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The Joker: A Memoir Hardcover – June 11, 2013

2.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Why don’t elephants like to wear black lace panties? young Hudgins would ask his classmates. They wouldn’t know. His comeback, Who says they don’t like black lace panties? earned him laughter, so joking became the unathletic army brat’s way of dealing with other kids, becoming a lifelong habit and the subject of this singular and not always funny book. The analysis of bad jokes (the above is an innocuous example), the connective tissue of this gag-ridden memoir, is a perilous pastime, and Hudgins’ overall success at it is remarkable. Reflecting on childish, occasionally vulgar or nasty jokes, and on their tellers, Hudgins is thoughtful and personally forthright. The book ranges from his childish pleasure in dead-baby and Helen Keller jokes to adult observations on the implications of humor concerning sex, religion, and race (in the mid-century South where he was raised). Hudgins, an acclaimed poet, has an acute ear and is sensitive to the porcelain delicacy of words, as well as to their bite. Despite the unfortunate requirement to retell the dreadful jokes (and there are few others), Hudgins’ commentary is a great deal more subtle and the better reason to pick up this unique book. --Mark Levine


“Raw and risky.” (Ben Greenman The New York Times Book Review)

“The writer’s uncanny recall for the adolescent jokes . . . helping the young wordsmith determine just how he felt about each of those taboo topics — makes it stand apart . . . . Thoughtful and . . . amusing.” (The Boston Globe)

"Hudgins doesn't hold back in [this] rip-roaring memoir that examines how the ancient—and sometimes offensive—art of joke telling affects life, society, religion, and everything in between." (Entertainment Weekly)

“A hoot and a half—when it’s not achingly painful….Like the best humorists, Hudgins wins you over by wearing out your frown.” (Elle)

“This book is a shot across the bow of contemporary thought. If we’re lucky, it will stir up an American dialogue about all kinds of fascinating, lurid, confounding, important subjects that reside in the great undertow of jokes.” (Garden & Gun)

“The analysis of bad jokes…is a perilous pastime, and Hudgins’ overall success at it is remarkable…. Hudgins, an acclaimed poet, has an acute ear and is sensitive to the ‘porcelain delicacy’ of words, as well as to their bite….. Pick up this unique book.” (Booklist)

“I’ve been a fan (‘fan’ is so glib—more like, passionate admirer) of Andrew Hudgins’s poetry for twenty years. I've been a witness—and occasional victim—of his perverse and compulsive joking for nearly as long. Now he’s brought the two talents together into one book. I read it squirming, but I read it all, and without looking up. This is a writer who has something to say about humor, its mystery and chaos, and what it means to our lives. That he is often very funny is pure lagniappe. Now I will leave before he makes a dirty joke involving the word ‘lagniappe.’” (John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead)

"Imagine a cold wet finger shoved in to your ear. Imagine chewing through a crumpled ball of tin foil. Imagine chugging a Coke with a wasp buzzing in it. This does not even begin to describe the wonderfully vile discomfort you might feel when caught in the grip of Andrew Hudgins's mind, a funhouse full of trap doors and perilous slides and mirrors that carry cruel reflections. He is one of the funniest, filthiest, smartest people I have ever met -- and this book is a treasure, a golden whoopie cushion, pearled set of chattery teeth." (Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon, The Wilding, and Refresh, Refresh)

“To read The Joker is to be in the company of a wonderful raconteur and story teller, while also being enthralled by the freshest honesty, by vast knowledge, and by the deepest insight not only into our own social constructs and habits of thought and feeling, but also the life and intelligence of one of our finest poets. I tell jokes; I have been called a joker. But I just tell them. Andrew Hudgins understands the heart of where they come from, and he is eloquent and beautifully uncompromising about it, as he gives us the journey of his own life. The Joker is an absolutely brilliant book, as necessary as it is pleasurable.” (Richard Bausch)

“An acclaimed poet proves his versatility in his gut-busting memoir on jokes…His often-bawdy material probes depths far beneath the jokes themselves, providing opportunities to examine his life through a humorous lens…Humorous, cerebral and daringly written.” (Kirkus starred review)

“Wonderful! At least two great pleasures: one is a lot of jokes, some of them very good, all of them interesting as a record of our last half century. The second pleasure is that THE JOKER is a riveting memoir, filled with acute observations, painful confessions, and—at least!—a happy ending that is earned by wit and heart.” (John Casey, author of Compass Rose and National Book Award winner Spartina)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (June 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476712719
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476712710
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was fifteen. My father had died suddenly of a stroke. I was carefully recording the names from the flower tags sent from the funeral home in preparation for sending thank you notes. I struggled to read one of the names and asked my cousins in the room, "Do we know a Chrys something Mum? Suddenly realizing my mistake, I started to laugh and then everyone laughed. Over the next few weeks, in our misery and confusion, we'd crack each other up just by saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Mum."

