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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

My favourite reads: Phil Trotter

Here are five books that have truly made me laugh out loud

Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks (2005)
Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks (2005)

The only thing these reads have in common is they all produced genuine laughs out loud, long before LOL became a silent code. Some of the jokes have aged better than others, but in my advancing years, I am more inclined than ever to believe the old lines really are the best lines.

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (1967)

This is a linguistic delight set in a near circular hell in which our murderer wanders without knowing that he is dead. In a series of terrifying and disorientating events where the author makes the killer look through both ends of the microscope, he meets a police sergeant who, he is told, is at least 50 per cent bicycle; and is shown a machine that makes gold out of nothing and gets a glimpse of eternity. But on meeting his fellow murderer he realises they are dead, and that all of their tomorrows will be as frightening as today. As the sergeant says, "It is nearly an insoluble pancake, a conundrum of inscrutable potentialities, a snorter" of a story.

The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (1995)

Three truculent and lazy labourers are dispatched from Scotland to England to put up high-tension fencing. The tone is sardonic and we soon know we are in the realms of black comedy when the killings serve to lighten up proceedings. Former London bus driver Magnus Mills was nominated for a Booker Prize for this dark, but richly comic, look at the chains we feel only when we start to stray far from society's norms.

Puckoon by Spike Milligan (1963)

This book describes a small town split by the new boundary between north and south Ireland. That's as much of the plot as we get, because the author prefers one-liners, all manner of jokes and japes rather than a narrative thread. He even has his hero, Ned Milligan, address the author out of the page: "Did you write these legs? "Yes" "Well I don't like dem. I could have writted better legs meself". I got this as a 15th birthday present, and asides such "he drew on his pipe, her drew on the wall and the floor" had me in tears with laughter as a teenager.

Something Like Fire: Peter Cook Remembered by Lin Cook (1996)

The list of contributors to this is a Who's Who of British comedy, as the country's wittiest comics line up to pay their respects to the godfather of satire during its boom in the 1960s. As one glowing tribute follows another, we hear of Cook regularly leaving friends in stitches with off-the-cuff jokes about life in Sherwood Forest with a band of in-laws, The False Passport Office, Secret Messages smuggled inside the Olympic Torch and countless more. Stephen Fry's attempt to crack him up with news that he was about to make an advert about hemorrhoids is completely trumped when Cook replies "for or against?" A joyous lament for a comic genius.

Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks (2005)

Cancer took American comic Bill Hicks at 32, but not before he landed some telling blows on Uncle Sam. The book looks at how he worked up his routines into something pointed enough to pierce the pumped up Americans after the second Gulf war ... so much so he got kicked off US network television. Angry sketches about the waste of thousands of Iraqi lives probably didn't help. His later shows involved him putting on a woman's voice to say, "But Bill, going to war in Iraq let Americans feel good about themselves again". His withering reply was: "try cup cakes."

Phil Trotter is a sub-editor for The National

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