best books for aspiring comedians

As a lover of stand-up comedy, I always love interviewing awesome comedians to learn which books have inspired their journey.  Standing up on that stage, tasked with creating laughter is a daunting prospect that would make most run a mile.  But if unlike me, you actually fancy taking a step into this occupation – we want to help you by providing you with some great books that may help you get off to a great start.  To compile a list of the best books for aspiring comedians, I need to put together an all-star team of comedians.  These comedians have been there and done it, having collectively performed all over the world to millions of people.  I asked them to recommend the three best books for aspiring comedians that they could conceive.  But before we get to the books, let’s meet our hilarious panel.

maria shehataMaria Shehata

Maria Shehata is an American comedian who is quickly making a name for herself in the UK.  Her conversational delivery and no-nonsense candour that is sardonic yet playful has been charming audiences all around the world. Maria is the winner of Best Comedian at the Hollywood Festival of New Cinema, and Best Comedy at the Miami Web Fest where she was nominated for Best Actress.

stuart goldsmithStuart Goldsmith

Stuart Goldsmith is a stand-up comedian, podcast host and actor. Stuart is the host of one of the best podcast when it comes to stand-up comedy, The Comedian’s Comedian. He burst on the scene as a finalist in So You Think You’re Funny in 2005, and having recently received positive feedback for his 2014 and 2015 Edinburgh shows, Extra Life and An Hour, with the latter being nominated for the Amused Moose comedy award.

doc brownDoc Brown

Doc Brown has a successful career as a comedian, a rapper and an actor. His stand-up career has also seen him tour extensively as the support act for Ricky Gervais.  His comedic acting has led to roles in TV shows like Channel 4’s The Inbetweeners and Derek and BBC’s Miranda and Hunted. Most recently, Doc Brown can be seen in the return of David Brent, in his role in Life On The Road, alongside Ricky Gervais.

gina brillonGina Brillon

Gina has been a standup comic since she was 17 years old. Her first one-hour special, ‘Pacifically Speaking,‘ was produced by Gabriel Iglesias and will debut on NuvoTV in Fall 2014. She’s made appearances on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, E!’s Chelsea Lately, AXS’ Gotham Comedy Live, The View, and is the first (and only) Latina winner of NBC’s 2012 Stand up for Diversity Showcase.

Jeff Kreisler Jeff Kreisler

Jeff Kreisler is just an author, speaker, pundit, comedian and advocate for behavioural science. He uses humour & research to understand, explain and change the world.  He was the winner of the Bill Hicks Spirit Award for Thought Provoking Comedy, he writes for TV, politicians & CEOs, shares insights & wit on CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC & SiriusXM and tours most of this planet.

You’ve met the expert panel, now – let’s discover the best books for aspiring comedians…


Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences by Richard Pryor

Doc Brown:

The complete bible for any human being, but particularly budding comics. Pryor’s autobiography is an unbelievably hilarious and heartbreaking guidebook on how not to live your life. The truth in his comedy is constantly inspiring. I’ve read this book twice a year for 20 years. It’s that bloody good. It’s a terrifying white-knuckle thriller, a side-splitting comedy and a gut-wrenching drama all in one. No self-respecting comedian or human being of any kind should go through life without reading this book.

Hands down the most useful book for writing and the creative process. A lot of times when you start writing comedy you get in your own way, self-edit and then decide that it’s not funny and that you should forget it and just be happy with your job at the bank. The Artist’s Way teaches you exercises to help you to get over the hump of self doubt by asking you to write morning pages, or free write all of your thoughts, anger, fears, the boring little details of your life, so you can move past the first and most obvious punchline and get to something a little deeper.


The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter

Gina Brillon:

This book is really great for aspiring Comedians. What I love most about this book is that it’s basically a “how to” book teaching you how to write a joke, or a bit, whatever you decide to call it. A book like this can be very beneficial because it’s filled with a knowledge of the craft of stand-up comedy. Judy Carter is an experienced and knowledgeable stand-up comedian, and this book has helped many stand-up comedians throughout the years.

Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy by Jay Sankey

Jeff Kreisler:

Writing is like jazz. You gotta learn the scales before you can improvise.  Sankey’s book outlines the fundamental structures of what comedy is, but without the overselling and intensity of any other how-to-comedy books, I’ve read. It’s also pretty chill.


Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone

Stuart Goldsmith:

Not aimed at comics especially, but I think back probably once a week to the brilliantly evocative way Johnstone lays out the ground rules of saying the first thing that comes into your head – regardless of consequence or inference that you might be revealing something awful…  There’s so much to enjoy and learn from in this incredible book, plus it’s a fascinating story about theatre and how it works.

This is one of my favourite books of all time. The reason why I feel like this is a book that all aspiring comedians should read is because at its heart it is the story of someone who never gives up hope. The main character in the book finds himself on a journey and he gets derailed many times from the plan he originally had, but somehow manages to keep the faith that despite his derailment he will reach his goals. The world of stand-up comedy is filled with many peaks and valleys it’s important for aspiring comedians to understand that the key to longevity is not only talent and craft, but almost more important than either of those is patience and faith.


Smoking In Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson by Alistair Owen

Doc Brown:

This is an epic interview with the man who wrote and directed Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson. It’s an endlessly fascinating read, packed with invaluable insight into the creative writing process, as well as independent filmmaking, inappropriate behaviour and dealing with corporate bullies. Robinson’s unwavering dedication to booze will also make you feel like less of an alcoholic. He’s such an interesting character who’s been through a lot and lived to tell the tales and the tales are often outrageous. He’s also frighteningly smart and the chapter on his take on the politics of the atomic bomb are worth the cover price alone.

The Man with the Black Coat: Russia’s Literature of the Absurd by Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky

Jeff Kreisler:

The absurdist Russian literature is an extreme shock to the system and a revelation that even in the depths of human cruelty and suffering, even under threat of censorship and exile, writers will always find a way convey their vision of humanity or the lack thereof.


Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet

Stuart Goldsmith:

Again not aimed at comics by any means, but his simple rules of thumb about reincorporation of narrative themes will save the newbie comic from the horror of the “arbitrary callback”. He also explains what drama is when you get right down to it, and it’s amazingly simple; adherence to these rules will get right to the heart of creating jeopardy in your stories.

I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder

Maria Shehata:

This is one of my favourite books about stand up. It’s not really advice, it’s a rare look into the world of stand up in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Specifically to Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store on Sunset Strip. What used to be a nightclub called Ciro’s became a stand up comedy club that cultivated a legendary community of comedians. It delves into the club’s haunted history, the comedian’s strikes, and touches on New York’s comedy scene in the 70’s as well.


An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray

an evening of long goodbyesDoc Brown:

This is the only novel on my list, but I’ve picked it because it has one of the funniest opening chapters I’ve ever read. I was literally laughing out loud every other page. In a weird way, it’s a good double bill with Smoking in Bed because the lead character in Murray’s novel is very reminiscent of Withnail. The story follows a ridiculous young drunken gadabout who has inherited his family’s huge mansion outside off Dublin. He’s never done anything in his life except booze and assumes he’s an aristocrat, then he finds out his fortune has long gone and is forced to slum it in the working class backstreets of the city, with some very funny and philosophical results. A great read and an exercise in great comic writing.

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

Jeff Kreisler:

Vonnegut’s collection of short stories is just a great study in focus, succinctness and sly social commentary.  It’s not his best work, but it reveals the broad range of potential for stories of all kinds.


Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy by Franklin Ajaye

Maria Shehata:

A common and helpful practice among new comedians is to ask older comedians for advice. Because while there are manuals out there, there is no set path to a successful stand up career. This book is a collection of really good advice from some of stand up comedy’s biggest stars, some of whom are now deceased, so this may be your best and only chance at getting advice from them.


Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman

Stuart Goldsmith:

The writer of movies “The Princess Bride”, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” and “Marathon Man” holds forth about plot, fame, fortune and why you might not want what you think you want in this brilliantly funny guide to the movie industry and why audiences like what they like. Every comic could learn loads from this book, plus it’s unputdownably entertaining, and chiding of the glamour of Hollywood.

Any Biography by your favourite comedians

Gina Brillon:

I could give you examples of books that I have read, from my favourite list of Comics, But the fact is you’ll be a lot more interested if it’s someone that as an aspiring comedian you look up to. I have read books articles watched interviews of my favourite comics, George Carlin, Eddie Izzard and the list goes on. The reason why I feel like reading a biography of a comic that you look up to or admire is important Is because simply understanding their journey and how they got from where they were to where they are can be inspiring. The journey of someone that you look up to can sort of help you focus on what you want for yourself.


If you had to cast your vote for the best books for aspiring comedians, which would you pick? Comment below and let us know which books you’d recommend as the best books for aspiring comedians.