Known to American audiences as the sarcastic British host of Comedy Central’s game show Distraction, Jimmy Carr — a man who takes great joy in seeing contestants urinate on command, getting body-slammed by wrestlers and having cinder blocks smashed on their chests — doesn’t seem the type of person who would write a heady textbook-style tome about the inner workings of humor. But with help from Lucy Greeves, his best friend since they met at Cambridge University, that’s exactly what the stand-up comic has done.
Fear not, Only Joking isn’t exactly a textbook. But it’s definitely not for the casual observer of comedy. In fact, this book gives obsessed comedy nerds more than enough justification to keep on obsessing. Throughout the books 288 pages, the authors do an excellent job of analyzing, among other things, the construction of a joke, the physiological and psychological responses to punch lines and to humor in general, the history of stand-up comedy and the philosophy of humor.
While the tone of the book is, for the most part, quite academic, Carr and Greeves’ wit pop up in parenthetical asides and one-line commentaries throughout. But really, it’s thoughtful passages like “laughing is so pleasurable that we go to great lengths to re-create that sensation of release in completely artificial circumstances, by telling jokes” that force you to take Only Joking, and comedy itself, seriously.
If you’re not down with waxing all smarty-pants on comedy, listen up: This books doubles as a coffee-table/on-the-potty book. There’s a quick joke at the bottom of each page and a series of longer jokes at the end of each chapter; everyone from Steven Wright to Jay Leno to Emo Philips is represented.