Image: A man trying to order a burger in a library
Image: A man trying to order a burger in a library

The world can be a dark place at times, and we all need something light-hearted to entertain and distract us. Happily, there are a host of witty, satirical and downright hilarious books out there, waiting to put a smile back on our face.

The publications chosen for this list of the 50 funniest books, which include comic novels, memoirs, essays, poetry, a dictionary and even a children’s picture book, are listed in chronological order and reflect how humour has become more inclusive and socially challenging over more than 130 years of richly amusing publishing.

1. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)

“I did not intend to write a funny book at first,” said Jerome K. Jerome, a contemporary of iconic humourists Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, after completing Three Men in a Boat, a novel that proves exceptional comic writing can age well. The story of three men taking a meandering trip down the River Thames was based on Jerome and his friends. The novel is beautifully observed, full of quirky incidents and laugh-out-loud passages, especially the section ‘Cheese as a Travelling Companion’. The sequel Three Men on the Bummel, about a cycling holiday, is also highly engaging and the two are available together in a Penguin Classics edition.

2. The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1906)

Ohio-born journalist Ambrose Bierce had a dazzling imagination – his 1889 short story Moxon’s Master predicted machines that think for themselves – and The Devil’s Dictionary remains one of the best satirical non-fiction books ever written. Bierce originally titled his dictionary The Cynic’s Word Book and his sardonic, playful definitions laid bare hypocrisy. Bierce disappeared without trace in 1913, after telling friends he was off to report on the Mexican Revolution, but he left behind this incomparable dictionary, with droll entries such as:

Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.”

The unabridged Enlarged Devil's Dictionary is available from Penguin Classics.

3. The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek (1923)

Joseph Heller admitted he could not have written Catch-22 without first reading Jaroslav Hašek’s subversive masterpiece The Adventures of The Good Soldier Švejk. Czech writer Hašek, who died of heart failure at 39, created a comic Everyman with the hapless World War One soldier who battles bureaucracy. The drunken, overweight and cunning Švejk, who makes money selling stolen dogs, blunders his way through conflict, even accidently joining the enemy. The Penguin Classics edition includes Cecil Parrott’s unabridged translation and Josef Lada’s sublime original cartoons.

4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)

The humour of talented female authors was often underplayed in the 20th century – the splendid social comedies of Barbara Pym and Penelope Mortimer being just two examples – although one book that was acknowledged by contemporaries as a comedy classic was Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, which won France’s prestigious Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse award in 1933. It is a subversive, witty story about teenage orphan Flora Poste and her stay in Sussex with the doomed Starkadders. Lynne Truss, who wrote the introduction for The Penguin Classics edition, went so far as to call Gibbons “the Jane Austen of the 20th Century”.

5. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1934)

P.G. Wodehouse remains to many the most celebrated comic novelist of the 20th century. There were 96 Wodehouse books published in the Guildford-born author’s lifetime, and Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was still working on a story when he died in 1975 at the age of 93.

There is a vibrant, stylish energy to the goofball relationship between the valet Jeeves and the idle Bertie Wooster, and fans of Wodehouse’s escapist novels, including the captivating Right Ho, Jeeves, relish the Edwardian slang – “cove”, “blighter”, “snifter” – that peppers their conversations.

6. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

With Evelyn Waugh, readers are spoilt for choice, because his novels Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, The Loved One and Decline and Fall (jestful from the opening page) all fizz with waggish genius. However, we’ve gone for Scoop, a cracking satire about the world of newspapers. Waugh’s ability to mock behaviour was at its sharpest in a tale of a dishonest press pack. Waugh perfectly skewers a Fleet Street baron (Lord Copper, owner of The Daily Beast), while protagonist William Boot, the nature columnist mistakenly sent to cover a conflict in the African Republic of Ishmaelia, is a marvellous comic creation. Waugh, like Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers, was an expert at characterisation, making us laugh in fiction that was, paradoxically, full of profound wisdom and insight.

