On the back book cover of this book it bills itself as The Mother of All Comedy Books...and it is.
Comic Relief is a quick-read, laugh-out loud collection of some of the very best comedy routines that appeared on the Comic Relief HBO specials from 1986-1995. Among the many (not all are listed in this review) comedians' work contained here are: Louie Anderson, Richard Belzer, Elayne Boosler, Billy Crystal, Whoppi Goldberg, Richard Jeni, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Paula Poundstone, Gary Shandler, Bob Saget -- you get the idea.
A question does arise: if you READ a comedian's routine (his or her "set") is it still funny? The unequivocal answer is: it depends.
I loved this book. I laughed at loud when I read this book. But it's interesting how some comedians you like a LOT are not as funny when you read what they are actually saying. The reason: their personna (their body language, their speech pattern) has a lot to do with the laughs they elicit. On the other hand, there are others who you may not have appreciated whose material is an absolute howl when you read it on the page.
It's easy to see which comedians have achieved success partly due to their personna and which other ones seem to have risen to the top largely due to sharp writing and editing that's funny even when you read it without seeing the delivery.
So this book is worth OWNING for several reasons:
--If you love comedy, there's some great stuff in it. You can put this book down, then go back after a year and read it again and it's still funny.
--If you are a student of comedy, it shows you some great comedy scripts. You'll be amazed at how you'll react at some of these bits if you don't SEE the comedians...and how amazed you'll be at how well written some of these monologues are. If you're doing comedy writing or performing it has some excellent routines that you can analyze to see what makes audiences laugh.
Standouts as far as being funny in script form include routines by Louie Anderson (the most anecdotal of all comedians), Gary Shandling, Richard Belzer, Richard Jeni (truly hilarious), Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner, Stephen Wright (the best modern comedian to read in printed form), Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait (whose mantra is "Scott Baio is the antichrist...") and Richard Lewis (who seamlessly blends strong personna and extremely strong comedy script).
This book also has short sections on homelessness and is a pitch for getting more money for "the cause."
Overall, a fun book to read, to own, to study (if you're into comedy and/or a comedian) and to re-read.