Sixteen authors are represented on this post, four of whom have made a career of writing funny novels (Christopher Buckley, Carl Hiaasen, Donald E. Westlake, and Sophie Kinsella). That forced me to make arbitrary choices in several instances. Not to mention all the other humorous novels I’ve read that I was forced to omit. It’s a tough job, but I’m up to the task.
Each of the 10 first-choice titles highlighted below is boldfaced, and each is paired with a link to my review. Since I can’t possibly choose one of these 10 books as the funniest, I’ve arranged them in the alphabetical order of the authors’ last names.
Below is a second list. It includes more than two dozen other worthy funny novels. They’re all rated @@@@ (4 out of 5) or @@@@@ (5 out of 5). I’ve omitted those books I’ve read and reviewed with lower ratings.
My 10 favorite funny novels
They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley—Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel
Christopher Buckley writes satirical novels about politics that are often hysterically funny. They Eat Puppies is my favorite. But I’ve reviewed many others. Here are some of them (linked to my reviews): The Relic Master, The White House Mess, Florence of Arabia, and No Way To Treat a First Lady.
The Sister Brothers by Patrick DeWitt—Hired killers, the California Gold Rush, and lots of surprises
The Sisters brothers are no run-of-the-mill gunslingers. Nor do the other characters in this extremely funny novel about the Gold Rush era fit recognizable stereotypes. Here, for example, is the response to the brothers from one of their targets: “‘Yes, you demand that we should share our profits with you, and if we choose against this, well, you will be obligated to kill us. Do you see how your proposal might be lacking, from our point of view?’”
Little Elvises (Junior Bender #2) by Timothy Hallinan—A crimebuster encounters the ghosts of Elvis Presley
Most of Timothy Hallinan’s novels are detective stories. One series is set in Bangkok, the other in Los Angeles. However, he is also writing a delightful series of comic novels featuring a career thief named Junior Bender, who serves as a private investigator of sorts—for other criminals, and usually against his will. I reviewed Crashed, the first novel in the Junior Bender series, here: A career criminal narrates this clever and funny mystery. You’ll find my review of the third book, The Fame Thief, here: A cockamamie story about Hollywood and the mob. The fourth, Herbie’s Game, is at A hitman, burglars, and hackers in the San Fernando Valley. And here is my review of the fifth, King Maybe: From Timothy Hallinan, a very funny crime novel set in Hollywood.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Remember how Joseph Heller describes the paradox he calls Catch-22? “’Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.’ The result, put simply, is that no one can get off the ride. It’s hard to describe briefly just how gloriously, envelopingly hilarious this logic becomes as the novel unfolds.” Thus writes Chris Cox in a review that appeared in The Guardian on the fiftieth anniversary of the novel’s publication. Catch-22 is widely regarded as one of the best anti-war novels of all time. Certainly, I think of it that way. It may just be the most effective illustration ever written about the insanity of war. (It’s been more than fifty years since I read the book, so I haven’t reviewed it myself.)
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen—Reality TV, African rodents, and the roach patrol
Carl Hiaasen, a columnist for The Miami Herald since 1985, has written dozens of books. Fifteen of those are novels about crime in Florida, usually with environmental implications. They’re almost all laugh-out-loud funny, as are his similar novels for younger readers. I’ve reviewed several of his books: Bad Monkey, Chomp, Star Island, and Skink: No Surrender.
Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore—A hilarious tale of Colonial America by two history professors
The “blindspot” of this delightful satirical novel of Colonial America was slavery—the ever-present reality underlying the colonists’ increasing distaste for domination by the British King. That blind spot figures in a prominent way in the unfolding of this humorous story. Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky are both accomplished historians. Lepore holds an endowed professorship at Harvard; Kamensky chairs the history department at Brandeis. Their other books are all eminently respectable works of nonfiction. They wrote this book to have fun, and I’m glad they did. I had a great time, too.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride—American history, laughing all the way
As I wrote in my review of the novel, The Good Lord Bird is “a rollicking, tummy-tickling, topsy-turvy account of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry—the stupidly quixotic act that helped light the fuse of the Civil War. James McBride won a well-deserved National Book Award for this hilarious little novel.”
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi—Diabolically clever, and very, very funny
Redshirts is the most diabolically clever science fiction novel I’ve read in a very long time. It’s also uproariously funny all the way up until . . . it’s not funny anymore, just brilliant. No wonder this book won the Hugo Award, the genre’s top prize. In his Acknowledgments, author John Scalzi goes out of his way to insist that Redshirtsis not based on Stargate: Universe, the short-lived TV sci-fi series for which he served as creative consultant. Funny: I didn’t detect any resemblance to any TV sci-fi series except the original Star Trek. That resemblance is unmistakable. Even if it was unintentional on the author’s part (which I seriously doubt). Scalzi himself is diabolically clever.
Get Real (Dortmunder #14) by Donald E. Westlake—Dortmunder’s last caper, funny to the end
Dortmunder’s gang is approached by a reality-television producer—the company is called Get Real—and asked to carry out a robbery on film, with their faces obscured. This loopy proposition isn’t even the most over-the-top twist in the story—but I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that the gang’s all here—all the familiar characters in Donald E. Westlake’s long-running, bestselling Dortmunder series. When this motley crew accepts the TV producer’s generous offer to make them the subjects of a new show, additional characters come onto the scene and confusion breaks out. In the end, of course, nothing turns out as planned.
