I want to be clear about something. What works in one medium is not guaranteed to work in another. Video games for example have stories that work because they are interactive but try reading the novelization of Kingdom Hearts without falling asleep. The medium matters.
And it especially matters in comedy. What works in one world doesn’t often work in another as the books of stand up comedians’ acts that cluttered shelves in the 90s proved. It’s especially true of tv shows. There are very few classic books tied to tv shows that aren’t script books. The brilliant guide to Pawnee, Indiana aside, this is a lethal realm even if the show is genius.
That’s where we are today. One of the greatest comedies in TV history. A book that died as I read it. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today is a wretched book. It is aggressively unfunny. It made me angry to read it. But you know what the weird thing is? It’s an extremely faithful recreation of the tone of the show it’s adapting. So why doesn’t it work?
And it doesn’t. I read it twice to be sure. This is not a funny book but it faithfully recreates a funny show. What got lost?
Let’s begin by explaining what this is. It’s a self help book in theory written by the characters. They talk about relationships, mental health, physical help. All the basics. It’s mostly chapters “by” characters but there are transcripts of conversations.
And look right there the problem is clear. The characters have nothing to do with self help. A self help book is something they’d do but we’d really more be watching them out of their minds on drugs writing it. In fact it would be funnier imagining the book.
The book also winds up getting to be a bit much in length. It’s about 275 pages in my edition and fairly dense. That means that over and over we get the same general jokes. And eventually I had the pattern down. Normal advice with a lot more profanity and abuse. Oh it’s funny they’re pro tapeworm. Haha. It wore me down.
In fact it’s weird how little I liked the comedy because again the jokes are really not that different from the show. In fact even though the language is harsh it’s not nearly the worst it’s been. And I’m not actually a prude. I worship George Carlin. And I think he provides a key.
Carlin’s act was collected into three best sellers. They’re classics of comedy. They read incredibly well. And I think they read because Carlin loved language. His act was great not just because of delivery but because there wasn’t one mischosen word. Slowing down to read it was joy.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia isn’t that. It’s a funny show sure. The dialogue is incredible. But so much of it is in the execution. It has one of the greatest comedy ensembles ever. W**** isn’t a funny word but Danny DeVito made it a song. Kaitlin Olson has made the f-bomb art. The show is a model of editing, directing, acting, and writing.
This has another problem. This is an ensemble. It needs the characters bouncing off each other. In isolation they aren’t as funny. Attempts at that interaction through footnotes fail. Being Forced to spend several minutes listening to a serial rapist without someone calling them out is hell.
But you know what’s kinda great about this book? It doesn’t diminish the source. It makes me amazed it works on that knife edge it walks. It’s amazing anything works like this show. But it does and it does on a level few things ever will.
Ignore the book. Binge the show.