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Co-founder of DC Comedy Writers Mandy Dalton’s favorite books, including some on comedy writing...

READERSVOICE.COM: What are some of your favorite books, whether fiction, non-fiction, biography or anything else?

MANDY DALTON: Nearly everything by Dr. Seuss. I am not joking. My favorite book as a child was Yertle the Turtle. It was not until I was much older that I realized he was poking fun at Hitler and fascism. I was also really influenced by Maurice Sendak. He had a very dark sense of humor that I loved when I was a kid.

Grown up books? A lot of people have heard of this one but I just finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It was so good I went and had a good cry—I could never write that well if I lived to be 100.

My background is in the classics of the West. I went to Saint John’s College in Annapolis Maryland. There were no majors. Everyone took everything—liberal arts distilled. It might be a surprise (one of the revelations for me in undergraduate studies) just how funny Socrates was in many of Plato’s most important works. The Symposium, Phaedrus, even The Republic had a number of moments where Socrates was witty and charming. I also loved Mark Twain. I recommend Letters from the Earth. I read it as a teenager specifically because it had been banned from our local public library.

I am a big fan of Alain de Botton. I love the book Status Anxiety. He has some interesting observations about the state of things here in the US and the fear of failure.

I am one of those people where my favorite book is usually the last one I took the time to finish. If I finished reading it, there is a very good chance it said something important to me.

RV: Which books on comedy writing, or other writing, have you read and liked?

MD: On the practical “comedy writing” side of my life, whenever people come to me and say, “I’m a beginner, can you recommend any book?” I stop them and say for joke writing Greg Dean’s Step by Step to Stand-up Comedy and for character, story, and everything else The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. Both give you the tools to do the hard work of showing up at the page regularly. Being funny with your friends is not the same as crafting comic material. How many times have we been funny with our friends only to try to recreate it and fail with another group.

A word of caution about the Greg Dean book: approach it more like an algebra text book and do it in pieces like a work book. Do not try to just listen to an audio book version. Not only does the audio version undermine what he is trying to teach you, it succeeds in sucking the life out of the jokes. But the book and the method are brilliant. It’s just one of those things that you need to apply yourself to even when it’s hard (because that is how it is with writing comedy.) Greg Dean runs a well respected comedy class in the San Francisco Area.

John Vorhaus really looks at everything else in comedy writing. He comes from sitcom writing so the idea was to learn to create ideas for established characters. Tougher than it sounds. This is great for people who want to inject humor into everything from blogs to Novels. It’s not as clinical as the Greg Dean book.

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– copyright Simon Sandall