Funny isn’t easy. Just watch television. Rooms full of writers slave away to come up with jokes for sitcoms and late night talk show hosts, and most of them fail spectacularly. It’s not that all of the people who write for those shows are hopeless (although many of them are), it’s just that being funny consistently is nigh impossible, even for very funny people.
Danny King’s School for Scumbags (Serpent's Tail, 2008) is funny. It’s not roll around on the floor holding your sides funny, but it does manage to conjure up laugh-out-loud moments, and even when it falls short, it’s still entertaining. Scumbags follows 15-year old degenerate Wayne Banstead as he get kicked out of yet another school and ends up in the Gafin School For Boys in London. The school, whose motto is “Help Yourselves Boys” is unorthodox in its methods. The boys spend a lot of time learning about crime, and none of their instructors seems to care if they smoke dope or drink. In fact, the only thing that can get a student in real trouble is snitching. Needless to say Wayne, who has trouble understanding the concept of private property, fits right in. Soon it becomes clear that, despite the statements made to students’ parents, no one at the Gafin School is interested in reforming the students, in fact, quite the opposite. The staff want the boys to help pull off a giant heist.
The plot is far-fetched, but fun, and King manages to make Wayne, a character who could easily end up on a reader’s bad side, just decent enough to keep him from becoming unlikable. The pacing is brisk, with the exception of a couple of chapters about a soccer game, which tend to drag. It turns out the only thing less exciting than watching soccer is reading about it, even if it is a rigged match. That one stumble aside, the scheming and plotting of the school boys and their teachers is enjoyable, and the climactic heist is appropriately grand. King manages to make funny look easy.