Summary and book reviews of Planet Funny by Ken Jennings

Planet Funny

How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

Planet Funny by Ken Jennings X
Planet Funny by Ken Jennings
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the brilliantly witty and exuberant New York Times bestselling author Ken Jennings, a history of humor - from fart jokes on clay Sumerian tablets all the way up to the latest Twitter gags and Facebook memes - that tells the story of how comedy came to rule the modern world.

For millennia of human history, the future belonged to the strong. To the parent who could kill the most animals with sticks and to the child who could survive the winter or the epidemic. When the Industrial Revolution came, masters of business efficiency prospered instead, and after that we placed our hope in scientific visionaries. Today, in a clear sign of evolution totally sliding off the rails, our most coveted trait is not strength or productivity or even innovation, but being funny. Yes, funniness.

Consider: presidential candidates now have to prepare funny "zingers" for debates. Newspaper headlines and church marquees, once fairly staid affairs, must now be "clever," stuffed with puns and winks. Airline safety tutorials - those terrifying laminated cards about the possibilities of fire, explosion, depressurization, and drowning - have been replaced by joke-filled videos with multimillion-dollar budgets and dance routines.

In Planet Funny, Ken Jennings explores this brave new comedic world and what it means - or doesn't - to be funny in it now. Tracing the evolution of humor from the caveman days to the bawdy middle-class antics of Chaucer to Monty Python's game-changing silliness to the fast-paced meta-humor of The Simpsons, Jennings explains how we built our humor-saturated modern age, where lots of us get our news from comedy shows and a comic figure can even be elected President of the United States purely on showmanship. Entertaining, astounding, and completely head-scratching, Planet Funny is a full taxonomy of what spawned and defines the modern sense of humor.

ONE
OUR FUNNY CENTURY

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A man walks into a sex ed class.

In my defense, I was supposed to be there. It was the first night of "For Boys Only," a popular four-hour seminar on puberty and sexuality given every month or so at Seattle Children's Hospital. The class, along with its "For Girls Only" counterpart, is the brainchild of a local nurse who thought parents shouldn't be outsourcing sex talk with their kids to elementary schools. "This is a relationship-building class," my registration e-mail told me, "so it will be important to your child to have you attend both sessions. Because class includes interactive exercises for the adult and child, our teachers request that you sit together." The classes have become so popular locally that they're virtually a rite of passage for Seattle-area fifth-graders and their helicopter parents, and the program has since spread to Oregon and California.

Retaking sex ed with a roomful of...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Jennings's book celebrates humor — It would be a rare reader who doesn't come away from the book without a list of a dozen or more films, television shows, commercials, or comedy sketches to look up online — but it also urges readers to think about humor more critically, to question whether its relentless ubiquity has a purpose, or if it might be healthier to turn down the laugh track once in a while.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (590 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
This book considers why we laugh, but readers who prefer to get a laugh should turn to titles by comedians.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Jennings's remarkable research and clever hand make an impressive and highly entertaining work that pop culture enthusiasts will not want to miss.

Booklist
Starred Review. Jennings' holistic, incisive argument presents a strong case that our comedy-first culture is resulting in too much of a good thing. In a punchy, engaging style, he documents humor's history, evolution and twentieth-century explosion…Planet Funny is smartly structured, soundly argues, and yes – pretty darn funny.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. This book is full of good sense and meaningful interviews, and it would be difficult to find a smarter or more satisfying treatment of a subject so evanescent and idiosyncratic as comedy.

Author Blurb Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Ken Jennings hops aboard our thundering avalanche of comedy and surfs it like a pro. Lively, insightful, and crawling with goofy factlings, Planet Funny is for the comedy geek in all of us.

Author Blurb Michael Ian Black, author of Navel Gazing
Ken Jennings has done the impossible: he's written an actually funny book about comedy. Ken is brilliant and incisive and the kind of guy with so many smarts that it makes you go, 'Man, that guy's really smart.' Fans of comedy will love Planet Funny and will undoubtedly wonder why I am not mentioned more.

Author Blurb A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
This book is fascinating, entertaining and – I'm being dead serious here – important. The joke-ification of our world affects everything: politics, science, art, literature. And Ken tells the tale with wit and insight, not to mention a couple of fart jokes.

Author Blurb Tim Long, writer and producer of The Simpsons
America's biggest brain turns his attention to modern comedy — and delivers a book full of humor and insight. As a reader, I'm delighted… and as a comedy writer, I'm annoyed that he understands my field better than I do. Stay off my turf, Jennings!

Author Blurb Kliph Nesteroff, author of The Comedians
When did comedy become so serious and the daily news become so laughable? In his latest book, Ken Jennings provides excellent insight in detailing how comedy has infiltrated every corner of contemporary American culture - for better or for worse. Planet Funny is an illuminating take on that old cliché: 'Everybody's a comedian.'

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Omnibus Project

Jennifer AnnistonReaders who enjoy Jennings's dense, fact-laden prose in Planet Funny might like to check out his relatively new podcast, Omnibus! The podcast is cohosted by Jennings and John Roderick, front man for the indie rock band The Long Winters.

Port Chicago DisasterThe premise of the twice-weekly podcast is that the two hosts — who both hail from Seattle — are producing a sort of audio time capsule, a primer to our society for historians in the long-distant post-apocalyptic future.

BoysenberryThe show's topics are wildly eclectic, ranging from the cultural significance of the Rachel haircut to the Port Chicago disaster to the boysenberry or the pygmy hippo. A mere listing of the show's topics doesn't do it justice, however, since the two cohosts really just ...

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Readalikes

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