The Naked Jape, by Jimmy Carr & Lucy Greeves

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The Independent Culture

This is both a joke book and a book about jokes; a study of what makes jokes funny, leavened by a selection of more than 400 examples. The scholarly part reviews the usual suspects in the field – Freud, Bergson et al – in a jocular journalese which gets irritating quite quickly. It picks up when it gets on to joke-telling, on which Carr, like him or loathe him (and after reading this I find my detestation sensibly abated) is demonstrably an expert.

There are interesting chapters on offensive humour and ethnic jokes, where Carr and Greeves make the crucial point that what counts as offensive depends far more on context than on content. They draw the line at racism – offensive is fine, vicious is not (and not funny, either). The accompanying jokes, from such funny fellows as Dimitri Martin, Ross Noble, Tommy Cooper, Steven Wright, Woody Allen and good old anon, had me snorting aloud with laughter. I particularly liked Arnold Brown's "I enjoy using the comedy technique of self-deprecation – but I'm not very good at it." Or Carr's own, "I'm a fairly modern man – I've got no problem buying tampons. But apparently they're not 'a proper present'."

Penguin £8.99