7 The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker (1944)

Dorothy Parker was a trailblazing Jazz Age humourist who purveyed her jocularity in short stories, poems, screenplays and criticism. Her highly original rapier wit is as fresh and challenging now as when she was freelancing for the newly inaugurated New Yorker magazine in 1925. Among her memorable one-liners was “what fresh hell is this?”, words she uttered whenever the doorbell rang that remain as entertaining today. Penguin Classic’s Collected Dorothy Parker, an update of 1944’s The Portable Dorothy Parker, is a fine introduction to one of the great sardonic minds of the 20th century, and includes essays, poems, stories and book reviews.

8. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)

The 1950s saw some hugely amusing fictional characters – the dastardly Cruella de Vil in Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the fantasising William Fisher in Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar – but none were more memorable than university lecturer Jim Dixon, the star of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, possibly the best comic novel of academia ever. Jim is an unpleasant fellow, enraged by mindless rules and pedantries yet desperate to impress a pompous professor. The scene in which Jim tries to repair a room he’s damaged while nursing a hangover is a tour-de-force of comic description.

9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

Joseph Heller’s Something Happened is one of most darkly funny and disturbing books I have read, but any list of comic literary masterpieces has to include Catch-22, the former Second World War bombardier’s brutally funny novel about the crazy absurdity of war. The novel sizzles from the first paragraph about Captain John Yossarian, a man whose sole aim is to come down alive from his B-25 bombing missions in the Mediterranean. The title entered the lexicon as a way of describing a no-win situation. Catch-22 was hailed as “a gargantuan masterpiece” by John Steinbeck. When an interviewer told an ageing Heller that he had never written anything as good as Catch-22, Heller replied: “Who has?”

10. A House for Mr Biswas by V S Naipaul (1961)

There must have been something in the comic waters in 1961. As well as Catch-22, there was R.K. Narayan’s The Man-Eater of Malgudi, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas. Trinidad-born Naipaul’s novel, which is full of mordant wit and a Dickensian gallery of entertaining characters, established his reputation. Mohun Biswas is a smart, amusing protagonist and the moving tale in which he battles his repulsive in-laws also offers a beautiful evocation of Caribbean life.

11. Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe (1971)

Tom Sharpe, who has fallen out of fashion since his death in 2013, wrote some of the most outrageously chuckle-inducing and crude novels of the 1970s. Londoner Sharpe worked in South Africa as a teacher and his rambunctious farce Riotous Assembly – and its terrific sequel Indecent Exposure – skewer the forces of Apartheid. Fortunately, his books are still available through the Arrow imprint, including his other triumphs, Wilt, Porterhouse Blue and Blott on the Landscape.

12. Don’t Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli (1972)

Kyril Bonfiglioli, the son of an English mother and Italian-Slovenian antiquarian book-selling father, spent 15 years as an art dealer in Oxford, which provided the inspiration for his whimsical Mortdecai novels. Introducing his first book, Don’t Point That Thing at Me, Bonfiglioli joked, “this is not an autobiographical novel. It is about some other portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged art dealer.” Mortdecai, a dandy assassin, returned in three further novels. The author died at 56 from alcohol-induced cirrhosis and did not live to see his work made into a film starring Johnny Depp.

13. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs (1975)

Reginald Iolanthe Perrin’s midlife crisis was brilliant portrayed by Leonard Rossiter in the BBC series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. However, David Nobb’s original novels, which started with 1975’s The Death of Reginald Perrin, are even better. Like the best comic fiction, the books are despondent and uplifting at the same time. The Reggie Perrin books, available from Cornerstone Digital in an omnibus edition, are also a cutting reflection on commuting, the boredom and absurdity of working and suburban life – and rarely has the portrayal of a nervous breakdown been as piquant as it is poignant.

14. Slapstick or Lonesome No More by Kurt Vonnegut (1976)

Exceptional comedy writing is difficult. Kurt Vonnegut, a master of fun on the printed page, said that “jokes are efficient things and they must be as carefully constructed as mouse traps, because the whole thing has to be rigged to snap at the end”. Although Vonnegut fans might disagree about his funniest novel – Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, Deadeye Dick are all recommended – my vote goes for his tragicomic post-apocalyptic black comedy Slapstick or Lonesome No More, which was dedicated to film legends Laurel and Hardy. Vonnegut was always a satirist with a heart.

15. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (1978)

Armistead Maupin, who was mentored by Christopher Isherwood, was in his thirties when he wrote the trailblazing Tales of the City novels, a series of nine books from 1978 to 2014. Tales of the City, which began as a newspaper serial, is full of memorably witty characters. The setting, San Francisco, is no mere novel location – it is a character itself, in what became a trailblazing series about the LGBTQIA+ experience. Maupin was among the first fiction writers to tackle the subject of Aids.

16. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

If you can carve a comic masterpiece from an end-of-the-world disaster plot, then you must be doing something special. Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which began as a BBC radio comedy, is the colourful tale of the last surviving human, Arthur Dent, and his adventures in space after the destruction of earth by a Vogon fleet. There were so many spin-off products from the book in the 1980s that the merchandise earned its own name of “Hitch-Hikeriana”.

17. Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James (1980)

To describe Clive James as multi-talented does not do full justice to man who practically invented the art of television criticism in the 1970s. The late Australian was a poet, novelist, talk-show host, essayist and raconteur. Writer P.J. O’Rourke described Unreliable Memoirs as “the best memoir in the world”. James revelled in the chaos and embarrassment of the world and his anecdotes, about everything from breaking a bed to mending a carpet, are profoundly entertaining.

18. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

Comedian Billy Connolly described John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces as “my favourite book of all time”. The surreal, picaresque novel is about the adventures of a memorably anarchic and grotesque waster from New Orleans called Ignatius J. Reilly. The book was almost never published at all. Beset by mental health problems, and dismayed by the rejections of his novel, Toole died by suicide in 1969. He was just 31. When this magnificently bizarre novel was posthumously published in 1980, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

19. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend (1982)

“I have never seen a dead body or a female nipple. This is what comes from living in a cul-de-sac,” writes teenage diarist Adrian Mole, whose angst was universal thanks to the ironic wit and sharpness of social observation in Sue Townsend’s joyful The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾. The novel provides pure pleasure, not only in Adrian’s hapless pursuit of the Pandora Braithwaite, the girl with the “treacle-coloured hair”, but also in the depictions of marital disasters and suburban idiosyncrasies.

20. The Snapper by Roddy Doyle (1991)

Few people have written with as much zest and fun about modern Irish identity as Dubliner Roddy Doyle. In his marvellous Barrytown series – the name was lifted from a 1974 Steely Dan song – the dialogue around the Rabbitte family in The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van crackles with life, humour and tenderness. Doyle has also written highly amusing children’s books, incidentally, especially The Giggler Treatment.

21. Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo (1993)

Like fellow American Anne Tyler, Richard Russo is an adept hand at comic fiction set in ordinary towns. His triumphs include Mohawk and Straight Man – but my favourite is Nobody’s Fool, the tale of the cranky, limping, wise-cracking Donald ‘Sully’ Sullivan, superbly played in the film adaptation by Paul Newman. The novel, full of offbeat incidents in the dilapidated New York village of North Bath, simply fizzes with cracking dialogue. Russo penned a sequel called Everybody’s Fool.

22. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (1994)

It’s never too early to get into comical books and some of the best cheeky humour comes in children’s picture books. There is a boundless reserve of young readers’ literature that expertly blends humour with captivating illustrations – such Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake all standing the test of time – but my pick is Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla, about an ape who steals the zookeeper’s keys and unlocks all the cages. There are only 42 words in an enchantingly funny book that never loses its charm.

23. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (1999)

One of the most written about books in modern British literature, White Teeth is Zadie Smith's widely ambitious saga about two boys rebelling against their families as they try to figure out who they are in a world riven by racial and cultural differences.

Bouncing back and forth between the Second World War and the 1990s, it covers a phantasmagoria of subjects, from war to friendship, family to love, racial identity to belonging (and much more in between). In short, White Teeth is a rollercoaster of a book. But unlike what can happen in novels with interweaving storylines spanning a long period of time, all are equally spellbinding – and equally hilarious, too.

White Teeth ultimately squares up to the two questions which nibble away at the very roots of modern life: Who are we? Why are we here? And why on Earth can’t we all just be friends? The answer is never simple, but here’s a stab: hope is everything, laughter helps, and anything is possible. 

24. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)

Helen Jones’s novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, which helped cement the popularity of the “chick-lit” genre, was the uproarious tale of the messy romantic adventures of a heavy smoking, Chardonnay-guzzling heroine who worked in publishing and fretted about her weight. The book sold two million copies and was turned into the successful movie that grossed more than £250m worldwide. Renée Zellweger earned an Oscar nomination for portraying Bridget, a protagonist who returned in Fielding’s sequels, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Baby.

25. With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant by Richard E. Grant (1996)

Nine years after starring in the hilarious film Withnail and I, Oscar-winning actor Richard E. Grant penned a “warts and all account” of his life in cinema. What survived extensive legal cuts was one of the most acidly funny celebrity memoirs ever written. His descriptions of the Hollywood community – “the land of liposuction” – of cravenly ambitious actors and movie-set disasters is hilarious. The chapter on the madness that was Hudson Hawk is worth the cover price alone.

26. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace (1997)

When David Foster Wallace died by suicide in 2008, aged just 46, the world lost a daring and dazzlingly original American author. His collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again contains laugh-out-loud dissections of the Illinois State Fair, playing tennis and the impact of television. The highlight is his side-splitting and excoriating account of a one-week trip on a Caribbean cruise ship. A wider look at this visionary writer is available in Penguin’s The David Foster Wallace Reader.

27. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)

Readers are usually split when it comes to choosing their favourite David Sedaris collection. The brilliantly acerbic and self-mocking essayist has written some radiant collections including Naked, Barrel Fever and Let’s Talk Diabetes With Owls. The funniest, however, is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which excavates his own suburban childhood in North Carolina, his chaotic time teaching a writing workshop in New York and his move to Normandy, France, with true comic grace.

28. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003)

Firoozeh Dumas knew only seven words of English when her family relocated to the United States in 1972. Her memoir Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America is a light-hearted examination of the immigrant experience. She finds humour in confronting American culture – including her disappointment when her father, an oil engineer, fails to qualify as a contestant on Bowling for Dollars – and retains a wry look at life even through the 1979 hostage crisis, when Americans were wearing “Iranians go Home” T-shirts. A second memoir, Laughing Without an Accent, followed in 2008.

29. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

At first glance, a novel about a teenager with Asperger's syndrome solving a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery about finding a neighbour’s dog dead on the lawn, impaled on a garden fork, doesn’t sound rich in comedy. Yet Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Book of the Year novel, the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints – one for children and one for adults – is rich in deadpan humour, because of narrator Christopher’s inadvertently ironic insights into the people around him and their foibles and pretensions. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will make you laugh – and cry.

30. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (2005)

Marina Lewycka was born in a refugee camp in Kiel in Germany to Ukrainian parents. She was brought up in England. Her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a family comedy about two feuding daughters trying to free their father, who is writing a history of agricultural machinery, from the clutches of Valentina, a Ukrainian divorcee who specialises in “boil-in-the-bag cooking”. The novel won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

31. Lint by Steve Aylett (2005)

Bromley-born Steve Aylett was praised by science fiction writer Michael Moorcock as “the most original voice in the literary scene” after writing his zany Zelig-like novel Lint, a mock biography of (fictitious) cult science fiction writer Jeff Lint, a sort of Philip K. Dick/Hunter S. Thompson/Ken Kesey pastiche. Aylett called his work “Voltairean satire for starters” and Lint is incredibly fresh and funny, from set-pieces such as a row with Gene Roddenberry over a rejected Star Trek script to Lint’s fresh one-liners, such as “television is light filled with someone else’s anxiety” or “when the abyss gazes into you, bill it.”. Aylett is a truly innovative writer.

32. Yeah, I Said It by Wanda Sykes (2005)

Emmy Award-winning comedian Wanda Sykes was a regular guest star on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm at the time she penned Yeah, I Said It, a memoir which she admitted was “pretty much based on my stand-up routines”. The book is packed with risqué jokes, about everything from the Super Bowl to the failings of President George W. Bush; from Michael Jackson and the Catholic Church to the scourge of racism in America.

33. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (2006)

Nora Ephron, the hugely talented writer behind movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, Heartburn and When Harry Met Sally, triumphed with her book I Feel Bad About My Neck – 15 typically smart, dry and incisive essays that are full of brilliant observational comedy. Ephron is self-deprecating about her own body, and the slow, steady downwards spiral that is aging. The book overflows with sharp wisdom, too, including the line “when your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

34. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin (2007)

In the mid-1970s, when Steve Martin was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up comedy, he encountered Elvis Presley backstage. “Son,” Presley told him, “You have an ob-leek sense of humour.” That droll sense of fun shines through Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, a heartfelt and achingly funny account of a rise from working as a schoolboy at Disneyland to the pinnacle of stardom – and why he “walked away” from comedy and moved into films. Martin’s memoir is a deft comic masterpiece.

35. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (2008)

When it comes to writing about the ‘Jewish experience’, celebrated male novelists such as Howard Jacobson, Mordecai Richler and Philip Roth get a lot of deserved acclaim – but there are some fine books in this field by female writers. One standout is New Yorker Sloane Crosley, whose book of essays, I was Told There’d Be Cake, is full of riotous stories, including her account of being the only Jewish girl at a Christian summer-camp and having to play Mary in a Nativity Play during a sweltering July. Crosley’s 2016 novel The Clasp sparkles with fun, too.

36. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (2011)

Publications that combine visual and written humour are becoming commonplace in the 21st century – books such as Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot – and one of the best modern ones was by Canadian artist Kate Beaton, who says she chose the title Hark! A Vagrant “for arbitrary reasons” when creating her comic strip. The cartoons were collected into a multi award-winning book in 2011. Her strips parody literary works and figures, such as the Brontës. Beaton has a real gift for caricature and her gags are good.

37. Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)

Three of the modern titans of television comedy are Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman and Amy Poehler. When it comes to memoirs, Fey’s Bossypants narrowly edges out Silverman’s The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee and Poehler’s Yes Please. Fey’s book has an impressive jokes-per-page hit rate and is full of sardonically gimlet-eyed accounts of being a boss on the sets of 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.

38. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling (2011)

Mindy Kaling’s irreverent memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which is part memoir, part lifestyle advice and comedy anecdote fest, was on the New York Times Bestsellers list for five weeks. Kaling, the daughter of Indian parents, grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and went on to star in The Office before starring in her own hit show, The Mindy Project. Her book contains an array of tongue-in-cheek observations on topics such as weight, race, consumer culture and Hollywood’s obsession with conventional beauty.

39. Spike Milligan: Man of Letters by Spike Milligan (2014)

Comedy genius Spike Milligan wrote hilarious poems and books – including Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall and Puckoon – but his letters contain some of the best material he ever wrote. Private correspondence, as Joe Orton showed with his hilarious letters of complaint sent under the pseudonym Mrs. Edna Welthorpe, provided a brilliant outlet for Milligan’s eccentric imagination. He once wrote to the Marketing Director of Tetley Tea asking, “when you changed from square to round tea bags, what did you do with corners?”. He responded to a request from a primary school for a poem about their teacher with the couplet:

Mr Allsopp your master,
is a one-man disaster

Spike Milligan: Man of Letters is a book for anyone who loves tomfoolery and mischief.

40. Toast on Toast: Cautionary Tales and Candid Advice, read by Steven Toast (2015)

Although audiobooks have been around since 1932, they are now soaring in popularity. Comedy books are well suited to the format, and among the best recent ones is I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan, narrated by Partridge creator Steve Coogan, in the guise of his famous character. However, for true laugh-out loud absurdist listening, I would recommend Toast on Toast: Cautionary Tales and Candid Advice, featuring the unbeatably amusing voice of narrator Matt Berry, reading his memoir of his character, a pompous, self-deluded thespian called Steven Toast. It’s a tour-de-force of comic writing and delivery.

41. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (2016)

Carrie Fisher was a true daughter of the famous – her parents were singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds – and she has spoken with great badinage about her addiction problems and the “radioactive” nature of celebrity. Her books Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic are terrific but perhaps the best is The Princess Diarist, the journals she kept while playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. The book, published by Penguin imprint Black Swan just before her death at 60, contains a galaxy of hysterical behind-the-scenes tales.

