Ancient Greek comedies were full of vulgar humor and "rude talk" that can send even modern audiences into fits of laughter. Mixing in reflections on his own career as a comedy writer, Smith explores the life of the forgotten comic playwright Ariphrades and how comedy challenged the patriarchy, the military and the powers that be, both then and now.
Smith—who is also the author of six novels and two other nonfiction books—uses the playwright’s predilection as a starting point for exploring comedy’s origins, taking many entertaining detours along the way. It’s a resolutely odd book, but also a very funny, frequently brilliant one ... Smith blends history, memoir, and travel writing, bouncing from topic to topic, trying to figure out what makes sex so funny ... [a] sly sense of humor; it’s essentially a shaggy-dog story. But it’s interesting and funny, even if it goes a little far afield ... The book is full of vivid observations ... It’s hard to pull off a genuinely touching call to arms centered on oral sex, but Smith manages it perfectly. Smith is a delightfully funny writer yet also modest and self-deprecating—the smartest guy in the room who waves off compliments about his intelligence. Rude Talk in Athens is fascinating, bizarre, and refreshingly optimistic, a plea for openness and selflessness in a society that has become proud of its own callousness.
Smith...takes an immersive and irreverent dip into ancient Greece to uncover the origins of transgressive humor. Mixing history, literary criticism, and dirty jokes, Smith pays tribute to a slew of forgotten Greek writers ... No matter how antiquity-specific Smith gets, he always keeps in mind the importance of pushing against the status quo and preserving democratic values. This erudite but refreshingly nonacademic work will feed the intellect as well as tickle the funny bone.