I’ve slowly come to the realization that I’m addicted to comedy. Most of us are susceptible to some degree; I know of few people who don’t enjoy laughing. But I’m an addict. Like that lover of fine cheeses in the Monty Python skit, I am one who delights in all manifestations of the jocular muse. Which leads right into this first bit quite nicely.
Although I have almost memorized the entire length of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I was never that conversant with the original series. Hark! Look here. What’s this? All the Words: The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus (Pantheon, 1989). Danger, danger, Will Robinson. Now I can be insufferable at parties, as I quickly memorize pertinent sections of this compendium. Now I too can say “Your Majesty is like a big jam doughnut with cream on the top,” and know that the follow-up is “like a doughnut, your arrival gives us pleasure, and your departure only makes us hungry for more.” Unfortunately, All the Words is only the TV series. You have to (and can, fortunately) buy the scripts for the movies separately. If that doesn’t satisfy your need for the python of fun, check out Kim “Howard” Johnson’s The First 20 Years of Monty Python (St. Martin’s, 1989), which supplies a wonderful biography of the group as a whole, and compliments George Perry’s earlier Life of Python (Little Brown, 1983).
Speaking of group biographies, I hope you didn’t miss Doug Hill and Jeff Weingard’s Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live (Beech Tree, 1986). Now that SNL is showing something of a comeback, it’s interesting to read how the show was originally created. As an added benefit, it also illustrates the reason why old SNL (Belushi, Ackroyd, Murray) was so much better than today’s SNL, by comparing old SNL to what was the new SNL of the time of publication, that of Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. The faces may be different, but the conclusions are the same.
(Hey, while I’m here, can I plug Brad Denton’s short story “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians”? Denton understood the conclusion that I’m speaking of above, and made it a wonderful story. It appeared sometime in 1986 or 1987 in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and hasn’t been reprinted since, as far as I know. Maybe Denton’s new novel, Blackburn, will awaken some interest in a short story collection. Hey, you’re reading Denton, aren’t you? You know that Waldrop fellow? Denton’s kinda like that. Freaky, yet well-written. Hilarious, too. See Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede. Deserving, you know.)
But the creme de la creme of comedy, and the acknowledged master of comedic text, is P.G. Wodehouse. If you haven’t given Wodehouse a try, you have certainly missed a treat. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are portraying Wodehouse’s best-known characters, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. It’s a good series, but Wodehouse was meant to be read. I mean, how can you go wrong with a novel titled Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen? Wodehouse does it all: pratfalls, mistaken identity, puns, mixed-up mail, allusions to classics (specifically Shakespeare, who Wodehouse would have acknowledged as the master of comedy), young men in spats, old women with boodles of money, femme fatales, homme de honour, etc. In any case, how are you going to understand the next Connie Willis novel if you haven’t read the very people she’s paying homage to? (Besides Wodehouse, you’ll also need to pick up Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.)