I bought this book, appropriately enough, while I was on vacation in LA. It kept me amused the entire trip home. That’s high praise from me because I enjoy lots of books but I rarely find one that can make me literally laugh out loud numerous times. And that’s exactly what Robby Benson’s no holds barred tale of one has-been director’s experience on the set of a wildly successful sitcom did.
Here’s how Amazon describes the book:
A Hollywood insider draws from his four decades of experience to create a scathingly brilliant and caustically comedic bird’s-eye view behind the scenes of comedy television.
A wickedly delicious roman á clef about the making of a sitcom called My Urban Buddies, this satirical romp of a novel portrays life on the other side of the television lens, hilariously sending up self-serious Hollywood stereotypes across the board.
Programmed-for-success director J. T. Baker has to bring an up-and-coming sitcom to fruition after its initial director shoots himself in the head with a nail gun. Comically annotated with helpful and enlightening Hollywood glossary terms (“Creative-type director: One who has no hope of working in this town again”; “Eccentric: Affecting a style of dress, coiffure, speech, mannerisms, etc., carefully calculated to give the impression of creative credibility”), Benson creates an exaggerated world of crazy writers; backstabbing executives, agents, and producers; foul-mouthed everyone-elses; and hardcore cynics—and the ridiculous inner monologues behind them.
If you have any knowledge of the shows that Robby has worked on in the past (specifically Friends and Ellen), you should be able to catch his less than thinly veiled references to each. Enough to make you feel like you truly are getting a look at the inside workings of Hollywood. Not that you consider this a work of non-fiction. I’d say Benson’s tale of Hollywood is to the real Hollywood what The Office is to your actual office. It gets a lot of the stereotypes right and the exaggerations go just far enough to make the situations funny rather than sad or obnoxious.
At the center of the novel is once famous director, JT Baker, who hates and yet can’t resist the lure of Hollywood at the same time. The work, the people, it all drives him crazy but at the end of the day it invigorates him like nothing else does. He only comes back to direct the sitcom because he needs the money and we can feel his struggle not to run screaming in the other direction the entire book. But mixed in there, with all the corruption and ego-maniacs, are heart-warming tales of friendship and loyalty that inject just the right amount of hope.
When the book was over, I was left wanting more. I compared the book to a TV show because that’s how three dimensional the characters became for me. I typically prefer my books as books and my TV shows as TV shows but I briefly wished that weren’t the case this time as it’d mean I’d get to see what JT was up to each week instead of having to bid him goodbye.
If you’re a fan of TV and you like to laugh, I definitely recommend giving Who Stole the Funny? a try. It takes a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the book so, if you find yourself questioning my taste, keep with it until you’ve at least met JT and followed him back to LA. That’s where the story really reels you in…