Before I read A Bad Thing I’m About to Do (DaCapo, $16) the comedian Chris Gethard’s debut, a book hadn’t made me bleat with laughter since I read Jonathan Ames’s What’s Not to Love? ten years ago (perhaps coincidentally, both feature essays in which the authors get colonics). Gethard made me laugh so much I got a cramp and scared the cats. This never happens; at best, books make me chuckle without really smiling.

In recent years, a good number of comedians have attempted to capitalize on their comedy-fame by writing collections of autobiographical essays. With some exceptions, few of them are funny. The first-person comic essay is rarely enjoyable because so few of its practitioners know how to present themselves in an appealing manner on the page: Mindy Kaling comes across as patronizing; Chelsea Handler, mean. And the old standbys Klosterman, Sedaris, (Augusten) Burroughs et al.— have grown a bit predictable and a bit too self-satisfied to make anyone's side hurt.

If the decline of his chosen field is any indication of its difficulty, Chris Gethard deserves a preemptive National Book Award. Can I overstate how refreshing it was to open a book of essays and laugh?

In recent years, it has become voguish to pronounce one’s arcane interests and unusual neuroses as an obnoxious child would a food allergy: with prideful self-consciousness. Somehow, in spite of the fact that Gethard seems almost boastful about his proclivity for acting impulsively (as well as his oversized head), his maladies seem unaffected and produce within the reader the kinds of protective feelings typing to ally reserved for baby animals and the elderly. Gethard’s character is extra-appealing: not the kind of weird that calls too much attention to itself in a “Gee, I’m so weird,” Miranda July kind of way.  Instead of mere quirk, Gethard, a 31-year-old New Jersey native and twelve-year veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, has poor impulse control, intractable rage, and a family history rife with mental imbalance.

The stories in the book are not as cuddly as he is. As the title indicates, Gethard, who has bipolar disorder, has entered into many situations against his better judgment. He involves himself in a pro wrestling match, volunteers to hang out in a state prison, and drives way too fast. The cumulative result is a laughter borne of fear: that the prisoners will mess him up, that he might get caught, This dread is especially pronounced in the title essay, in which Gethard recounts visiting Princeton in order to frighten a hacker and winds up going much too far. 

Gethard read that essay on This American Life a few weeks ago. More recently, he has busied himself by instructing his Twitter followers to tweet the names of writers at him with the hash tag #GethardKingofAuthors. In response, he has made a series of YouTube videos, filmed in his kitchen, in which he talks shit about said writers, usually shirtless. Gethard, not the authors. At the time of this writing, he  has talked shit about twenty of them, including Malcolm Gladwell, Stephens King and Hawking, Anne Frank, George R. R. Martin, and Khaled Husseini, author of The Kite Runner.

"Any time I see an adult who’s really into Twilight, I think it’s one of the saddest things. It’s like watching a dog get hit by a car,” Gethard told me when I called him at home in Queens yesterday, the morning after he promoted his book on Jimmy Fallon and moments after he posted a takedown of Stephanie Meyer.

“I don’t know why I’m so into starting trouble,” he said. “I once convinced Diddy to come do a show with me at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, which is not a place you’d expect him to show up. It became this big movement online, and he eventually did it.” The precedent of such a massive Internet campaign, Gethard said, has conditioned his followers to expect great—or at least outrageous—things from him.

“I hope the videos come off that they’re all in good fun,” Gethard said. He was especially anxious to post his takedown of Anne Frank. “I was so hesitant, but I got probably two dozen Anne Franks right away, so I figured I had to do it. I kept it pretty lighthearted, though.”

The result, “Chris Gethard Vs. Anne Frank,” manages to be both inoffensive and actually funny. “What happened to that little girl? That’s terrible,” he says to the camera. “There is no way I’m going to sit here and say bad things about Anne Frank. I will say”—here, a look of resignation—“if you lock me in a little room and have Nazis hunt me down, that’s some incredible source material and I could do a lot with that, ‘cause I’m the king of authors.”

Both R.L. Stine (“Why doesn’t he write for adults?”) and Chuck Klosterman (“What does he not write about, man?”) enjoyed the send-ups and sent Gethard appreciative tweets. “Thanks for the shout-out,” Stine wrote.

Gethard doesn’t plan on doing the video series forever. “Probably what will happen is that I’ll do it until just after it gets really annoying, and then I’ll stop,” he said. “I tend to commit to ideas without thinking about the practicality of them actually happening.

THE CHRIS GETHARD SHOW | Improv Boston, 40 Prospect St., Cambridge | January 17 | 7:30 | $12 | 617.576.1253 |

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