Whether or not laughter is the best medicine, it can definitely bring some relief to the anxiety and boredom that characterize our lives the during COVID-19 crisis. Here are nine hopeful, humorous audiobooks to help restore your perspective and lighten your mood.
Duffy Sinclair, the 88-year-old recovering from alcoholism at the center of Brooke Fossey’s heartwarming “The Big Finish,” might be better classified as a coot than a curmudgeon hero. Trading wisecracks with his roommate Carl and flirting with his nurse, Duffy’s comfortable dotage at the Centennial assisted living facility in Texas is troubled only by the threats of its penny-pinching new owner. Then a drunk young woman breaks into his room seeking shelter, and Duffy must risk it all to do the right thing. Narrator Mark Bramwell perfectly captures the wit and warmth beneath Duffy’s crusty exterior, bringing Fossey’s delightful dialogue to life while capturing the emotional subtlety and vulnerability that give this sly caper surprising resonance and depth.
Listeners who appreciate this may also enjoy the affecting whimsy and wisdom of Hendrik Groen’s “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old,” beautifully realized by the great British actor Derek Jacobi, whose deft, heartfelt reading provokes laughter and sighs. Both of these first two audiobooks are timely celebrations of our sage elders.
Listeners who enjoy witty Brits should check out “This is Going to Hurt,” in which Adam Kay profanely recounts the succession of countless objects in orifices, petty bureaucracies and brutal hours that comprised his first year as a doctor. Despite the occasional obscure British reference, Kay’s uproariously irreverent observations on the noble profession of healer may provoke snorting liquids out of one’s nose, so take care.
For a kinder, gentler, more safe-for-working-from-home brand of British wit, treat yourself to Stephen Fry reading … well, anything really, but I suggest his rendition of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which is an utter joy. Fry has also narrated the entire Harry Potter series, for listeners contemplating a return journey to Hogwarts, as well as such gently mirthful childhood classics as “A Bear Called Paddington,” as well as voicing that other famous bear in a fully dramatized production of “The Collected Stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Listeners who prefer something in the romantic comedy vein should check out Talia Hibbert’s “Get a Life, Chloe Brown.” Everybody hurts, but Chloe’s pain is chronic, and rather than giving in to her illness, the self-confessed socially inept control freak decides it is time for a change. First, to leave home and move into her own apartment, where she is at first annoyed by and then strongly attracted to the building superintendent Red, hiding wounds of his own. Narrator Adjoa Andoh’s droll delivery captures all the wit, charm and simmering sensuality of this hot and heavy odd couple.
In “Missed Translations,” comedian and journalist Sopan Deb recounts with wit and candor his journey from growing up in suburban New Jersey as a “self-loathing Bengali child,” to his front row seat for the worst of American xenophobia while covering Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign for CBS News. Sopan journeyed to India to come to terms with his family’s mythology, and to reconcile with his estranged father, who’d left his misarranged marriage and repatriated when Deb was young. Another uplifting, funny memoir by a first-generation American, comedian Cristela Alonzo’s “Music to My Years” is presented as a mixtape celebrating the songs that inspired and shaped her while growing up in poverty in San Juan, Texas: hits by artists as varied as Boston, Billy Joel, Selena, Ice Cube and A Tribe Called Quest. With infectious humor and heart, Alonzo celebrates her pop culture role models, such as “The Golden Girls,” who taught her about friendship, but also got her sent to the principal’s office.
President Selina Meyer of HBO’s hit comedy “Veep” is nobody’s ideal role model, but she tries — and hilariously fails — to set the record straight in her political memoir “A Woman First: First Woman,” recounting her struggle to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling or die trying. Footnotes are helpfully read in by Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) sycophantic bag man Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), and their well-timed ad-libs as their alter egos struggle through the onerous and frankly ridiculous job of reading a book aloud are pure comedy gold. Louis-Dreyfus won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series six consecutive times for this role — it wasn’t an accident.
No typical memoir, Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s brilliant, kaleidoscopic “Something That May Shock and Discredit You” mixes revealing stories of his transition as a transgender man with essays on religion and popular culture, and reframed stories from literature and myth. Clever, disarming, vulnerable, profoundly authentic and continually surprising, Ortberg’s writing and reading soars to heights of joy and depths of despair, with plenty of hearty laughter along the way. (He has also been published under the name Danny M. Lavery — which he uses now — and Mallory Ortberg.)