Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

10 Funny Books By Australian Authors

When you’re as committed to finding any excuse for a good laugh as I am, you’ll notice that different nations have very distinct styles when it comes to comedy. Being Australian, I’m particularly partial to the Aussie sense of humour, which tends to be a bit dry, a bit sarcastic, and a lot irreverent, with a heaping side of self-deprecation. Luckily, that’s a comedic genre that lends itself very well to the page. Here are ten funny books by Australian authors that have this Aussie reader’s stamp of approval.

10 Funny Books By Australian Authors - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Naked Ambition by Robert Gott

Naked Ambition - Robert Gott - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Naked Ambition is a hilarious satire of Australian politics, skewering the egos of the privileged career politicians who make decisions about our lives (while making messes of their own). Gregory is an up-and-coming junior State minister who makes the misguided decision to pose for a full-length nude portrait. The eccentric artist who paints him decides to enter the finished work into the Archibald, Australia’s premiere art prize for portraiture, pretty much guaranteeing national exposure. Gregory is sure that everyone – the Premier, his mother, and his wife, included – will agree with this decision and admire his bold foray into the arts. He’s wrong. Read my full review of Naked Ambition here.

Mammoth by Chris Flynn

Mammoth - Chris Flynn - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The premise of Mammoth is bold, ludicrous even: thirteen thousand odd years of natural history narrated by the fossil of an American mammoth (Mammut americanum, though he goes by Mammut) in a New York museum. It sounds like it couldn’t work, it shouldn’t work… but it does. It reads as if Bill Bryson turned his hand to writing fiction, with a strong cast of supporting characters (i.e., other taxidermied specimens who can’t help but chime in on Mammut’s tale). It’s one for the eco-conscious and sentimental among us, who are (clearly) in dire need of a good laugh and a bit of optimism about the state of the world. Read my full review of Mammoth here.

The Speechwriter by Martin McKenzie-Murray

The Speechwriter - Martin McKenzie-Murray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

After the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking political satire is dead. The Speechwriter proves it isn’t so, and it’s one of the funniest books you’ll ever read in that category. It is styled as the prison memoir of Toby, former speechwriter to the PM and current inmate of Sunshine correctional facility. It is edited (with frequent footnote asides) from his murderous cellmate Garry. Together, they weave a tale so extraordinary you can’t help but believe it. The absurdity is unshakably familiar, but dialed up to eleven. Read my full review of The Speechwriter here.

Servo by David Goodwin

Servo - David Goodwin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You ever hear the conceit of a new book and think, “I can’t believe no one’s written that yet”? Servo is a memoir by former console operator David Goodwin, “a six-year voyage of sex, drugs, and sausage rolls”. He recounts his time working the graveyard shift at a suburban Melbourne service station: the good, the bad, and the very, very weird. All the crazies come out at night, and some of the ones Goodwin encounters will have you wheezing. He seems to attract lunatics in his personal life as well as at work, so his friends (like the Hungarian champion shitter Stevo) are good for plenty of laughs, too. Read my full review of Servo here.

The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover

The Land Before Avocado - Richard Glover - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing Richard Glover spin a yarn, you’ll know that he can make anything funny – whether it’s his mother abandoning her family to run off with his English teacher, his failed attempt to establish a vineyard, or the price of pre-made take-away sandwiches. In The Land Before Avocado, he turns his focus and his pen to the Australia of yesteryear, peeling back the layers of nostalgia to reveal what it was really like growing up in the ’60s or ’70s. This book will have you howling with laughter when your jaw isn’t dropping in disbelief, and you’ll want to shove a copy into the hands of every Baby Boomer who moans about ‘how it used to be in their day’.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Helpline is a charming and witty book, with an undeniably Australian sense of humour. Germaine is in her late thirties, she’s very good with numbers, she loves Soduku, and she avoids as much human interaction as possible. When she discovers the job market is very slim for senior mathematicians, she takes a job answering the Senior Citizens Help Line for the local council. Soon, she finds herself caught in a David and Goliath battle between the Mayor’s business interests and the plucky members of the local Senior Citizen’s Center – and rubbing shoulders with the very people she’s always shied away from. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you like oddball characters, with personality quirks and impossible quests, you need to read The Rosie Project. The narrator is a genetics professor, Don Tillman. He’s never had much “luck” with women, which will come as no surprise when you discover that his proposed solution is to create a questionnaire to assess the suitability of each “potential mate”. Of course, it all goes to hell when he finds himself caught up in a project to find the biological father of a woman who ticks exactly none of the boxes. Read this one on audio to fully experience the Australian humour (it doesn’t always translate well on the page). Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Too Much Lip - Melissa Lucashenko - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Too Much Lip, on its face, sounds like a big ask of Australian author Melissa Lucashenko. How can you take all of the worst stereotypes of First Nations families – drinking, crime, welfare, violence – and give them texture? Make them compelling? Heck, make them funny? It’s a tall order, but she pulls it off. This book is a bla(c)k comedy that blends together ancient culture and contemporary injustice, an unlikely combination that is rarely found in award-winning literature. Readers from elsewhere might need a bit of context to fully appreciate this one, but those well-versed in Australian history and vernacular will love it. Read my full review of Too Much Lip here.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

Green Dot - Madeleine Gray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Green Dot is full to the brim with dark, wry humour and it’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever been a directionless twenty-something. Hera is still living with her dad in Sydney and preemptively exhausted by the life of drudgery she expects to find in the workforce. Lacking any better options, she takes a job as an online comment moderator for a news publication. Things start looking up when an older male colleague catches her eye. When she finds out he’s married, it doesn’t put a dent in her plans to fall in love with him. This is Australia’s answer to Raven Leilani’s Luster, with the comedy dial pushed up. Read my full review of Green Dot here.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law

The Family Law - Benjamin Law - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Benjamin Law was born in Queensland in 1982, to immigrant parents from Hong Kong. The Family Law is his memoir, about what it was like to grow up in an Asian-Australian family in the heartland of Pauline Hanson and her ilk. It’s not a misery memoir, however – no sad laments, no tearful recollections of racially-motivated violence and oppression. This is a story of heart, humour, and hope told in a series of vignettes, a la David Sedaris. The humour is self-deprecating, colourful, occasionally scatalogical, and uniquely Australian. Read my full review of The Family Law here.


  1. I do love books with that dark, dry wit of Aussie humour. I’ve read Mammoth I need to read the others on your list. I already have a few on my shelf. I also enjoyed the humour in Rosalie Ham’s The Year of the Farmer.

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