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A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
The witty and exuberant New York Times bestselling author and record-setting Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings relays the history of humor in “lively, insightful, and crawling with goofy factlings,” (Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go Bernadette)—from fart jokes on clay Sumerian tablets to the latest Twitter gags and Facebook memes.
Where once society’s most coveted trait might have been strength or intelligence or honor, today, in a clear sign of evolution sliding off the trails, it is being funny. Yes, funniness.
Consider: Super Bowl commercials don’t try to sell you anymore; they try to make you laugh. 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terrifying laminated cards about the possibilities of fire, explosion, depressurization, and drowning—have been replaced by joke-filled videos with multimillion-dollar budgets and dance routines. Thanks to social media, we now have a whole Twitterverse of amateur comedians riffing around the world at all hours of the day—and many of them even get popular enough online to go pro and take over TV.
In his “smartly structured, soundly argued, and yes—pretty darn funny” (Booklist, starred review) 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. “Fascinating, entertaining and—I’m being dead serious here—important” (A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically), Planet Funny is a full taxonomy of what spawned and defines the modern sense of humor.
About the Author
Ken Jennings was an anonymous Salt Lake City software engineer in 2004 when he unexpectedly became a TV celebrity after his record-breaking seventy-four-game, $2.5 million winning streak on the syndicated quiz show Jeopardy! Today, he is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Brainiac, Maphead, and Because I Said So!, as well as the Junior Genius Guides for children. In 2020, he was named Jeopardy!’s “Greatest of All Time” after winning a primetime tournament on ABC, and in 2022, succeeded Alex Trebek as a permanent host of the show. He grew up in Seoul, South Korea, but for the last fifteen years has lived in his native Seattle with his family and dogs.
“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."