For Laughs time. The Montreal-based comedy festival kicks off July 26 with a line-up of comedy greats in Montreal, as well as free stand-up shows from Los Angeles and New York that you can stream from the website. To get you in the mood, here are 10 books guaranteed to put a smile on your face, including several written by, or featuring, comics who have graced the JFL stage.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Indians on Vacation Thomas King

This witty, sardonic story about Bird and Mimi, a married Indigenous couple who travel to Europe to retrace a great uncle’s journey 100 years before them, won the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, and was nominated for both the Giller and Writer’s Trust prizes. Like the author, the narrator Bird is of Greek and Cherokee ancestry, and, like King, he hates to travel. The novel includes wry observations on life, marriage and colonial history from an Indigenous perspective.


2We Had a Little Real Estate Problem Kliph Nesteroff

The title of this book about Indigenous stand-up comedians takes its title from the punch line to a joke that Oneida comic Charlie Hill told on the Richard Pryor Show in 1977. “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.” Nesteroff, a former stand-up comedian and comedy historian from B.C., traces the roots of Indigenous humour from the 1880s – when Native Americans performed in Wild West shows – to the activism that preceded Charlie Hill’s 1977 debut, through to contemporary comics like Dakota Ray Hebert, who is Dené from northern Saskatchewan.




3Notes From the Bathroom Line Amy Solomon

Solomon, a producer on the HBO shows Silicon Valley and Barry, edited this book of 150 one-liners, poems, essays, drawings and songs from female comics like Hannah Einbinder, currently starring with Jean Smart in HBO’s Hacks and one of JFL’s 2019 New Faces of Comedy, Saturday Night Live’s Heidi Gardner, The Mindy’s Project’s Xosha Roquemore, Insecure actress Natasha Rothwell and stand-up comedian Tien Tran, who was also a JFL New Faces pick in 2019. A modern-day follow up to the 1976 book Titters: The First Collection of Humour by Women, the submissions cover off a naked selfie accidentally sent to an aunt, instructions for cat sitting, undateable men, and a Stars Wars parody written in the style of Ernest Hemingway.

4Dad Up! Steven Patterson

The first-time father and host of CBC’s The Debaters writes about his journey to parenthood, which begins as he and his wife struggle to conceive. Patterson has to perform on demand when the fertility clinic messages at the optimal time, which he describes as “a booty call from Robopimp.” When their daughter Scarlett is born, he sings her to sleep with Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.” There are chapters on changing diapers (“nothing can prepare you for what lies beneath”) and having a second child (“to those how say two is better than one … that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”). At its heart, Patterson’s book is about all the terrifying, tender and hilarious moments that make fatherhood the best and worst of times.

5Cack-Handed Gina Yashere

This hilarious memoir from the Bob Hearts Abishola co-creator and writer, who leans on her childhood as the child of Nigerian immigrants in working-class London for her TV show (complete with an overprotective mom), tackles serious subjects like racism, sexism, class and the immigrant experience. The first female engineer hired by the Otis elevator company, at 24 Yashere decided to jump into stand-up, where she made a name only to hit wall after wall of rejection.

She left for the U.S., where she broke into the comedy scene after appearing on Last Comic Standing. In an interview about the book, she told The Guardian newspaper she preferred American racism to the “insidious pathetic limp handshake of British establishment racism,” and feels at home there, even though, “I’m still black, I’m still a woman, I’m an immigrant, I’m gay – so I still have those things to contend with.” Yashere has appeared in several Just For Laughs festivals, and will take the stage again this year at the L.A. show.

The book takes its title from a British expression that means clumsy or awkward, but this memoir proves Yashere is anything but.

6She Memes Well Quinta Brunson

Brunson, a comic and actress from Philadelphia, has been dubbed the Meme Queen for her videos, like “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date,” where she invented the meme, “He got money,” which she utters every time her date takes out his wallet.

In this book of essays, Brunson exposes her vulnerable side alongside her funny bone, with pieces on mental health, anxieties about her hair and her complicated relationship with Twitter.

She started writing it when she worked at BuzzFeed Video, but before it was published, her TV career took off: Brunson was one of four comics on the first season of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show – which got three Emmy noms in 2020 – and will produce and star in Abbott Elementary, a show she is developing for ABC . “I want my book to hug a younger Black girl who might be me,” she told The New York Times in a recent interview.

