Comedy books for Christmas


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The Independent Culture

Sometimes it can be empowering to know you have nothing left to lose – that, at least, is the theory behind the birth of “my nemesis and my deliverer”, as Michael Pennington describes his alter ego in Becoming Johnny Vegas (HarperCollins, £20). In a thoroughly entertaining memoir, Pennington is also acute in his psychological evisceration of his own drunken shambles of an act.

Billy Crystal, meanwhile, is Still Foolin’ ’Em (Henry Holt, £20). Here, he explains his attitude to turning 65 and looks back over an exhilarating career. There are a few too many references to baseball for a British palate, but Crystal has a lovely turn of phrase, and his anecdotes are delivered with machine-gun pace.

Rob Delaney’s Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. (Blackfriars, £8.99) takes its name from his profile on Twitter, where he made his name. From shoplifting to bed-wetting, this is remarkably confessional, while also being moving. Confession also makes an appearance in Paul Kerensa’s So a Comedian Walks Into a Church … (Darton Longman, £8.99). An Anglican, he attends whichever churches he finds near his gigs – be they Methodist in Cornwall or Pentecostal in Guernsey. The religious side provides a droll education; the gigs often amusing for the sheer lack of audience.

Viv Groskop comes up against something similar in I Laughed, I Cried (Orion, £11.99), in which she attempts to play 100 gigs in 100 days. Groskop is terrific on the strain it puts on her family, and provides wonderful summaries of each performance: day 26’s, for example, is in what appears to be a “dungeon with an atmosphere of doom”; literally no one turns up.

A regular on the US club circuit, Fred Stoller provides a lesson in how not to make it big with Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star (Skyhorse, £15.40). A veteran of more than 70 sitcoms, he offers nuggets about writing for Seinfeld and appearing on Friends. Al Murray, meanwhile, has been Watching War Films with My Dad (Century, £16.99), in which he chronicles his fascination with all things militarily historical with flair, wit and joy.

Crawley stand-up Ian Moore is not always so enthralled by his new surrounds in the Loire Valley, where he develops fatigue from commuting and taking care of horses. His A la Mod (Summersdale, £8.99) is as much about the difficulties of rural life as it is being a Mod in France – and is all the better for it.