Funny Ladies

I have been reading pretty steadily, finishing books like trays of fudge. The natural conclusion is that I am more than a little behind in this blog, so my goal for the next few days is to do a post a day, so that I can enter the new year with a clean slate.

[Battle cry]


Today’s edition will be Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. Both of these books are hilariously funny, brutally honest, and unexpected. They are the sorts of books whose non-target audience might pick up, read a few sentences of, go, “huh,” and read until someone knocks on the bathroom door in a state of inquiry. Mindy Kaling has a lot of references to this in the beginning of her book:

If you’re reading this, you are probably a woman. Or perhaps you’re a gay man getting a present for your even gayer friend. (4)

I’m going to gently assume that if you’re reading this book, you are a little bit of a nerd, or perhaps you’re a man whose nerd girlfriend is taking a long time in the bathroom and you can’t figure out how to turn on her television. (33)

You might know Mindy Kaling from The Office or from The Mindy Project, but she is as funny on the page as she is on screen; not only that, she debunks the stereotypes of what people might think about her and offers a very detailed description of herself, details the rest of us might not want to offer at first blush – or to a mass audience. Of course, this is in keeping with her personality: she tells anyone everything about herself within a five minute acquaintance.

But the book isn’t purely a self-love fest. She might tell us about her dating foibles, her punishing schedule while she’s filming her show – she even gives us the speech she gave at Harvard. But in the middle of a list in a chapter called “4 a.m. Worries,” number 19 of 25 is “Is my father lonely? Would he tell me is he was?” (214). Sure, she thinks about herself, but she thinks, and she cares.

She knows that frequently pitched television shows fall into a series of tropes – and she lists them! I didn’t realize there were many people doing the same thing that I have done, and I feel in great company. But the other major part of the book I loved was one in which she imagined herself on a different trajectory, one in which she’s a twenty-five year old Latin teacher at a private school in New York. It plays out a love story told in e-mails and text messages, something we’ve seen before, but not quite like this. There’s nothing but these electronic communications for us to sink into, which means that there is very little, and what there is is quality. It toys with you, it comes out of the blue, and it satisfies. Really, if the book were this chapter surrounded by a legion of blank pages, I would be happy.


Allie Brosh is much different than Mindy in her approach: her book is a compilation of many of the stories she tells on her blog,, plus a few new ones. They are usually maniacally funny, and they’re usually about her childhood or her dogs. Not so unusual there. But the text is punctuated with these wild drawings, generated on a computer; they look slapdash, but really, once you have read through for a while, they make sense.

Allie gives us the bits of her life that are worth putting down in this painstaking manner, with brilliant pacing and an eye for what makes sense visually. She’s also got a firm grasp that her stories are read top-down rather than left to right. It’s basic, it’s spare, you could have done it, and it is genius.

It goes without saying that her comics became a book because of her fanatical following.

But even though Allie is completely different than Mindy in her storytelling, they share rather a lot: they’re both autobiographical, both mostly silly but sometimes searingly poignant. Hyperbole and a Half has become known for Allie’s childhood enthusiasms, the Alot, her dogs, and her pretensions to become an adult, but also for her two-part series on depression. That series is somehow entirely original – this considering the massive burden of all of the other people writing about their own experiences – and shows in utter honesty what it can be like to be depressed and marginally suicidal. The drawings interspersed throughout help you take a break from reading what must have been excruciating to write. This is a whole other level of honesty here, and while it is daunting, it is also personal and strangely welcoming.

‘Look, we’re all messed up. This is the kind of messed up I am.’


Mindy Kaling and Allie Brosh are a weird pair to stick together. Aside from honesty, mass appeal, and comedy, they float in separate spheres. It may well be that they’re together here because I am cramming all of my December blogs into the last few days, but I would like to think my non-procrastinating self would have done the same. These are two people who I believe would like one another. They mightn’t become friends, but I think they would see eye to eye, would be able to understand each other: that impulse to make a mark on the world and yell, “I EXIST!!”

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