It used to be that the parody encyclopedia was such a daunting proposition that only the most dedicated humorists were willing to take it on. Now, with TV shows and magazines having bigger and more diverse writing staffs, the idea has become more commonplace—even a beloved satirical-news paper put one out pretty recently. (No names, no pack-drill.)
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’s entry into the genre, following 2004’s well-received America (The Book), is Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide To The Human Race. It shares only three authors with its predecessor, and there’s much less emphasis on connections to the show—in fact, Earth (The Book) wisely downplays its status as a Daily Show product. There are almost no references to the program, no correspondent cameos, and very little outside of the cover to indicate it has anything to do with the Comedy Central flagship. This may disappoint the show’s fans, but it allows the book to present itself as more of a general humor book than a TV-show spin-off, and it features the strengths of its writers more than its personalities.
Earth (The Book) takes an even bigger risk: it strays from the topical humor that is The Daily Show’s bread and butter. This, too, turns out to be a good decision. By letting an extremely talented crew of writers loose in a much wider field than the one where they’re accustomed to working, it lets them pull out surprising, effective jokes that still have the familiar Daily Show tone. One of the most effective is the book’s central comedic conceit: It’s written to be read by a theoretical group of alien visitors, coming to Earth long after the human race is extinct. This sets up lots of self-mocking, ever-so-slightly rueful humor, and a never-fail gag called “Earth Search,” a scavenger hunt of varying difficulty for the aliens roaming the planet’s now-lifeless surface. Another effective gag is “Nailed It,” where the writers showcase something about Earth that came out exactly right: the anus, nectarines, and orgasms (a.k.a. “why we did 99% of the stuff we did”).
Slickly designed, with plenty of visual gags for the short-attention-spanned, and a voice that gets to breathe without losing sight of where it came from, Earth (The Book) isn’t a flawless humor book. It has its share of jokes that fall flat or are overly familiar, but it’s a surprising stretch, and it even overtakes its predecessor.