Elif Batuman wrote a whole book about Russian literature and the crazy people who love it — The Possessed — and she made it super-duper funny. Is Tolstoy funny? Is Chekov funny? Not at all! Batuman is a magician. She is a wry, wonderful observer of life, and the more weird topics she finds, whether it’s writing for The New Yorker or arguing against an MFA, the more we get to laugh.
Lana Del Rey
In a world where some female pop stars are weirdly obsessed with outsider comedy (explain Katy Perry’s “Birthday” video to me, seriously?), Lana Del Rey’s absolute commitment to her doomy, dreamy, femme-fatale-stuck-in-the-’60s persona yields so much comedy I can’t even handle it. Exhibit A: the batshit song “Off to the Races” from Born to Die, where she takes on the baby voice of a gal who’s in a bad relationship with a dangerous man, with some Chateau Marmot references and lots of boop-de-boop voice. Exhibit B: Everything about “Brooklyn Baby,” the best and funniest song off the new album. She says “my jazz collection’s rare,” she talks about getting high on “hydroponic weed” and ends the song by insisting that she’s much, much cooler than her boyfriend who is in a band. It’s amazing.
In the short stories of Lorrie Moore, you laugh to keep from crying. She has a slew of nervous girl narrators who have joke after joke but you know what? She can see the absurdity in life, and by pointing it out, she can also get you in the gut with emotions and truth afterwards. It’s a rare gift and it’s why she’s the queen of funny.
Let’s call this the Liz Phair memorial slot (even though Liz Phair is still very much alive), because Heti’s searching frankness in How Should a Person Be? is also funny as hell. The section of the book where “Sheila” discusses having sex with Israel is epic, memorable, and should be a classic monologue for acting classes. It’s filthy, but here’s a piece: “I don’t know why all of you just sit in libraries when you could be fucked by Israel… Why are you all reading? I don’t understand this reading business when there is so much fucking to be done.”
Being a human in the Internet age is a funny thing, isn’t it? How can you have relationships with people and moments of connection when there’s always something shiny emanating from the computer? Mira Gonzalez, a young poet working in that Tao Lin alt-lit-y scene that makes anyone born in the ’80s feel ancient, is a smart, funny writer whose work makes me feel a little bit lonely and a little bit less alone — especially in her book I will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together. Her poems train a witty eye on how weird it is to be a person right this second.
Mallory Ortberg, the cofounder of The Toast, is probably the funniest woman on the Internet right this second. She first started writing “texts from” various literary characters for The Hairpin, which became a book, Texts From Jane Eyre, out in November. Every week she’s writing something brilliant, whether it’s about YA or erotica or some other fine and sundry topic that she chooses, from Every English Novel Ever to wedding stuff and way beyond. So often somebody will be saying, often in our office, “Man, this thing is funny!” and 99% of the time, it’s about something Ortberg has done.
In the documentary Guest of Cindy Sherman, we got to see that Cindy Sherman dated Steve Martin at one point. After they broke up, she was working on a series of clown portraits. One of those clowns is pretty obviously Sherman dressed up as Martin. The piece sold for lots of money. Best joke ever?
It is forgotten, much of the time, because she is so firmly one of The Great Writers of Our Time, but Zadie Smith is also a very funny writer. Her acute observations of what it’s like to live in London, or America, right now, in this day and age, are really comic, whether it’s the pains of immigration in White Teeth or On Beauty‘s attempts at blending in stuffy old Massachusetts.
A poet who got a great profile in The New York Times Magazine due to her jokes. She has, of course, written the best tweet of all time:
Living that dream, Patricia Lockwood! Her newest book of poetry, Fatherland Motherland Homelandsexuals will make you LOL with its surreal visions of deers doing it and Emily Dickison and Walt Whitman sharing tit pics and… it’s crazy. She’s brilliant. Read her stuff.
The young Australian singer-songwriter is quick with a witty line and it makes her music even more charming as a result. There’s jokes galore on her first proper American release The Double EP: An EP of Split Peas, which has been on the record player for months and is still funny. She tours as “Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts.” Her song “Avant Gardener” is the obvious pick for hilariousness, a lovely day-in-the-life of a slacker who tries to garden and ends up at the hospital, but I also love tossed-off lines like this one from her song “Anonymous Club”: “Let’s start an anonymous club/ I’ll make us nametags with question marks.” So good!