Jim Holt - Stop Me If You've Heard This (3 stars)

Jim Holt - Stop Me If You've Heard This

If there is one art form often deemed to be beyond analysis, it's comedy. You hear, see or read something funny and then you laugh. End of. Right? Anyone who seeks to go beneath the skin of stand-up and explain the mechanics only succeeds in killing the joke. Yet everyone from Sigmund Freud to Jimmy Carr have made written attempts to demystify the pursuit and practice of mirth-making, and in this slight tome, New Yorker writer Jim Holt dips into the history and philosophy of jokes.

A true exploration of comedic evolution would surely merit a fair wad more than the photo-reliant 126 pages here, but Holt clearly has fun in skimming breezily over the witty paths trodden from the ancient Greeks through to philosophers such as Wittgenstein and on to the locker room jesting of Brooklyn cabbies. It's possible to reach the end of this with barely a smile cracking on your face but it's more likely that your mind gets tickled in some unexpected areas.

Stop Me If You've Heard This is published by Profile.

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