Writing a good comedy is quite a feat. Comedy is a style (not a genre) that depends on a set of narrow conditions for it to work. Timing, context, and relatable characters all need to be set in stone before a single joke will make us crack a smile. But once a good comedy gets rolling, nothing is more satisfying. Here’s to the comedy writers that spike our endorphin levels, expose the ridiculous, and help us forget our worries for a few hundred pages.
We Love Anderson Cooper by R. L. Maizes
The characters in Maizes’ darkly humorous short story collection have all decided to be true to themselves, even when the cost is steep. One refuses to walk down the aisle to her waiting groom. Another wallows in guilt over the death of her dogs, even as her marriage self-destructs. These and nine other stories find the humor in pain and serve to remind us that, even in our lowest moments, we’re never truly alone.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Suddenly single, Lucy retreats to Los Angeles for the summer to dog-sit at her sister’s beach house, but her work and her string of rebound lovers do nothing to lift her spirits. One night, Lucy spots a lone swimmer in the ocean who, she learns, is a merman. Soon, Lucy realizes that she’s in love with a fish, becomes entangled in a deeply erotic affair, and questions everything she believed about life and love.
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf
Not everyone in Willard Park agrees on how to live the American Dream. After the owners of a gaudy, white McMansion cut down a neighbor’s beautiful red maple without permission, all hell breaks loose. Neighbors, lawyers, high schoolers, and real-estate agents toss aside the relative peace they’ve built and jump into the fight for the soul of the suburbs.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Me is a young man who loses his father in a police shootout and then launches a scheme to save Dickens, his low-income neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. Dickens is literally about to be deleted from the map thanks to gentrification, so Me, despite what the Supreme Court may say, decides to put it back on the map by reinstating school segregation and slavery. Beatty’s flawless, Man Booker Prize-winning satire is a gawkily funny, brilliant lampoon of race relations in America.
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn
Bob Honey is an average septic tank salesman, but it’s his side gig as a government hit man that’s about to get him in trouble. When a pushy journalist starts asking all the right questions, Bob realizes that this is his ticket back to a normal life…if he can stay alive. This debut novel is everything you’d expect from actor-activist, Sean Penn. In creating the titular character, Penn punches up at the media and corrupt government in one hard swing.
Everything Is Just Fine by Brett Paesel
Drive by any bright green Beverly Hills junior soccer field on Saturday morning and you’ll see what appears to be dedicated coaches, supportive parents, and well-adjusted kids enjoying the thrill of the game. Look closer, and you’ll see that everything is not fine. Paesel’s soccer families fret over organic snacks, they fight in public, and they test Coach Randy’s patience to no end. Enter Alejandro, the hot new assistant coach, whose distaste for rich-people drama just might save them all from themselves.
The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
When Arthur Alter’s ex-wife died, she left her considerable fortune to their two children. Now that he’s broke and about to lose the family home, he invites them to a reunion with hopes of convincing them to share the wealth. Can an unlucky Baby Boomer and two do-gooder Millennials with tons of emotional baggage reach a consensus about how to spend the money if they can’t even agree on which craft beer to drink?
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
Hedge fund manager Barry Cohen thinks so highly of himself that when an SEC investigation and his son’s autism diagnosis shatter his opulent life, he splits town. He tells himself that he’s on a romantic road trip across the country to rekindle the passion with his old college girlfriend, but according to his family, colleagues, and friends, he’s actually just abandoned them. Shteyngart handles everyone’s pain delicately, (especially the wife, Seema, struggling to care for their son) and with humor that lands right at their most aching moments.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Professor Fitger is plodding along in the Creative Writing department at tiny, midwestern Payne University. It’s the time of year when hopeful students line up to ask him for recommendation letters, so they can get on with their lives and leave Payne in the dust. Thus begins the annual chore that gives Fitger a chance to flex his creative writing muscles and get some academic grievances off his chest. Told entirely in letters, Dear Committee Members is a sarcasm lover’s dream.
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik
Haze Evans has been a columnist for the small-town Granite Creek Gazette for half a century, but now a stroke has landed her in a coma. Shocked, her editor decides to simply run Evans’ past articles, especially the ones that moved readers to call her a “liberal, radical hag” decades earlier. As the team unearths Evans’ old pieces, tender and funny stories emerge, and eventually the surprising saga of her life is revealed.
Severance by Ling Ma
Candace Chen toils away in a Manhattan office while a plague decimates New York City. She has accepted an attractive payout for finishing her current project, so she can’t leave, but the group of hardened survivalists she meets could be her way out when the time comes. Part office parody, part apocalypse drama (complete with zombies), Severance is, at its heart, the story of how an immigrant Millennial becomes a serf to capitalism.
Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel
When your husband leaves you for his much younger secretary and you’re forced to abandon your Palm Springs social calendar for a mind-numbing desert suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona, what better way to get revenge than entering and winning the Mrs. American Pie beauty contest? This is Maxine’s plan, but there’s one catch: she needs to find a new Mr. and have a family before she can enter (and win, of course).
Hark by Sam Lipsyte
Hark Morner didn’t mean to become a guru. He thought that maybe he could make a few bucks marketing what he calls “Mental Archery,” a stew of yoga, mindfulness, and…archery. But timing is everything and his message quickly gathers pilgrims, professors, hunters, investors, and a list of other interested parties who orbit around Hark like light-starved moths. Lipsyte’s satire is both a serious study and a hilarious poke at our attraction to the next big Truth, no matter how absurd.