It’s a dreary, overwhelming world out there. If you’ve been concerned watching the news lately, you’re not alone. There’s a lot going on, and feeling alarmed and anxious puts a lot of stress on the body. And in times of stress, there’s nothing like a good laugh and some funny short stories. Having a sense of humor is good for you, and don’t just take it from me. The Mayo Clinic said there are both short-term and long-term effects of a good laugh, from soothing tension to improving the immune system.
So, in the midst of researching and fact-checking news reports and washing your hands for at least 30 seconds (I hum the song “Africa” while I scrub), here is a list of 16 funny short stories and books to brighten your mood.
Humor is a Perspective
What is funny to some may not be funny to others. Additionally, many good writers often use humor to explore concepts and ideas that may be uncomfortable, controversial, or even downright disturbing. Humor is a lens for such stories. This selection attempts to gather a spectrum of humor, though it by no means is an exhaustive list.
Funny Short Stories For Adults
In this section I am going to list a few short stories that are accessible online for a good bite-sized read. I tried to present an array of humor, from Shirley Jackson’s funny yet unsettling short story about children to Etgar Keret’s bizarre story about gluing feet to the ceiling. There’s pop culture humor and morbid humor, and hopefully there’ll be at least one story for everyone that draws out a good chuckle.
“Crazy Glue” by Etgar Keret, published in LA Weekly
It’s a short story about a relationship teetering on a knife’s edge, while also having someone glue their feet to the ceiling. It’s story of crisp back-and-forth dialogue and the bizarre circumstances we place ourselves in for, and in spite of, love.
“The Swan as a Metaphor for Love” by Amelia Gray, published in Electric Literature, originally published in Joyland Los Angeles in 2012
Let’s talk about swans and all the shit they do. Amelia Gray really nails the hilarity of angry ranting in this story, with lines like “Someone found a swan once that was twenty-four years old and probably it was mating for life, which everyone made a big deal out of even though the swan was not even old enough to rent a car.” The ending is like someone shutting a door in your face, but you’re so glad they got that treasure of words out before they did.
“Charles” by Shirley Jackson, published in Library of America’s Story of the Week
I found this story both funny and unsettling, which to me describes the very essence of parenthood. Aside from Shirley Jackson’s well-known creepy fiction (e.g. “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House), Jackson also wrote humorous essays and short fiction on parenthood. This story centers on a young boy who tells his parents about a classmate named Charles who is “awfully fresh” in class, constantly getting into mischief and being punished. The stories about Charlies grow more shocking each day.
“Gator Butchering for Beginners” by Kristen Arnett, published in Electric Literature
This story is disturbing in its humor. Even its title is biting in its wryness. Reading this, you will not laugh in glee as much as in discomfort. It’s strange and it’s weird and it’s jarring, but Kristen Arnett is a master of these, having written the perfectly strange and funny novel Mostly Dead Things. “Gator Butchering for Beginners” is visceral, graphic in its details of skinning an alligator, while cutting in with details on relationships. I think my favorite description of it comes from Electric Literature, which I laughed after both before and after reading the story: “Spoiler: it’s about alligators, but it’s also not about alligators.”
“Taylor Swift” by Hugh Behm Steinberg, published in Gulf Coast Literary Journal
Known humor writer Steve Almond chose this story as the winner of the 2015 Barthelme Prize. In his reasoning, Almond calls the story “funny as hell,” and writes that by reading the story “we are forced to acknowledge that the heart and its deranged pursuit of love cannot be disabled or even diminished by our neurotic defenses.” It is a weird story through and through, but ends on an oddly warm note.
Funny Books of Short Stories, Essays, & Tales
In this section, I’ve included collections of short stories known for their humor and also three memoirs comprised of hilarious tales and anecdotes.
Ali Wong is one of my favorite comedians. Watching Hard Knock Wife on Netflix mere weeks after giving birth to my daughter was a breath of fresh air. I was crying both from exhaustion and from feeling completely seen with Wong’s comedy. Her book Dear Girls continues that refreshing humor. Structured as letters to her two daughters, Wong tells stories about dating, growing up San Francisco, parenting, and being a working mom in a male-dominated profession. These stories are funny, gross, and so honest.
