I Found This Funny presents itself as a straightforward, not outlandishly ambitious anthology edited by Hollywood comedy kingpin Judd Apatow, but the through-line of its collected pieces is a little subtler than that. Essentially, the book mingles comedy writing both of the literary and more unabashedly crowd-pleasing kinds. While its selections may seem fairly obvious for fans of modern lit, it will likely open new doors for comedy geeks who’ve never discovered Lorrie Moore or Alice Munro.
In his introduction, Apatow notes that some of the book’s pieces aren’t precisely humor: “Well, they’re funny to me, but I don’t want to start a big debate about the definition of funny.” Munro’s “Material,” from 1996’s Selected Stories, is one piece that skirts the line: an interior monologue by a woman spotting her ex-husband’s short story in a journal, giving her side of events. It features pathos as well as laughs, but titling the collection I Found That Pathetic would probably push readers away.
Apatow offers an overview of a few different comedic styles. There are scripts, notably a pilot to Lookwell written by Robert Smigel and Conan O’Brien (the pilot aired on NBC in 1991, but never made it past a single episode) and the Saturday Night Live sketch “Canteen Boy And The Scoutmaster,” from 1994. The collection also includes John Lahr’s 1993 New Yorker profile of comedian Bill Hicks, excerpts from books by comedians Jon Stewart (1998’s Naked Pictures Of Famous People) and Steve Martin (2007’s Born Standing Up), a selection of drawings by Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson, and poetry from Tony Hoagland.
Still, the more straightforward stories are most rewarding. (“Canteen Boy And The Scoutmaster” is meant to be seen, not read.) The book’s most welcome contribution is in reminding readers how fall-down funny Lorrie Moore is. “Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens,” from 1998’s classic Birds Of America, features a married mother who situates her angst on the death of her 10-year-old cat, telling a psychiatrist about Bert’s various mews: for food, for going out, for being brushed. “And then he had his existential mew, where I’d follow him vaguely around the house as he wandered in and out of rooms, not knowing exactly what or why.”