42. The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang (2016)

The second-generation Asian immigrant experience in America has provided the inspiration for some terrific 21st-century fiction, including Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Jade Chang’s sparkling debut novel The Wangs v The World is about a wealthy Chinese-American make-up tycoon who is devastated by the 2008 financial crisis and decides to take his wife and teenage children on a road trip across America. Chang brings an impressive lightness of touch to a story of identity that unflinchingly skewers lazy clichés and stereotypes.

43. Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show, was born in South Africa in 1984, to a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father – something that at the time was a crime punishable under Apartheid laws. Some of the 18 stories in Born A Crime recall the stringent and often bizarre measures his mother took to hide him from a racist government that could have taken him away from his parents. The book, which won The Thurber Prize for American Humor, is a moving, sharply funny account of the absurdities of politics, race and identity.

44. Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood (2017)

Another Thurber-winning memoir was poet Patricia Lockwood’s scintillating Priestdaddy, the story of growing up as the daughter of an irrepressible married Catholic priest, a man who converted on board a submarine while watching The Exorcist. As well as startling stories of childhood, there is a painfully funny account of having to move back in with her eccentric father as an adult. “My father despises cats. He considers them to be little mean Hillary Clintons covered all over in feminist leg fur,” is just one of Lockwood’s dazzlingly offbeat observations.

45. Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (2019)

Texan Jillian Weise is an award-winning poet, essayist and playwright and a disability rights activist. She self-identifies as a “cyborg” because of her computerized prosthetic leg. Her sharp-witted writing has done much to raise awareness on disability issues (she also has an entertaining YouTube character called Tipsy Tullivan). Her 2019 poetry collection Cyborg Detective is full of biting wit and she has been praised as “an anarchic sharp-fanged satirist of the very first rank”.

46. Reasons to Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (2019)

Dolly Alderton (especially with the sharply observed 2021 novel Ghosts), Marian Keyes and Meg Mason are leading the way as modern humorous fiction writers. Another in this bracket is Nina Stibbe, whose superb 2019 story Reasons to be Cheerful, the sequel to Man at the Helm and Paradise Lodge, won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and the Comedy Women in Print Prize. The novel amply demonstrates her pin-sharp ability to revel in the inherent absurdity of everyday life.

47. Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen (2019)

In this candid and bawdy memoir, Tom Rasmussen, who grew up in Lancaster, England, speaks both as Tom and their performance alter ego “Crystal”. The tales about the tribulations and triumphs of life as a drag queen are sometimes shocking: Tom’s story of being attacked by a stranger is highly disturbing; his tales of trysts in a Portaloo and sexual experiences that saw them drinking out of toilets are amusing and heartfelt. “This book changed my life. It is the queer bible I’ve always needed,” remarked singer-songwriter Sam Smith.

48. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (2019)

Comedian and former “bitches gotta eat” blogger Samantha Irby calls herself “a high-functioning depressed and anxious person”. Her book of essays We Are Never Meeting in Real Life takes a caustic look at reality television, dating, lesbian sex, life in your thirties, owning a bitchy cat and how the ideal lover is someone who would “get me to stop spending my money like a goddamn NBA lottery pick”. Her essay about an ill-fated pilgrimage to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes is particularly witty.

49. A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris (2021)

Ah, fragile masculinity. Joshua Ferris brings a masterful touch to one of comedy’s best-loved subjects in this poignant and witty novel. When Charlie Barnes’ millennial son forces him to re-assess his Mad Men-era persona – newspaper and landline – through the lenses of his offspring, his wive(s), his friends and business clients, he is left trying to rethink his life – with entertaining consequences.

50. That Moment When by Mo Gilligan (2021)

Sometimes it feels like celebrities come fully formed: Mo Gilligan, in particular, is so naturally funny and charming that it can feel like he was simply born for success. But in this hilarious, often poignant memoir, subtitled Life Stories from Way Back Then, Gilligan opens up about the moments in his life – long before his online comedy videos sprung him to national, then international fame – that made him who he is today. From memories of growing up in South London and his school days to early comedy gigs and learning to cope with fame, Gilligan weaves a heart-warming story of comedy, careers and community.

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