The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories by Sam Pink
This collection tells the lives of the the working class and minimum wage workers. It is brutal in its honesty yet also funny. Pink’s stories consist of with awkward moments of forced connection and rants of anger that are hilarious but also unapologetically true.
Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Thompson-Spires writes a stunning collection of stories exploring macabre humor and devastating emotions, focusing on black identity and the middle class. One humorous story includes two mothers exchanging sneering remarks through notes tucked in their children’s backpacks. Thompson-Spires utilizes satire and other devices to comment on race and identity politics, gun violence, and black culture. This is an important of example of using humor to tell necessary, powerful stories.
The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
One of my favorite short stories writers, Almond takes seemingly mundane circumstances and then turns up the volume on both humor and emotion. From a family who is sure they’ve been abducted by aliens to a dentist who wants nothing to do with his best friend’s novel, these stories of love and heartbreak will make you laugh out loud while admiring prose that is natural and down to earth.
Sometimes the best response to the worst cringe-worthy moments is to laugh. Aisha Tyler tells a series of stories of monumental mistakes and humiliation in a way that is completely laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a hilarious manifesto of regret and self-consciousness, but it’s also about working through the epic fuck-ups and moving forwards and upwards.
American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
Ellis pulls no punches in this hilarious collection of stories on womanhood. At a little over 200 pages, this book comprises of searingly sharp stories exploring the dark corners of the lives of American housewives. Each of the twelves stories answers the question “What do housewives do all day?” with a smile, a snarl, and a bite.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
While not a collection of fiction, Emmy-nominated writer Mindy Kaling writes a hella funny book of observations about romance (this book is actually rated #16 in Romance Fiction Writing Reference on Amazon?), friendship, and Hollywood. It’s funny, it’s honest, and it’s a great book to dive into if you’re looking to read about fame and best friends in a way that feels like you’re having a deep discussion over a glass of wine.
Man Seeking Woman (originally published as The Last Girlfriend on Earth) by Simon Rich
Romance is often hilarious. It’s awkward, messy, and without common sense. Rich knows this and uses this knowledge to write stories about romances that are as unforgettable as they are ridiculous. From God handling his needy girlfriend to Sherlock Holmes being unable to deduce his girlfriend’s cheating on him, these tales are also endearing and lovely.
Funny Short Stories and Books For Kids
We can’t talk about funny stories without including a few options for kids. While there is a collection of short stories listed below, I think some of funniest short stories for kids often come in the form of picture books. However, listing a full list of the funniest picture books would be opening a can of worms, so below are a couple favorites to start you off.
Paul Jennings’ Funniest Stories by Paul Jennings
Paul Jennings is a popular children’s writer, and this compendium collects about 25 stories of his funniest tales from the late ’80s and early ’90s. This book of stories caters to kids around 8 and 9 years old, though the stories are known to make adults laugh as well.
The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan (Author) and Tom Knight (Illustrator)
Ah, the tale as old as time: getting the kid to sleep in their own bed. This hilarious tale is about a little girl who doesn’t want to sleep in her own little bed, so she devises an alternative so she can sleep in her parents’ big bed.
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (Author) and Daniel Salmieri (Illustrator)
I’ve included this book because while reading this aloud to our daughter, my husband and I ended up laughing the hardest. It’s adorable, it’s funny, and it reminds of that extremely important rule: Do not feed dragons spicy salsa.
Funnier and More Funny
For more giggle-worthy picture books, check out our list of “11 Laugh Out Loud Funny Pictures Books Perfect For Reading Aloud.” And if you want to jump into the longform of funny, check out our expansive list of “100 Must-Read Funny Novels.”
Hopefully this makes for a good foundation of funny stories and books to get your now-thoroughly-washed hands on. Here’s to laughs, giggles, and chuckles, and turning those frowns upside down.