Funny Guy
Grade : B-

Sam can’t escape the smash hit “Lost Boy” because, well, he is the lost boy. His pop-singer ex immortalized him in a song about his childish ways, and now his comedy career is on the line.

At least he still has Bree, his best friend and confidante. Bree has always been there for Sam, but she’s never revealed her biggest secret: she’s in love with him. To help herself move on, Bree applies for her dream job across the country—and doesn’t say a thing to Sam.

But as Sam tries to resuscitate his career, he turns to Bree for support—and maybe more. In the confines of her tiny apartment, they share a different dynamic. A charged dynamic. But she’s his friend. He can’t be falling for her.

Except he is.

Are his feelings for Bree just funny business? Or is their smoldering attraction the real deal?

Caroline and Lisa both read Emma Barry's Funny Guy and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.

Lisa: I’m a huge sucker for best friends-to-lovers romances, especially when you have two people bonding via childhood trauma.  I also love forced proximity romances. But you know a book’s in big trouble when one of the characters is much less interesting than the other - and we’re supposed to root for them to end up together.

Caroline: I 100% agree. Sam is a hugely vivid character. Very believable and deeply messed up. I am reasonably certain Bree would have come across as generic and not terribly charismatic in any novel, but set against Sam, the contrast is even starker. She spends the novel worried about being nothing more than a dwarf planet wobbling around Sam’s star, and rightfully so, because that’s exactly what she is.

Lisa: Sam is a wonderful character, and he’s built carefully and is incredibly interesting to follow. It’s so easy to sympathize with and like him.

Caroline: I really liked reading about him, but he struck me more as the hero of a fiction novel than a romance novel. I don’t mind that he’s flawed - again, I enjoyed reading him! - but I don’t think he’s healthy for a relationship.

Lisa: That’s interesting because yeah, I could see how he straddles the line between WF and romance with his traumas and anxieties. Generally, though, he works as a character, and I liked the Bree/Sam relationship to a degree, but it isn’t all that exciting. Sam is a decent guy who’s been through A Lot and who is now the center of some rather humiliating stuff.

Caroline: I liked some things about the relationship. I definitely understood how the two of them are already in a relationship, just not one that included sex. But their relationship sits too much in the past. Okay, Sam values Bree because she knows where he came from - but what does she bring to the table for their future?

Lisa: Yeah, the fact is they’re both away from their abusive families - so what do they have in common now? Bree isn’t interesting or lively like Sam is, so the answer can only be ‘not much.’ I don’t mind the fact that the relationship was premade, but I think the difference might have been solved with some flashbacks showing them as kids and teens.

Caroline: Yes, but honestly, they needed better scenes in the present, too!

Lisa: The biggest problem with Bree is that she’s too much of an eeping mouse. There needs to be more of her to make her interesting but she barely exists.

Caroline: Ultimately, her ‘arc’ is ‘I am too dependent on Sam, so I need to break out’, followed by ‘He needs me right now so I can’t’, followed by ‘I’m still totally emotionally dependent on Sam, but in a new city, so this means we are equal’. He bends towards her, but that still doesn’t mean she grows.

Lisa: For a novel that’s really supposed to be about them making a home away from their horrible parents, they end up in a bit of a codependent relationship, don’t they?

Caroline: Bree is Sam’s emotional support animal.

Lisa: That hits it right on the head! Like, I’m sitting here going ‘is this romance romantic?’ and my answer’s kinda ‘eh?’

Caroline: I agree. For me, a romance has to bring the leads together in a situation that seems healthier and happier than they were alone, and one for which I see a good long-term prognosis. This one just didn’t give me that.

Lisa: That’s a huge issue here, because you have to wonder if they’re just teaming up to incubate their own pain.

Caroline: Okay, change of topic: Celebrity-civilian novels often cast the non-famous partner as a refuge of normalcy, a person the celebrity can go to and escape the pressures of living up to their role. I didn’t really get that here.

Lisa: I just read Lily Chu’s The Comeback where a K-Pop performer poses as an ordinary guy and ends up falling in love with a lawyer, and that handles the outré weirdness K-Pop idols have to go through so much better than the way Funny Guy presents the topic of celebrity. Sam’s big enough to have a Netflix special but lord, people do not treat him that way. It feels like everything surrounding them should be bigger.

Caroline: The celebrity parts of Sam’s career are off, but the professional parts seem authentic. I liked seeing him as an ‘elder statesman’ at his workplace, mentoring a new comedy writer and supporting him against bullying. His head-butting with his female boss and his female co-star work bestie, are also great because it shows him having nuanced relationships with women he isn’t having sex with. That’s something a lot of authors miss.

Lisa: Emma Barry does a great job of making me care about that part of Sam’s life and yeah, that really worked. But ugh, again, compare and contrast with Bree!

Caroline: Yeah. We’re definitely ‘told’ not ‘shown’ what a great urban planner she is. And even at the moments when I bought that characterization, I got depressed, because I genuinely didn’t buy that leaving New York was the right step for her. Maybe it’s possible to spend over a decade specializing in New York urban issues and head to another city, but the author didn’t convince me of it. I felt that Bree had been in New York for Sam, and now she’s going to leave New York over Sam, and her career will be whatever it has to be.

Lisa: Her being ‘lesser’ than him really is a big problem here. What grade are we going for here? I’m going with a C+, and much of that is for Barry’s always-terrific writing and Sam being Sam. The romance wasn’t too convincing and I felt like Bee was just a meh character, and if it’s not romantic I can’t give it any more than a middling grade.

Caroline: I’m going to go B-. When I give a grade in the C range, it means I think our readers should give the book a miss, but Sam alone is worth the price of admission here. It’s just too bad Bree isn’t in his weight class.

Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : May 21, 2023

Publication Date: 05/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. Having that problem too – just now, hugely enjoyed Spite House by Olivia Dade, m/f CR done wonderfully. Strong rec.

  2. I really didn’t think you were criticising anyone, so we’re good! There was a discussion on AAR some time ago…

  3. But, queer romance are as real to me as non-queer, so I still don’t understand your thinking. I still want…

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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