The best humor books from more than a century ago that remain funny today

Alex Bernstein Author Of Miserable Holiday Stories: 20 Festive Failures That Are Worse Than Yours!
By Alex Bernstein

Who am I?

As a humorist and lover of all things comedy, I know how quickly a good joke can feel dated. (Heck, lots of great bits from last year don’t even work anymore.) Drama almost always holds up better than comedy. For example, you can still get swept up in dramatic narratives as ancient as The Odyssey. But do Aristophanes’ or Shakespeare’s “comedies” elicit even the slightest guffaws? Not from me. So, I hear you cry, are there any written works from more than 100 years ago that remain lol funny today? Well, don’t cry. Because yes, there are quite a few literary treasures that are still hysterically funny. The good news is that I’ve done some of that research for you.  

I wrote...

Miserable Holiday Stories: 20 Festive Failures That Are Worse Than Yours!

By Alex Bernstein,

Book cover of Miserable Holiday Stories: 20 Festive Failures That Are Worse Than Yours!

What is my book about?

Throw another yule log on the fire and let the seasonal suffering begin! Sure, Christmas and Hanukkah are supposed to be full of laughter, generosity, and quality time with friends and family. But everyone knows the holiday season is absolutely depressing, no matter how hard you try. What to do?  Why not curl up with the latest “miserable” collection from the author of Miserable Love Stories, humorist Alex Bernstein.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, this collection of quirky yet bittersweet tales will have you longing for mid-January. Featuring Jewish Elvis impersonators, a kidnapped Santa Claus, confused parents, horrific holiday traffic, unbreakable toys, and the ever-heroic Bicycle Boys, Miserable Holiday Stories will be sure to have you asking, “who ate all the $#[email protected]% figgy pudding?!”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Anton Chekhov's Masterpieces: Short Stories ( An Avenger, Gone Astray, A Slander, Frost ) - PART 7

Why this book?

Hold on! Anton Chekhov? Not that giant of Russian literature who gave us some of the most poignant, brooding, melancholy views of family life in dramatic works like The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard? Probably the biggest surprise on this list, Anton Chekhov wrote comedy for years and as a young adult supported his family by writing humorous sketches about Russian life for the magazine Oskolki. While most famous for his plays, Chekhov was an incredibly gifted short story and humor writer. In one of his tightest yarns, “An Avenger,” confused young Fyodor Sigaev goes shopping for an appropriate revolver to mete out justice after he discovers his spouse cheating on him. But once at the shop, the sheer number of firearm choices he’s presented with quickly overwhelm him. 

“. . . I would advise you, M'sieur, to take this superb revolver, the Smith and Wesson pattern, the last word in the science of firearms. We sell a dozen every day for burglars, wolves, and lovers.”

Anton Chekhov's Masterpieces: Short Stories ( An Avenger, Gone Astray, A Slander, Frost ) - PART 7

By Anton Chekhov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anton Chekhov's Masterpieces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anton Chekhov's Masterpieces

Short Stories ( An Avenger, Gone Astray, A Slander, Frost ) - PART 7 -

-  The inspirational short stories of Anton Chekhov are famous around the World. Some of the best loved stories and tales have been penned by this remarkable Russian author considered as one of the best short story writers in history and by some as the founder of short stories! The following selection of his famous short stories will provide hours of reading pleasure.

Read in this issue:

An Avenger Gone Astray A Slander Frost

Book cover of Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Why this book?

Before Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, and Douglas Adams, there was Jerome K. Jerome and Three Men in a Boat. While probably the least familiar name on this list, 3MB holds up astonishingly well today. Initially, the book was intended to be a travel guide, but the humorous elements of the narrative took hold and wouldn’t let go. The story takes the simple premise of three highly civilized British friends deciding to weather all the myriad discomforts of a simple camping trip. Despite predating all the modern greats of British comedy, 3MB has a very similar tone to those more recent works and inspired many of those authors. And if you like Three Men in a Boat, you’re in luck. Jerome wrote a sequel: Three Men on the Bummel.

“I objected to the sea trip strongly. You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that you are going to enjoy yourself. You swagger about the deck as if you were Captain Cook. On Tuesday, you wish you hadn't come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish you were dead. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning, as you stand by the gunwale, waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it.”

Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog

By Jerome K. Jerome,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Three Men in a Boat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, is a humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome of a two-week boating holiday on the Thames from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford and back to Kingston. The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it…

Roughing It

By Mark Twain,

Book cover of Roughing It

Why this book?

To be honest, Mark Twain almost didn’t make this list. Despite being considered America’s greatest satirical author (and some might say the greatest author, period), as well as ostensibly the father of stand-up comedy (Twain was touring around doing live monologue shows a century before anyone coined the term “stand-up”) I had a hard time finding any of his pieces that actually made me laugh out loud. Yes, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is well-written and was likely hysterical in its day. But I had to dig deep to find something both timeless and gut-splitting.

