Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren 

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Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren are both Annoyance Theatre alums, and Hoffman wrote for the ground zero of contemporary comedy, Mr. Show--superlegit showbiz credentials. But their new book, Comedy by the Numbers (McSweeney's)--purportedly a self-help tome that'll teach the reader how to be a comic--is really a withering deconstruction of stock-humor bits, topics, and practitioners, all alphabetized and numbered from #1 ("Animals Doing Things Humans Do") to #169 ("Women"). Special scorn goes to the simply bad: Jeff Foxworthy, sitcoms, post-SNL movies, improv in general. But the cynicism runs deeper: this is decidedly for comedy nerds and working performers--those so familiar with the building blocks of jokes that (with apologies to Ivan Stang) the only thing that's still funny is that nothing's funny anymore. I wouldn't call it anticomedy (#3), which the authors summarily dismiss, but the lacerating hilarity beneath their deadpan instructions does rely on an obsession with how comedy works and doesn't work--and how that works too. That overuse born of love is what's drained the humor from much of their list comes through in sincere tributes to the comedic godfathers of the recent past: Monty Python, Peter Sellers, the Goon Show. And when they mockingly note that Kentucky Fried Movie employs every trick in the book, you know it's high praise. Present-day godfather Bob Odenkirk (who helped edit) will be on hand at this event; here's hoping he plays British (#12). a Sun 6/24, 1 PM, Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910. -


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