Humor is a genre that usually works best when heard rather than read, and Dave Barry's "Book of Bad Songs" (HighBridge, abridged nonfiction, one cassette, 90 minutes, $11) is one wisecracking, sidesplitting example of an audio book that can make you howl with laughter. The printed book is also a laughfest, but there is no guarantee you will have the same comic delivery as narrator Mike Dodge.
Barry, a syndicated newspaper columnist, conducted a survey in which he asked people to name the songs they most despised. He was inundated with more than 10,000 responses. Annoying pop tunes apparently make folks very emotional. They also bring out the best of Barry's acerbic wit.
It would have been better had Dodge sung some of those lousy lyrics that he describes with such passionate sarcasm. One suspects he didn't in order to keep Barry out of copyright hell. Still, he has a superior sense of timing and obviously had fun pretending to be Barry. The audio is further enhanced by drumbeats, bells and other sound effects. These underscore Barry's flippancy, but nothing can make you laugh as much as the lyrics to "MacArthur Park."
There are three words that best describe "Whoopi Goldberg's Audiobook" (Bantam Doubleday Dell, abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, two hours and 43 minutes, $17.99, read by the author): tacky, tacky, tacky. This meandering collection of the comedian's thoughts is sometimes sweet, sometimes angry and political, sometimes philosophical. More often than not, however, it is grossly base and excessively concerned with bodily functions. Let's just say you should not listen while eating dinner.
Even when Goldberg is sharing her opinions of presidential peccadilloes and drive-by shootings, you cannot help thinking this is the kind of dogma Michael Moore or Dennis Miller handle with more wit. As this is neither a true political diatribe nor an autobiography, even in the loosest sense, it can only be labeled self-indulgent pap. However, this is a woman so at ease as a performer she could make you laugh by reading the phone book. When she opens her mouth and lets those opinions fly, she can garner a chuckle or two. That is, when she isn't making you wince.
Far less offensive and considerably more humorous is Paul Reiser's sweetly entertaining "Babyhood" (Bantam Doubleday Dell, unabridged nonfiction, four cassettes, three hours and 20 minutes, $22, read by the author). Reiser is one of those comedians who can capture the universality of a situation and make us laugh at it, him and ourselves. Beginning with the decision to have a baby, Reiser takes us through pregnancy, delivery, choosing a name and coping with sleep deprivation with a bemused, self-effacing attitude. Peppy music breaks up the passages, and an uncredited woman, presumably his wife, introduces each chapter. The combination of music and her cheery intros gives the production polish.
"Star Trek" fans with a sense of humor would be best to turn a deaf ear to "Legends of the Ferengi" by Quark, as told to Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (Simon & Schuster Audioworks, abridged nonfiction, one cassette, 90 minutes, $12, read by Armin Shimerman). This is about as funny as fungus.
As all 20th century earthlings know, Vulcans have no sense of humor. Neither, apparently, do the Ferengi. The production is of exceptionally high quality, with music, sound effects and a fine performance by Shimerman, who plays Quark in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." All that was needed was a little jocularity.
Trekkies who want to laugh at their obsession will be better off listening to "Beyond Star Trek: The Final Degeneration" by Cathy Crimmins and Tom Maeder (Dove Audio, unabridged nonfiction, one cassette, 90 minutes, $13, read by Gary Owens).
Exceptionally clever, the jokes fly at an energetic pace, all delivered with Owens' booming baritone. Pop culture parodies, puns and gags, both biting and sophomoric, contribute to the humor. Best of all, you do not have to be a fanatical follower of the Star Trek phenomena to get it. A little Trekkie knowledge goes a long way. However, true fans will probably be howling as a Star Trek operative, Deep Throat Nine, discloses his plans for future domination of the universe by Paramount, the studio holding all marketing rights to the series.
Rochelle O'Gorman Flynn reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Dick Lochte on mysteries.