The Code of the Woosters (Jeeves & Wooster #7) by P. G. Wodehouse—A classic comic novel that’s still funny today
Nowhere in this comedy of manners does anything truly serious take place. A plot unfolds, things happen, and matters are resolved in the end. But what is most distinctive of Wodehouse’s writing is his peerless skill with the English language. Nobody else writes like P. G. Wodehouse. The narrative is endlessly colorful, the dialogue precious. Consider this example: “There are moments, Jeeves,” Bertie says, “when one asks oneself ‘Do trousers matter?'” Jeeves replies, “The mood will pass, sir.”
Two dozen (or more) other worthy funny novels
By Christopher Buckley:
- No Way To Treat a First Lady—Philandering President, long-suffering wife
- Little Green Men—Wondered where UFOs come from? Christopher Buckley has the answer
- The Relic Master—An irreligious take on Catholic history
- God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney—Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley
- Make Russia Great Again—Satirizing Donald Trump is a tall order
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin—Jimmy Breslin’s hilarious classic novel about the Mafia
The Captain and the Glory by Dave Eggers—A satirical novel about Donald Trump by Dave Eggers
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: An Homage to P. G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster #16) by Sebastian Faulks—A new Jeeves and Wooster novel is almost as funny as the originals
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain—A war hero and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in a funny anti-war novel
By Ron Goulart:
- Groucho Marx Master Detective (Groucho Marx Mysteries #1)—Sherlock Holmes, meet Groucho Marx, Master Detective)
- Groucho Marx, Private Eye (Groucho Marx Mysteries #2)—The comedian solves a baffling murder
- Elementary, My Dear Groucho (Groucho Marx Mysteries #3)—Groucho Marx versus Sherlock Holmes: guess who wins
- Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders (Groucho Marx Mysteries #4) — Groucho Marx solves two baffling murders
- Groucho Marx, Secret Agent (Groucho Marx Mysteries #5)—Groucho Marx exposes Nazi spies in Hollywood
- Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle (Groucho Marx Mysteries #6) by Ron Goulart—Groucho Marx solves another baffling murder
By Timothy Hallinan:
- Crashed (Junior Bender #1)—A career criminal narrates this clever and funny mystery
- The Fame Thief (Junior Bender #3)—A cockamamie story about Hollywood and the mob
- Herbie’s Game (Junior Bender #4)—A hitman, burglars, and hackers in the San Fernando Valley
- King Maybe (Junior Bender #5)—A very funny crime novel set in Hollywood
- Nighttown (Junior Bender #7)—A legendary burglar, a beautiful hitwoman, and a seven-foot killer
Project HALFSHEEP: Or How the CIA’s Alien Got High by Susan Hasler—The CIA, LSD, and a drug-addled alien from the planet Utorb
By Carl Hiaasen:
- Double Whammy (Skink #1)—Carl Hiaasen introduces Florida’s feral one-eyed ex-Governor
- Lucky You—Carl Hiaasen on religious scam artists, Florida’s natural wonders, and the decline of local journalism
- Star Island (Skink #6)—Carl Hiaasen skewers celebrities
- Bad Monkey—A severed arm, a detective on the roach patrol, and a bad monkey
- Basket Case—Carl Hiaasen skewers newspaper publishers and rock musicians
- Squeeze Me—A snake stars in Carl Hiaasen’s savage takedown of Donald Trump
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby—From Nick Hornby, a very funny story that’s not all laughs
Serious Men by Manu Joseph—A comic novel about India today, and Big Science, too
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella—“Chick lit?” Wickipedia thinks so. But oh, so funny!
The Spellman Files: Document #1, Lisa Lutz—A family of private eyes stars in this debut of a funny detective series
Head of State by Andrew Marr—Political satire where it hurts the most: 10 Downing Street
Deacon King Kong by James McBride—Unforgettable characters in this delightful new novel
Deadline, by John Sandford—Funny crime fiction, and from John Sandford!
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—If you like weird stories about eccentric people, you’ll love this novel
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan—Sufferin’ succotash! It’s the ghost of Tom Pynchon come back to haunt us
Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas—Cocaine, the CIA, and a Central American revolution
By Donald E. Westlake:
- The Hot Rock (Dortmunder #1)—Dortmunder’s first caper goes awry again and again
- Bank Shot (Dortmunder #2)—A hilarious crime novel featuring dumb criminals and a harebrained scheme
- Jimmy the Kid (Dortmunder #3) by Donald E. Westlake—A kidnapping tale from the master of the comic caper novel
- What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (Dortmunder #9)—Another uncommonly funny caper novel featuring John Dortmunder
The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley—A comic novel from the 1950s about nuclear madness
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu—Racist stereotyping dominates this award-winning Hollywood satire
If I’ve omitted some of your favorite funny novels, please let me know. I’m always looking for new books to read, and I’m sure there are a lot more than just a few dozen funny stories.
For further reading
If you’re taste runs more toward serious fiction, you might enjoy my reviews of Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site and 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up).
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.