Jena Friedman is a comedian and writer whose recent work includes the series True Crime Story: Indefensible and the standup special Ladykiller. Her new book, Not Funny, addresses cultural flashpoints, including sexism and dead baby jokes.
Amphigorey by Edward Gorey (1972)
I've been a fan of Edward Gorey ever since I could read. His macabre illustrations and morbid stories have influenced a lot of my work. I don't think I would have had the confidence to write a 9,000-word essay on dead baby jokes without Gorey as my longtime muse. Buy it here.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (2019)
Hilarious, insightful, and the gold standard in contemporary cultural criticism. Tolentino's perspective on society is evocative of that cool, smarter-than-you friend whose mere presence in your life helps justify spending half your paycheck on rent to live in a city where someone like Jia would reside. Buy it here.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000)
For me, this is an all-time favorite memoir. Bourdain is as fearless as he is amusing, surgically eviscerating fine dining with outrageous and oftentimes unappetizing anecdotes about his years in its trenches. The world has shifted so much in the 23 years since this playfully brash exposé was first published, and while its larger-than-life author is now tragically dead, his writing endures. Buy it here.
Dark Money by Jane Mayer (2016)
A fascinating, well-researched account of how private money from far-right billionaires — namely, the Koch brothers — has corrupted our democracy. While this one has nothing to do with comedy, it should be required reading for every U.S. citizen. Buy it here.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)
Having also started comedy in Chicago, I've always looked up to Tina Fey. While this entire memoir is a laugh-out-loud, introspective page-turner, the chapters on Saturday Night Live were the most illuminating to me. I'll never forget Lorne Michaels' advice to "never tell a crazy person they're crazy." Those are words to live by. Buy it here.
Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper (2019)
Phelps-Roper's memoir about leaving her family's insular, homophobic cult, the Westboro Baptist Church, provides an interesting look into extremism and deradicalization. I hate to admit that I found it kind of funny, but the images she evokes of kids protesting funerals are so profane and shocking that they verge on satire. It also made me nostalgic for that brief moment around 2009 when Twitter could be harnessed for good. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.