It's similar phenomena this book is about, with sections devoted to humor emerging in more dire circumstances than mine. It's a true memoir, and it rings true, but it is not an easy read, not because it isn't well written--it is--but because Hudgins' recounting the effect on his youth and young adulthood of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic jokes requires him to tell them. I had never read or heard such things and I found them horrifying, but that is one of his points.

I may know one other person for whom humor has provided such wrenching opportunities for growth and, year by year, such perspective, solace, engagement, and, eventually, such lubricant for marriage. Their experience is the opposite of mine. Still, at age seventy-two, I fail to "get" a tenth of the cartoons in any given New Yorker. The only joke from my childhood (because I swear it was the only one told) was my dad's weekly repeating, "Hey, mister. What's your horses' names?" "Tom and Jerry." "Which one's Tom?" "That un." "Which one's Jerry?"

You're never going to read another book like The Joker. I don't expect to forget it. If you want memorable, this is it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always been an admirer of Andrew Hudgins and his writing. He never shrinks from truth, even when it's a possibly rabid badger about an inch from his nose. This book is funny, but not in ways you, the reader, might expect. Part of it is a treatise on the jokes he and a lot of us grew up passing around, and their connotations, personal and social. The first act, if you will, resides with the absurdity of childhood. Booger humor, in essence. The second, with young adulthood and reflections upon the more painful effects of jokes that are often told and should be retired, particularly his long discussion of race humor, something I personally heard seldom, since I lived in a plastic bubble outside of the cosmos, Tecumseh, Michigan.

The final act is something completely different, in which he fuses his own life into jokes, and jokes into his own life. Here, he becomes the joker and the joke. It's a rather heartbreaking narrative of love -- lost, regained, lost again, found ... and various asides. I won't wreck the ending for you. It's a fascinating construction. I wish I could have written this.

I know some readers may cringe at some of the jokes here, but I didn't, not at all. Mr. Hudgins doesn't back off at their offensiveness, even when they offend him. It's rather sad when I look at our culture. We're perfectly ready, willing and able to tolerate the most wretched verbal assaults against women and minorities if it's in the name of the art of rap, but a fart joke told by a mature adult makes us squeamish? I'm reminded of the line from Paul Valery, "Only a fool believes a man cannot joke and be serious." Story of my life. And apparently Mr. Hudgins's as well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's taken me a few weeks after finishing this book to convince myself to write a review, primarily because I ordered the book based on my wife's unqualified love for the author's poetry, specifically "After the Lost War." Not only has she read "After the Lost War" many times, but also she prowls used book stores to find copies to give away to friends. So I thought, "Hey, I'll buy this book by someone who now teaches at my alma mater and then share it with my wife." But the book has little or no merit. I don't know what inspired the author to want to share anything in it with the world. I have placed the book on a shelf and will never mention it again to my wife. What seems to be happening here is that the author wants to have things both ways. He wants to share the jokes that made him laugh while growing up, but then try to exempt himself from any connection to what makes the jokes humorous. Perhaps the best path would be just to let these bad jokes die. I mean, the ones the author chooses to regale his readers with are not even that funny. He and I are just about the same age,and I had heard the vast majority of his attempts at witticism before. While I really enjoy a good joke (anothe reason I thought I might like the book), I simply would not trot out these weak samples. I mean, once you decide that you're none of the things you argue that you're not, take that knowledge and move on. Why write a book on the subject? Who really cares?

I gave the book two rather than one star because I love my wife, and she loves his poetry.
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This is one of the smartest books I've read this year. Hudgins doesn't simply recount his life story; rather, he structures his memoir around the evolution of his sense of humor, his love of jokes, and the subject matter (religion, race, and sex) that he heard most often and was most affected by as he came of age in Alabama. Some critics don't seem to like or understand Hudgins's hybridization of memoir and analysis of humor, but I found it intelligent, moving, and laugh-out-loud funny.
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