Earth (The Book)

On TV, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show staff are a riot. But in this book – not so much.

Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race By Jon Stewart and The Daily Show staff Grand Central Publishing 245 pp., (oversized), $27.99

Humor is a funny thing. A personal thing. Frequently, what makes me laugh yields nary a smile when my wife or brother or best friend reads the same lines. Or vice versa.

Six years ago, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show crew from cable television composed an oversized tome titled “America (The Book).” I laughed at humor on almost every page of the American history satire.

The new oversized tome from Stewart and crew, Earth (The Book), is based on the premise that the human race has been run, that earthlings have become extinct, but left behind a lavishly illustrated hardcover retrospective for discovery by aliens who reach Earth at some later date.

The deceased chroniclers brief the aliens about earthlings’ religions, commercial activities, scientific discoveries, social mores, their life cycle (including death rituals), and more. A chronicle that broad offers literally thousands of opportunities for subtle satire and laugh-out-loud jokes. But line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, the attempts at humor in this volume seem forced.

The main problem might be the conception itself. A posthumous pseudo-document for discovery in the future by vaguely imagined aliens probably seemed like a superb idea when conceived. But it is actually an idea that stretches credulity, even in a book that does not need to feel “real.”

In commenting about an already extinct humanity, it seems like overkill for me to offer unfunny examples. It could be risky, too, to my credibility. If readers decide my unfunny examples are actually laugh-provoking, why would anybody want to finish this review – except to laugh at me?

Instead, I will offer a couple of examples that almost – repeat, almost – made me chuckle. Not outright, prolonged laughter, mind you, but at that juncture, deep into the book, I would have welcomed a mere chuckle. The examples come from the section on advertising.

Here is a portion of the writers’ introduction: “We went from being exposed to one or two ads a day (1900) to 5000 a day (2010). It wasn’t easy for the human brain to process this quantity of information, but we found space for it in the cranial regions formerly occupied by our capacity for introspection, wonder and joy.” Under the headline “Hail Mary,” the writers comment “If an advertiser was truly stuck, he could fall back on a desperate gambit: offering a quality product at an affordable price. But this was strictly a last-ditch effort.”

That is the best I can offer from all the oversized pages.

Later this week, I will pick up one of many books by an intentional humorist who never fails to amuse me. I am unsure what the revelation I am about to share says about me: The only intentionally funny writer who makes me laugh every time is Dave Barry. Read that and weep, Jon Stewart. If it is any consolation, I will tune in to The Daily Show this week. From your cable television set, you make me laugh often.

Steve Weinberg is a freelance writer who sometimes publishes humor, a portion of which is intentionally funny.

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