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NPR Arts & Life

Summer Reader Poll 2019: Meet Our Expert Panelists!

Knock knock!

Who's there?

THE FUNNIEST PANEL OF SUMMER POLL JUDGES WE'VE EVER HAD!

Voting in this year's Summer Reader Poll is in full swing — and if you still haven't voted, you can do that here — so it's time to meet our expert panel of professional funny people ... who I wish were writing this copy, because maaaan they're all way more hilarious than I am. But in fact, they'll be helping curate our final list of 100 favorite funny reads.

Samantha Irby
/ Eva Blue
Samantha Irby

You might already know Samantha Irby from her books Meaty and We Are Never Meeting In Real Life. — and, of course, her appearance on NPR's It's Been A Minute. She also runs the blog (and her favorite flavor of Doritos is Poppin' Jalapeño). Irby says the book that "has just, like, punched me in the mouth and made me ugly-laugh and embarrass myself on the train is Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, and it's absolutely ridiculous but also FULL OF JOKES, and the characters are fully realized and hilarious. There's dolphin romance and a lifelike sex doll and robots!! It's perfect."

Aparna Nancherla
/ Robyn Von Swank
Aparna Nancherla

Aparna Nancherla plays Grace on the Comedy Central series Corporate; she's performed on Conan and written for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and her debut album Just Putting It Out There came out in 2016 -- but did you know she was once an NPR intern? She says Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It made her laugh a whole lot. "She is an absolute genius at taking an experience she's had and making it universally relatable using the most delightful imagery you would have never thought of yourself, but is in fact, the perfect and only description," she says. "For example, being on a subway car with a beautiful woman on it makes her feel, by comparison, like 'a Ziploc bag filled with old shrimp.' See? Poifect!"

Alexandra Petri
/ Eric Uecke
Alexandra Petri

Alexandra Petri is a syndicated humor columnist for The Washington Post and the author of the essay collection A Field Guide to Awkward Silences. She's the force (Force?) behind the Twitter account Emo Kylo Ren, and her new play Inherit the Windbag — based on the 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley — will open next March. Petri says 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or David Copperfield by Robert Benchley (of the famed Algonquin Round Table) "destroyed me. It's one of the funniest things ever. Benchley in general was what I took around on the campaign trail all of 2016. He's so hysterically funny and also kind, which I really appreciate."

Guy Branum
/ Mindy Tucker
Guy Branum

And Guy Branum is a Pop Culture Happy Hour pal whose memoir My Life as a Goddess was a Book Concierge pick last year. He's also the creator and host of truTV's Talk Show The Game Show, served as the "Staff Homosexual" on Chelsea Lately, and has written for The Mindy Project, Punk'dand Fashion Police — which meant he got to watch the Grammys at Joan Rivers' house.

Braum says Nora Ephron's Heartburn is "the funniest book ever. It's dishy, it's angry, it's mean. Its heroine, Rachel Samstat, has a life that's come unmoored, and she's using all her wit, her judgement, her narration, to try to keep something like control. The book is full of delightful observational comedy: Her husband claims to have dated 'The first Jewish Kimberly,' and Rachel's opinions about rice pudding are manifold. But just when all the jokes leave you complacent, Ephron sticks in the perfect plot point to make you realize just how foolish Rachel is, but it's OK, because Rachel, of course, IS Ephron, and Ephron, of course, IS all of us. In the book, Rachel says she'd rather make someone laugh than have them feel sorry for her, and I have never, ever felt sorry for Rachel Samstat."

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