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terrifying laminated cards about the possibilities of fire, explosion, depressurization, and drowning—have been replaced by joke-filled videos with multimillion-dollar budgets and dance routines.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.
Ken Jennings grew up in Seoul, South Korea, where he became a daily devotee of the quiz show Jeopardy! In 2004, he successfully auditioned for a spot on the show and went on an unprecedented seventy-four game victory streak worth $2.52 million. Jennings’s book Brainiac, about his Jeopardy! adventures, was a critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, as were his follow-up books Maphead and Because I Said So! He is also the author of Planet Funny. Jennings lives in Seattle with his wife Mindy and two children.
“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."
– Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
“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.”
– Michael Ian Black, author of Navel Gazing
“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.”
– A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
“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.’”
– Kliph Nesteroff, author of The Comedians
"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!"
– Tim Long, writer and producer of The Simpsons
"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."
– Kirkus, 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.”
– Booklist, starred review
“A philosophical conundrum Jennings expertly navigates....Jennings’s remarkable research and clever hand make an impressive and highly entertaining work that pop culture enthusiasts will not want to miss.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Ken Jennings has achieved what physicists have always said was impossible: he's written a book that analyses the mechanics of humor while being very funny. To paraphrase EB White, if analyzing a joke is like dissecting a frog, in this case the frog is shouting 'Ooh! That tickles! More! Do it again!'
– Peter Sagal, host of NPR “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
"An entertaining deep dive into culture... a highly entertaining yet genuinely scholarly look at the evolution of humor."