Without Feathers by Woody Allen: An Appreciation

October 15, 2006 | 4 books mentioned 4 2 min read

coverWhen was the last time you read something from the humor section? It’s probably been a while. If memory serves, that particular bookstore ghetto is filled with quickly dated political humor, books of redneck jokes, and similar diversions: Books some people might buy as gifts for non-readers, but never for themselves. Others wisely steer clear of the section altogether. As such, it’s possible that people have gone through their reading lives without happening upon a book like Woody Allen’s Without Feathers.

Though Woody Allen, of course, remains a household name because of his films, readers of my generation may not be aware that he is an equally accomplished humorist and his work was collected in a trio of books in the 1970s. Without Feathers was published in 1972, but 34 years later it remains hilarious.

The book contains an assortment of sketches, often take-offs of scholarly writings, like “Early Essays” which references Francis Bacon’s Essays, in which Allen observes that “The chief problem about death, incidentally, is the fear that there is no afterlife – a depressing thought, particularly for those who have bothered to shave.” Allen also returns again and again to words and phrases that he finds funny for whatever reason, like “chives,” “herring,” “smelts,” and having a hat “blocked.” The book also includes a pair of manic, absurd plays, “Death” and “God.”

It’s hard for me to describe how funny this book was except to say that it may be one of the funniest books I have ever read. I kept Mrs. Millions awake because I kept guffawing as I read it. Instead of taking my word for it, though, here’s a particularly funny tidbit from the first chapter, “Selections from Mr. Allen’s Notebook”:

Play idea: a character based on my father, but without quite so prominent a big toe. He is sent to the Sorbonne to study the harmonica. In the end he dies, never realizing his one dream — to sit up to his waist in gravy. (I see a brilliant second-act curtain, where two midgets come upon a severed head in a shipment of volleyballs.)

Bonus Link: Millions contributor Andrew’s look at Without Feathers and Allen’s other two collections, Getting Even and Side Effects.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. you know, just reading that little snippet you have there makes me want to read the whole thing over again, for the hundredth time

  2. I go to the US Merchant Marine Academy, and as a reasearch paper topic for my English class, i have chosen Woody Allen, and how his writing style appeals to his readers. Where else can i get some info retaining to the syntax of his works?

  3. if the dentist had been impressionist it quite possibly the best monolog in the book!

  4. That last excerpted paragraph reminds me so much of David Sedaris that I even imagined him saying it in his soft, acerbic elf voice in my mind. The randomness of Woody referencing the big toe of his father, the fact that it’s the Sorbonne he’d go to, and the parenthetical at the end is wonderful.

    I always figured Sedaris was the literary equivalent of Allen, and now I have something of Allen’s to compare to. Thanks for clueing me in to this book.

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