Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: The Naked Jape

The Naked Jape: Uncovering the hidden world of jokes

by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves

Published in 2006

Synopsis: "Top comedian Jimmy Carr and fellow joke-lover Lucy Greeves tour the strange and wonderful world of jokes - to find out what's funny and why." (from back cover)

I love all forms of comedy, in my books, TV shows and films, but my favourite form is definitely stand-up. Recently Tom has taken up the terrifying past-time of stand-up comedy so once or twice a week I follow him to a bar so that he has at least one laugh (I kid - he's really very good) and watch him and a dozen other men and women get up in front of that bright light and try their hardest to make the audience laugh.

Before Tom took up this past-time I'd only seen professional comics so I'd never really experienced how difficult comedy can be. A comic can do the exact same set on two different nights and be the hero one night and booed off the stage another. Tom, being the perfectionist that he is, picked up this book partly because of his love of comedian Jimmy Carr and partly to try and understand a bit more about the history of jokes. Written with Carr's long term friend Lucy Greeves this book examines the intricacies of stand up comedy as well as looking back to where jokes originally came from.

The writing in this book is light and riddled with tongue in cheek humour. Through their relaxed and almost conversational writing style Carr and Greeves manage to translate dense writings by academics and experts like Freud into something interesting and incredibly easy to read and absorb, and they do so with an ease that I greatly admire. Alongside the in-text jokes over 400 jokes are included (whittled down from an amazing 20 000!) to break up the chapters, and a one-liner featured on the bottom of each page.

It's quite an interesting read and the book certainly covers a smorgasbord of topics, from gender politics within comedy, to Freudian theory, to mythical trickster gods/characters, to the makeup of jokes and beyond. Real world modern day examples of comedy shows or controversies that you'd most likely have heard of (or are easy to look up on Youtube) are often used in conjunction with the denser or drier topics which kept me interested and laughing. I found that the chapters flowed together quite nicely, building upon each other in terms of theory and knowledge, yet could quite easily be read as stand alone chapters if people wanted to just flick through the book.

For the most part I felt like I was gaining a comprehensive insight into the chapter topics but at times I did feel like the book was a little...lacking. Carr and Greeves obviously spent quite a bit of time researching and interviewing academics and comedians for this book, but at times I felt that tackling 2000 years of history in a little under 300 pages spread their ability to detail the content a little thin.The focus was really on the joke today and how it came to be as it is now, so the historical elements seemed more as a way of backgrounding topics or to back up hypotheses and lacked the detail that I'd have loved to read.

 However considering this is a book written by two friends with a love of comedy (which really comes through the writing and content) I think it stacks up quite well. There is enough information in here to appease a comedy fan and enough to whet the appetite for those interested in gaining a more thorough and academic education on the subject. Overall I thought this was an interesting and humorous read, but if you're wanting something more than a "joke book which explains why you're laughing" (quote by Jonathon Ross on back cover) you'd perhaps be better looking elsewhere.

Rating: 3/5


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