Bookends: The showbiz Boris Johnson

29 October 2011

Amiability can take you a long way in British public life. James Corden is no fool: he co-wrote and co-starred in three series of Gavin and Stacey, and wowed the… Read more

Bookends: Laughing by the book

13 August 2011

Comedy is a serious business. The number of young people who seek to make a living making other people laugh seems to grow every year. Jonathan Lynn starts Comedy Rules… Read more


An existential hero

16 April 2011
The Pale King David Foster Wallace

Hamish Hamilton, pp.547, 20

Sam Leith is enthralled by a masterpiece on monotony, but is devastated by its author’s death When David Foster Wallace took his own life two and a half years ago,… Read more

Cross-cultural exchanges

12 February 2011
Voice of America E.C. Osondu

Granta, pp.256, 14.99

The 18 stories, each around a dozen pages long, in E.C. Osondu’s Voice of America seem to have poured out of him like water. They have a fluency, an evenness… Read more


Forgotten laughter

8 January 2011

The Radio Times now lists 72 channels, and that’s not all of them. The Radio Times now lists 72 channels, and that’s not all of them. No wonder television has… Read more


Twin peaks

8 January 2011

It’s that time of year. The great reckoning is upon us. Insurance is being renewed. Tax returns are being ferreted out. Roofing jobs are being appraised and budgeted for. And… Read more

Lords of laughter

1 January 2011

What do the following comedians have in common? Morecambe and Wise, Ronnie Barker, Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse, Peter Sellers. They’re all dead, yes. But something else. None of them was… Read more


The sound of broken glass

27 November 2010
The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism Peter Wilkin

Libri Publishing, pp.240, 12

What do Evelyn Waugh, Peter Cook and Chris Morris have in common? I would have said ‘irreverence’ and left it at that; but the social scientist Peter Wilkin has written… Read more

Dying of laughter

27 November 2010

Marcus Berkmann on the few genuinely funny books aimed at this year’s Christmas market It’s a worrying sign, but I suspect that Christmas may not be as amusing as it… Read more


Anything for a laugh

14 April 2010
The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole Martyn Downer

Black Spring Press, pp.320, 16.99

A hundred years ago, when Britannia still ruled the waves, the Royal Navy fell victim to a humiliating hoax, reports of which kept the public amused for a few wintry… Read more


A couple of drifters

3 February 2010
The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers Paul Torday

Weidenfeld, pp.282, 11.99

Paul Torday was 59 when his first novel, the highly acclaimed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, was published in 2006. Since then, he can barely have stepped away from his… Read more

Quirky books for Christmas

9 December 2009

After the Christmas ‘funny’ books, here’s an even larger pile of Christmas ‘quirky’ books. After the Christmas ‘funny’ books, here’s an even larger pile of Christmas ‘quirky’ books. In practice,… Read more

But then the snow turned to rain

14 October 2009
Seasonal Suicide Notes Roger Lewis

Short Books, pp.199, 12.99

My daughter when small came home from school one night singing these extraordinary lines: ‘Fortune, my foe, why dost thou frown on me/ And will thy favours never lighter be?’… Read more

The one that got away

14 October 2009
Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries, 1980-1988 Michael Palin

Weidenfeld, pp.621, 20

Michael Palin is the meekest, mildest and nicest of the Pythons. The latest chunk of his diaries traces his attempt during the 1980s to break away from his wacky colleagues… Read more

Cries and whispers

23 September 2009
Strange Days Indeed Francis Wheen

Fourth Estate, pp.344, 18.99

The habit of dividing the past into centuries or decades might be historiographically suspect, but by now it seems unavoidable. And it is possible that, because we now expect decades… Read more

Joking apart

16 September 2009
A Gate at the Stairs Lorrie Moore

Faber, pp.322, 16.99

Free association underpins the comedy of Lorrie Moore’s writing — or perhaps the verb should be ‘unpins’, since her prose spins off in tangential, apparently affectless riffs. Free association underpins… Read more

Behind the wit

13 May 2009
Home to Roost and Other Peckings Deborah Devonshire

John Murray, pp.168, 10

Home to Roost and Other Peckings by Deborah Devonshire, edited by Charlotte Mosley As Alan Bennett says in his introduction, ‘Deborah Devonshire is not someone to whom one can say… Read more

Unkind hearts and Jews

12 December 2008
Israel Rank Roy Horniman

Faber Finds, pp.414, 15

Israel Rank, by Roy Horniman It was the second or third time that I ever saw Kind Hearts and Coronets that I noticed in the opening credits: ‘Based on the… Read more

Humph swings

3 December 2008
Last Chorus: An Autobiographical Medley Humphrey Lyttleton

JR Books, pp.447, 18.99

Last Chorus: An Autobiographical Medley, by Humphrey Lyttleton ‘Old Etonian ex-Guards Officer jazz trumpeter’. That was the way tabloid gossip columnists used to describe Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008) in the early… Read more

Highs and lows on the laughometer

26 November 2008
Just What I Always Wanted: Unwrapping the World’s Most Curious Presents Robin Laurance

Quercus, pp.256, 9.99

The Bank of England Bedside Book, Volume I: Adventures, Escapades and Memories Paul Tempest

Stacey International, 16.95

In Other Words John Mortimer

Viking, 14.99

Just What I Always Wanted: Unwrapping the World’s Most Curious Presents, by Robin Laurance What might seem an obviously Christmassy book is Robin Laurance’s Just What I Always Wanted: Unwrapping… Read more