I found both in Roughing It, Twain’s semi-autobiographical travel memoir. In this book written between 1870-1871, Twain reflects on his adventures across the U.S. from Missouri to Hawaii. The anecdotes are consistently great, funny, and observational, none more so than the perfect “Story of the Old Ram” – the grandaddy of all shaggy dog stories. Twain recounts ole Jim Blaine’s long meandering story of how his grandfather fetched an old ram from Illinois. We get a dozen different situations within this ramble. But what about the actual “old ram”? Well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out.

“Miss Jefferson had a glass eye and used to lend it to old Miss Wagner, that hadn't any, to receive company in; it warn't big enough, and when Miss Wagner warn't noticing, it would get twisted around in the socket, and look up, maybe, or out to one side, and every which way, while t' other one was looking as straight ahead as a spy-glass. Grown people didn't mind it, but it most always made the children cry, it was so sort of scary.” 

Roughing It

By Mark Twain,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Roughing It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The celebrated author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn mixes fact and fiction in a rousing travelogue that serves as “a portrait of the artist as a young adventurer.”*
In 1861, young Mark Twain found himself adrift as a newcomer in the Wild West, working as a civil servant, silver prospector, mill worker, and finally a reporter and traveling lecturer. Roughing It is the hilarious record of those early years traveling from Nevada to California to Hawaii, as Twain tried his luck at anything and everything—and usually failed. Twain’s encounters with tarantulas and donkeys, vigilantes…

Book cover of The Importance of Being Earnest

Why this book?

“A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” It’s actually quite exciting to me how well Oscar Wilde’s comedy holds up today. Known as one of the greatest wits of his generation, Wilde was a master of many narrative forms including gothic horror (The Picture of Dorian Gray), and children’s literature (The Selfish Giant), but in Earnest, he creates one of the greatest comedy of manners ever put to paper. In this play, two young, roguish gentlemen conspire to effectively court the ladies of their interests. What makes the piece so timeless and relevant today, is the utter shamelessness of Wilde’s heroes. He has no qualms in portraying his leading characters as clever, charming and utterly willing to deceive all others to get what they want. If you’ve never read Wilde, go pick up The Importance of Being Earnest right now. OMG, what are you waiting for?!  

Algernon: Besides, your name isn't Jack at all; it is Ernest. 

Jack: It isn't Ernest; it's Jack. 

Algernon: You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to everyone as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on your cards. Here is one of them. 'Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany.' I'll keep this as a proof that your name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to Gwendolen, or to anyone else.”

The Importance of Being Earnest

By Oscar Wilde,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Importance of Being Earnest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ever since the first night at the St James' Theatre on 14 February 1895, "The Importance of Being Earnest" has been recognised as one of the world's finest comic dramas. Now Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell leads an outstanding cast in this superb new production of Wilde's masterpiece, mounted to celebrate the centenary of the first performance.

The Pirates of Penzance

By W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan,

Book cover of The Pirates of Penzance

Why this book?

Before sitcoms, stand-up, SNL, and absolutely any great comedy movie you can name – there was Gilbert & Sullivan. Okay, yes they wrote operas (“light operas” technically; really more like our musicals today), but these works were created to be popular, scandalous, funny, and with hummable tunes for the masses. G&S operas were absurd, fantastic, politically incorrect, hysterical, “topsy turvy” extravaganzas that satirized (much like Wilde) the bourgeois mores of the day. Astonishingly, most of it holds up today, which is why you can still see Gilbert and Sullivan's productions being perpetually staged across the globe. If you can see one of their productions live – or on YouTube – go for it. But the libretto’s themselves are highly readable and funny. The Pirates of Penzance is a good gateway to their other works. It’s full of sex, crime, cops, pirates, bathing beauties, and non-stop earworms; and includes two of the funniest songs in musical theatre history: “A Paradox”, and “The Modern Major-General Song”.

From “A Paradox: “You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year, on the twenty-ninth of February; And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you’ll easily discover, that though you’ve lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you’re only five,
and a little bit over!”

The Pirates of Penzance

By W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pirates of Penzance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a pirate's apprentice tries to leave the high seas and build a new life, his hopes are dashed when a secret comes to light. The man's plans are shattered as he's forced to return to his old stomping grounds. Frederic is a 21-year-old who has spent his life working as a pirate's apprentice. Now an adult, he's free from his commitment and able to venture out on his own. He eventually stumbles across a group of women including the beautiful Mabel. They immediately fall in love and plan to spend their lives together. Unfortunately, Frederic discovers that his birthday,…

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