By writing a memoir, comedians can tell the stories about themselves that don’t fit on a stand-up stage. While autobiographies and anthologies of personal essays from comedians have been around for years, the genre has exploded since the early 2000s. Comedy memoirs have become a staple of bestseller lists and are often among Amazon’s top suggestions. From the funny to the raw, here are the comedian-penned books that any comedy lover or aspiring comedian should add to their coffee table or Kindle reading list:
Bossypants – Tina Fey, 2011
Tina Fey’s Bossypants is an instant classic of the genre. The book topped the New York Times Best Seller List and stayed there for 5 weeks. Having sold millions of copies, Fey’s autobiography is very funny, even when it shouldn’t be. For example, one passage reads, “During the spring semester of kindergarten, I was slashed in the face by a stranger in the alley behind my house. Don’t worry. I’m not going to lay out the grisly details for you like a sweeps episode of Dateline.” She walks the line between comedy and tragedy throughout the book. She goes on in this chapter to talk candidly about beauty and pain in a way Fey fans were not yet used to in 2011.
Last Words – George Carlin, 2009
This autobiography was published shortly after George Carlin’s death in 2008. The comedy legend described the book as a “sortabiography,” since it was co-authored by writer and friend, Tony Hendra and based on 15 years of conversations the two had together. The work chronicles the life of the comedian and is notable for how many photos it includes. The photos work with the text to capture the spirit of the man behind the comedy.
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah, 2016
Trevor Noah has one of the most interesting backstories in comedy and also one of the darkest. The Daily Show host was born in South Africa during Apartheid, his biracial birth was punishable by up to five years in prison. The book takes a deep dive into the extreme measures that his Xhosa mother took to hide her child from the government. The book tells the story of a restless boy confined to his home growing into a man who sees the world as a place he was never supposed to be a part of. The book is heartbreaking at times and teaches an American audience more about South African history than the school system ever did.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling, 2011
Mindy Kaling makes it seem easy to become a comedy superstar in this autobiography. The best part of the book is about her start in comedy with an Off-Broadway show where she impersonated Ben Affleck as her best friend appeared as Matt Damon. The book is broken down into segments that are not always linear. It seems almost as if she was asked, “What are 15 things we should know about Mindy?” And then wrote an answer to each of those questions. The result is you have all you want to know about the Mindy Project star and nothing you don’t.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – Issa Rae, 2015
Issa Rae released this book before her hit show Insecure premiered on HBO. It thus is a perfect snapshot of the brink of fame. Most hit comedy memoirs are written by comedy veterans or the biggest names in the zeitgeist. While Rae had a super popular web series, the book reads differently than some of the other books on this list. Though Misadventures revolves around being black and an introvert, it is universal in its humor and wit.
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard 2017
This memoir really shines for its honest account of alternative sexuality and the European comedy scene in the 1980s. The New York Times Bestseller is far more political than many of the other books on this list, which sets it apart for all the right reasons. Makes sense, as the one-man-showman plans to run for office in the United Kingdom in 2020.
The Last Black Unicorn -Tiffany Haddish, 2017
Tiffany Haddish had a remarkably hard life and her book, the Last Black Unicorn, doesn’t shy away from that. The book is full of deeply personal stories of growing up in foster care in South Central Los Angeles but is punctuated by jokes about being an in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman or truly filthy accounts of sex. The Girls Trip star writes much like she talks, which makes even the hardest to swallow moments in this book funny.
I Hate Myselfie: A Collection of Essays – Shane Dawson, 2015
Most people don’t think of YouTube stars as comedians, but Shane Dawson is more than a YouTube star: He is a YouTube phenomenon. Since joining the site in 2005, he has made nearly 2,000 videos and amassed over 4.5 billion views. Dawson became known because of his larger-than-life personality, but he strips that away for I Hate Myselfie. The work is surprisingly raw and shows a portrait of an overweight, antisocial child who is just trying to love himself for who he is.
Just the Funny Parts: …And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boy’s Club – Nell Scovell, 2018
Nell Scovell might not be a household name, but she has been a writer, producer, and director for over 30 years, working on everything from the Simpsons to Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Her book is an intimate look at often being the only women in a writers room and the sexual harassment that often abounds from that. Scovell was one of the first women to write for Letterman and has spent the last ten years trying to make late night writing jobs more accessible to women. Just the Funny Parts is a feminist masterpiece and a must-read for young writers looking to break into TV joke writing.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life – Steve Martin, 2007
Steve Martin once described his memoir as “why I did stand-up and why I walked away.” The comedy fan favorite shows Martin as a deeply introspective and hardworking man, who is still a king of stand-up even though he quit in 1981 (only to return after 35 years in 2016). His book was named one of the ten best nonfiction titles of the year by Time and Entertainment Weekly and packs as much heart as it does punch.
Less modern, but…
Nigger: An Autobiography – Dick Gregory, 1964
Dick Gregory was not only a comedian, but he was also a social activist. This autobiography is a testament to his dedication to both his artform and civil rights. While the book has received criticism, especially for its title, The New York Times called it, “Powerful and ugly and beautiful…a moving story of a man who deeply wants a world without malice and hate and is doing something about it.”