Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture–and the Magic That Makes It Work (Hardcover)
One of NPR's Best Books of 2023. Named a Most Anticipated Book by Vulture, Elle, Chicago Tribune, The Millions, and Lit Hub.
"Comedy Book changes the way we talk about an art form that is more diverse and exciting than ever before.” —Seth Meyers
"Energetic and wise . . . Comedy Book is not the definitive history of the past three-plus decades. It’s Fox’s history, and better for it." —The New York Times Book Review
From a beloved comedy critic, a wisecracking, heartfelt, and overdue chronicle of comedy’s boom—and its magic.
Comedy is king. From multimillion-dollar TV specials to sold-out stand-up shows and TikTok stardom, comedy has never been more popular, democratized, or influential. Comedians have become organizing forces across culture—as trusted as politicians and as fawned-over as celebrities—yet comedy as an art form has gone under-considered throughout its history, even as it has ascended as a cultural force.
In Comedy Book, Jesse David Fox—the country’s most definitive voice in comedy criticism and someone who, in his own words, “enjoys comedy maybe more than anyone on this planet"—tackles everything you need to know about comedy. Weaving together history and analysis, Fox unravels the genre’s political legacy through an ode to Jon Stewart, interrogates the divide between highbrow and lowbrow via Adam Sandler, and unpacks how marginalized comics create spaces for their communities. Along the way, Fox covers everything from comedy in the age of political correctness and Will Smith’s slap to the right wing’s relationship with comedy and, for Fox, comedy’s ability to heal personal tragedy.
With memorable cameos from Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney, Ali Wong, Kate Berlant, and countless others, Comedy Book is an eye-opening education in how to engage with our most omnipresent art form, a riotous history of American pop culture, and a love letter to laughter.
"[An] energetic and wise book . . . Comedy Book is not the definitive history of the past three-plus decades. It’s Fox’s history, and better for it." —Rich Juzwiak, The New York Times Book Review
"Compendious, deeply considered, provoking, and rather dizzying . . . There’s a rhythm and an expertise about comedy criticism right now (Fox’s very much included) that reminds me of good jazz writing from the ’50s and ’60s: savvy, insidery, immersed, excited, with its own developing vocabulary . . . A bonus side effect of reading Comedy Book, of reading about all these comedians and their processes, was that I was cured, finally, of my sentimental attachment to the idea of the stand-up as truth-telling philosophe." —James Parker, The Atlantic
"That which makes us laugh reveals what we value, or so Jesse David Fox argues in this deft and detailed history of comedy through the 1990s into the 2020s and its path to cultural and political dominance. Both humorous and intellectually rigorous, Comedy Book is an essential read for anyone who’s curious how and why comedy became a perspective through which we make sense of the modern age." —Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE
"Jesse David Fox is a shrewd and incisive critic of a vibrant and mutable art form that historically rejects criticism . . . he writes movingly about the craft of comedy – both its deft, hilarious uses and its hack, cruel abuses." —Glen Weldon, NPR
"The comedy book that Comedy the Art Form didn’t have until now — a vibrant mash of meaning and history that pokes into how comedy ages; conservatives and jokes; the genius of lowbrow and more." —Chicago Tribune
"Few people writing about comedy nowadays do so with the diligence or verve that Jesse David Fox brings to the table. You might recognize him from his work as host of the podcast Good One, or his incisive writing on the subject at Vulture and elsewhere. At a time when comedians are getting massive deals from streaming services and comedians occupy a substantial share of the pop culture space, a comprehensive look at how we got here feels like essential reading — and that’s exactly what Fox has assembled." —Tobias Carroll, InsideHook
"Electric . . . [Fox] has a knack for finding revelations in unexpected places . . . There are fresh perspectives on every page, and the style is as humorous as one would expect . . . Brilliant and a pleasure to read, this raises the bar for comedy studies." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Jesse David Fox is not only very funny but also one of the most thoughtful writers about comedy working today. Comedy Book catalogs the most inventive voices in the field, but also changes the way we talk about an art form that is more diverse and exciting than ever before.” —Seth Meyers
"I thought I was the ultimate obsessed comedy nerd but after reading Jesse David Fox’s comprehensive Comedy Book I realized there is someone out there much sicker than me." —Judd Apatow
"This is a book for people who love comedy, and for people who know nothing about comedy and are curious about who is in there and how it can all work. This is a sharp, loving, well written exploration and analysis of the art form that makes us smile, helps us relate, and is perpetually mysterious. Comedy Book is excellent for many reasons, but my favorite one is that Jesse David Fox lays it all out in a way that still allows the reader to wonder. He writes about the power and mystery of comedy in a way that only adds to that very power and that very mystery." —Jenny Slate
“Not a single person alive knows, consumes or truly loves comedy like Jesse David Fox." —Tig Notaro
"Many people write about comedy but nobody writes about it with such passion and knowledge as Jesse David Fox. His Comedy Book is a thorough and caring ride through the world of comedy. I am honored to write a blurb for the book so hopefully he will write nice things about me for many years to come!" —Nick Kroll
"As someone who has been in the comedy game for 15 years and also loves to nerd out, this is one of the most comprehensive and delightful books on comedy I've ever read. It's such a joyful read from someone who, for as long as I've known him, has the purest love of stand-up, sitcoms, improv, and everything else comedy related. I'm proud of Jesse and this book and it's an honor to have him tell our story and also teach me some thangs! It's a must read!” —Phoebe Robinson
"A fascinating snapshot at a crucial moment in the fast-mutating world of comedy. Jesse David Fox has taken a loving look at where comedy stands today, and this will become a hilarious, and much-referred to, historical document when it all warps and mutates again." —Patton Oswalt
"Taking comedy seriously sounds mighty fishy to me. Then I read this juicy book and said, ‘Well, hold on a second, I think the kid has a point!’ And you know what? Everyone else in my cult agreed!" —Aparna Nancherla
"Jesse Fox’s Comedy Book knocks our socks off showing how comedy not only became a major cultural force, but a form of literature unto itself, and a high art." —Jerry Saltz, author of Art is Life
"[A] smart and comprehensive survey of the world of modern comedy . . . In Comedy Book, Jesse David Fox serves as a knowledgeable and informative guide to the world of contemporary comedy, and its diverse practitioners and forms." —Shelf Awareness
"A thoughtful assessment of how, for better or worse, humor ages . . . [Fox is] clearly passionate about his subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern humor . . . A well-informed, appreciative assessment of the current state of comedy." —Kirkus