Brunson is included in Variety magazine’s Just For Laughs show “10 Comics to Watch” this year, and was part of its New Faces: Creators series in 2017.

7Inside Comedy David Steinberg

The cover blurbs say it all: There are endorsements from Larry David (“I know and love David Steinberg. You don’t.”), Billy Crystal (“You can talk to him about anything and he doesn’t charge you for it”), Jerry Seinfeld (“I memorized his album Disguised as a Normal Person”) and Martin Short (“David has always been a comedy hero to me.”)

The Winnipeg-born stand-up comedian, writer, producer and actor, 78, who has worked on Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Designing Women, The Bob Newhart Show and The Golden Girls, conducted more than 75 interviews for his Showtime series, Inside Comedy. Here he weaves these interviews in with personal memories after 50 years in the business.

Settle in for a 300-page romp through the country clubs, nightclubs and sound stages of Steinberg’s life, as Johnny Carson’s mentee recounts how, growing up in Winnipeg, he watched every Groucho Marx movie that came to town. Eighteen years later, he not only met his idol, but also says he was “virtually adopted” by Marx.



8All Over the Map Ron James

Another JFL veteran, Canadian comedian Ron James, 63, has been making the country howl for 20 years. His hour-long New Year’s Eve specials are a treasured tradition for million of viewers, and 2020 was no different with a Zoom show from his living room, “Hindsight is 2020.”

In the book, James traces his life and career from his native Nova Scotia to Toronto, where he joined Second City, and on to L.A., where he moved his young family in 1990.   After chasing work on sitcoms, he returned home and wrote Up and Down in Shaky Town: One Man’s Dream Through the California Dream, which became a 90-minute special on CTV. “This is a book he has been writing for most of his life, in his head, in his car, while driving from gig to gig,” says his publisher, Doubleday Canada. Author and journalist Linden McIntyre describes the book as a “hilarious tour through some of the unfunny realities of life as a Canadian comedian – enough to make a grown-up laugh and cry, cringe and think.” (Sept. 28)

9A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020) David Sedaris

Millions of David Sedaris fans can rejoice. The second volume of the essayist’s diaries comes out Oct. 5, and if it’s anything like the first – Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) – it will be another bestseller for the American humourist. For years, Sedaris, 64, has been reading bits from his journals in his sold-out shows, and his first volume included an account of his job as a Christmas elf named Crumpet at Macy’s, which morphed into “The SantaLand Diaries,” an NPR radio holiday favourite that launched his career when he read it on air in 1992.

The new book picks up where Volume 1 left off: Sedaris, turning 46, is visiting London before returning to his home in Paris. Expect more like this: “Jan. 28, 2002, Florence. Florence often smells like toast.”

This book covers the intervening years up to 2020, including the pandemic, which has deprived him of the audience feedback he relies on to hone his material.

Sedaris, who gave a series of live readings in 2017 sponsored by Just For Laughs, is kicking off a new tour in September. “An Evening With David Sedaris” has one scheduled Canadian date in Victoria on Nov. 6 – assuming he is double vaccinated. (Oct. 5)

10Talking to Canadians Rick Mercer

After writing seven books, Canada’s most celebrated satirist – whose famed This Hour Has 22 Minutes “rants” distil politics into one- to two-minute sound bites – adds a memoir to his oeuvre with Talking to Canadians, which comes out Nov. 2.

You will get Mercer’s trademark pithy observations on growing up in Middle Cove, 25 minutes outside St. John’s, where his dismal reports cards prompted his mother to say it was a good thing he was well liked, “otherwise you would have ended up in special ed.” We see the elementary school student launch himself into acting after he was hauled up on stage during a visit from CODCO creator Andy Jones; the high-school student flunk out but get an A-plus as Beni the Clown’s assistant; and his job working backstage for Cathy Jones, where he met his “partner in show business and in life,” Gerald Lunz. We’re there when his debut play at the National Arts Centre is panned by a reviewer who urges him to “leave the theatre.” Mercer decides then and there he will go into TV. “Luckily the standards are much lower there, so it worked out well,” he writes.

Talking to Canadians is one good thing to come out of the pandemic, even though, as Mercer says in his acknowledgements, “the subject matter tested my patience.”


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