Best Australian Comedy Writing is a title that immediately makes clear its intention, and for the most part it lives up to its bold claim. The compilation, edited by Luke Ryan, contains contributions from 24 of the writers deemed to be the funniest in the country.
“She tells me I’m holding a karmic debt from a past life in which I had great power and used it selfishly; I was a great intellectual or a priest, and, also, ‘probably a paedophile’.” – Liam Pieper, Catching the Spirit
By putting the word ‘best’ in the title, Ryan is almost inviting tall poppy syndrome onto his collection. Who is he to say that his work, or the work he’s found, is the best? While it can be tempting to want him to fail, after finishing the book you’d be hard pressed to beat his claim.
From the start, Lawrence Leung and Lally Katz had me laughing out loud, with two completely different stories and styles of humour. It’s a high level to keep up, but for most of the book it’s done well. It may even peak in other parts, with David Thorne’s (he of 27b/6 fame) holiday recollection, Robert Skinner’s slightly-too-close-to-the-bone recollection of being a tour guide and Liam Ryan’s story told through the form of a website’s FAQ section some of the most memorable entries.
Having said that, not all of the stories live up to their superlative billing, and the 24 entries could easily have been culled to around 20 without damaging that claim in anyway. These weaker stories are hidden between the stronger ones, and although they dent the enjoyment of the book they’re quickly forgotten as the next piece invariably brings laughter back.
Collections are always difficult to pull off perfectly, especially with something as personal as humour, but Ryan has come close. Because of the huge variety in this book there’s almost certainly something for everybody, but not everything for anyone.