Crafting sitcoms around stand-up comedians—creating what might be called bitcoms—has proved to be a profitable TV strategy. So potent is the humor of comics like Bill Cosby, Roseanne and Jerry Seinfeld that it has not only turned their TV shows into runaway hits, it has yielded further riches via best-sellers. Home Improvement's-Tim Allen and Mad About You's Paul Reiser are the latest bitcom stars to cash in on their popular programs.
Their books are short, breezy riffs on their TV personalities: Allen's tool-obsessed Guy's Guy and Reiser's young, married Everyman. Couplehood (Bantam, $19.95) opens with Reiser's awkward proposal to his future wife ("Should I be on my knee? Two knees? Should knees even be involved?") and ends with their decision not to have children yet. ("Ideally they should give you a couple of 'practice kids' before you have any for real. Sort of like bowling a few frames for free before you start keeping score.") This narrow focus allows Reiser to exploit his Mad About You persona—sensitive, sometimes cranky but lovable—and enhance his bid to be the '90s ideal husband.
Naked Man (Hyperion, $19.95) is the more autobiographical, and the more satisfying, book. Allen touches on such serious topics as his father's death and his own 20-month prison term for selling drugs. And he seems genuinely fascinated by his quirky, gonzo masculinity, fondly recalling his first glimpse of a Playboy magazine ("I realized for the first time that...all women are naked under their clothes"), his love of James Bond movies (They had "cleavage, strength, maleness, virility and small shiny things that clicked and exploded") and his secret, enduring fears ("Helen Gurley Brown scares me"). Allen's vulnerability and easily punctured machismo—the keys to his hit TV show—survive the distillation into print, especially in the closing chapter about the surprising joys of being a father to—gasp!—a bona fide, doll-carrying little girl.
No one will ever confuse Naked Man or Couplehood with the polished works of such literary humorists as Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck, who offer more personal, less superficial insights. Still, it should be enough for fans of these performers that their first books capture much of their unique comic voices.