Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review - It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain It by Scott Adams

Short review: It turns out it often is funny when Adams explains it.

Dilbert is funny
But it's even funnier
If Adams explains

Full review: It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain It is a compilation of Dilbert comic strips selected by Scott Adams for inclusion. As he says in the foreword of the book, he mostly picked those strips that he thought were the funniest, but also included strips that particularly offended some people, or were actually somewhat "naughty" (in Adams' estimation) but somehow slipped by the censors and the morality police. Since this is a Dilbert book, the title has to be somewhat ironic, and it is: each strip also includes commentary from Adams in which he does, in fact, explain every comic strip, often explaining why it is funny. This, despite the name of the book, often turns out to be very funny.

As usual for Dilbert the strips are filled with bitter, incisive, biting, and brutal satire about thew social ineptitude of nerdy engineers, the inanity of clueless bosses, and the evil of household pets. But through it all is the insanity of the modern workplace, which is lampooned and parodied mostly by simply showing the workplace pretty much as it actually is in reality. Okay, Adams' throws on a few flourishes here and there, like having an evil cat as the human resources director, or a megalomaniacal dog as a business consultant. But when one stops and thinks about human resources directors and business consultants, these characterizations don't necessarily seem all that far off.

The full panoply of recognizable Dilbert characters is here: Dilbert (of course), Wally, Asok, Alice, the Pointy Haired Boss, Dogbert, Catbert, and Ratbert. Even Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light makes an appearance, as do the Elbonians. Since the strips are drawn from the entire run of Dilbert up to 2004, when the book was published, almost every topic that has been covered by the strip crops up at least once - Dilbert's strange inventions, Dilbert's clueless dating attempts, Dogbert's schemes to rule the world, Ratbert's empty-headed optimism, the Pointy Headed Boss's constant buffoonish attempts to exert control over employees whose actual jobs he simply does not understand.

But this wide range of strips is also the biggest weakness of the book - because the strips are pulled selectively from the run of the comic, there are no ongoing story lines or common elements that run through any group of strips (except for those that crop up by accident because Adams returned to a particular comedy trope more than once). As a result, all of the strips featured in this compilation have to stand on their own, and the result is somewhat disjointed. Even though most comic strips have runs where all of their strips are stand alone strips, most (including Dilbert) have runs of between a handful to a couple dozen strips that form a single combined storyline. Because of the nature of this collection, this aspect is entirely missing from the strips presented here.

However, this is somewhat of a minor point. In compensation, the strips are almost all among the funniest strips created by Adams, and the commentary which accompanies each strip often serves to enhance them further. In some cases Adams merely states why he thinks a particular strip is funny, points out some quirky minor aspect of a strip, or expresses his amazement that a particular strip got by the editors given its somewhat scandalous content. Adams also talks about how people misinterpreted some of his comics (often leading to angry letter), or simply didn't "get" the jokes (leading to more angry letters), or how often he recycled the same comic idea, or even the exact same joke (which apparently didn't lead to angry letters). In short, Adams gives a small glimpse into the mind of a cartoonist, and in the process, enhances his already brilliant output.

For any fan of Dilbert, or any person who has ever had to deal with the soul destroying ennui of the cubicle farms, or anyone who has worked for a desperately moronic boss, this book is sure to provide hours of enjoyment. The only people who might not enjoy this book are likely Pointy Headed Bosses themselves, and thus immune to humor to begin with. Of course, it will hit so uncomfortably close to home, that most people will find themselves disturbed by how close to their actual workplace Dilbert seems, probably resulting in tears of anger along with the laughter.

Previous book in the series: Don't Stand Where the Comet Is Assumed to Strike Oil
Subsequent book in the series: The Fluorescent Light Glistens Off Your Head

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