Are you having a laugh? That question always has a sinister tone if directed at you in a Glasgow pub.

But it is a reasonable enquiry if you unwrap a book described as "humorous" as part of your neat pile of Christmas presents. Have some sympathy for the purchaser of said book. He or she knows you like to read. Books, with their colourful covers and fresh virgin pages, are still an attractive gift to receive, but what should they buy you?

Even if they know you are a John Grisham or Jane Austen aficionado how do they know which of their tomes you have read? Much safer perhaps to go for a book which claims on the dust jacket to be the funniest thing you will ever read.

But beware. Some so-called funny books are simply jaded material cobbled together and sold under the name of someone famous off the telly. There's a lot of silted rubbish out there to sift through before you find a nugget or two.

Achieving bookshop prominence just now is Billy Connolly with his collection of monologues, Tall Tales and Wee Stories (Two Roads). Some of the stories you will remember, such as his description of appreciating Marie's Wedding at a school music lesson. There is Billy's take on the Crucifixion, which led to his shows back in the day being picketed by a bitter and fulminating Pastor Jack Glass, although in today's more secular times it has little shock value left. And there is a problem. Bill Connolly's routines have to be heard in his joyful soaring tones rather than simply read in the black and white of print. For the full glory of Billy you would be better to dig out his old albums, Cop Yer Whack for This or Solo Concert, open a can of Tartan Special and remember sitting on your pal's sofa at one in the morning hooting with laughter. Billy on stage would go off on unique irrelevancies which magically added to the occasion, but in print, the stories are more ordered, more, well, ordinary. The book, though, should not be damned with faint praise. It's a bit like opening a dusty photo album and turning to pictures of a party in your youth. Yes, the party itself was far more fun than looking at a picture, but nevertheless you smile, remember the old days, and feel good inside. Billy's book still manages to do that.

Also catching the eye on bookshop shelves just now is the colourful cartoon cover of Funny Ha Ha, a sizeable collection of funny stories put together, it says, by Have I got News for You panellist Paul Merton (Head of Zeus). Mr Merton's main contribution you suspect is merely to momentarily seize your attention, as after a rudimentary six-page introduction by him you are then led into a mainly historic assembly of tales by the likes of Oscar Wilde, PG Wodehouse and Dorothy Parker. As it is in alphabetical order by author, Peer Cook and Dudley Moore's musings on sex are sandwiched between GK Chesterton and Noel Coward. So it may sound a bit of a literary potage, hurriedly thrown together, but hold that thought. There are three stories by Hector Hugh Munro – who wrote under the pen-name Saki – and his mischievous tales pricking the pomposity of the upper classes are such gems that they are well worth another outing, including that of the talking cat Tobermory who knew too many secrets. Scotland's own Muriel Spark is there with her short story The Executor, a well executed tale, although calling it "one of the funniest stories ever written" which is Funny Ha Ha's raison d'être, is a very lengthy stretch.

But there is also Tony Hancock, so the book does indeed have its charms, although if you are seeking accuracy I would give it the alternative title Sometimes Amusing. Buy it, but only if you can find it with a sizeable discount on its hefty cover price.

Another TV comedian vying for your bookshop attention is David Mitchell of panel show Would I Lie to You? and Peep Show fame, who at least wrote his book Dishonesty Is the Second-Best Policy (Faber & Faber) albeit culled from his dyspeptic columns in the Observer. Such newspaper columns though can be a tad ephemeral. I am slightly taken aback when he refers to "Home Secretary Amber Rudd". The spinning doors of political office whizz so fast these days that it is hard to remember when Ms Rudd held such high office.

He is not a fan of Boris Johnson, and argues that Johnson only wrote a biography of Winston Churchill so that if you Google Churchill, Boris Johnson's name appears high up the list. Writes Mitchell about our present Prime Minister: "His whole shtick increasingly seems fake and disingenuous: the crazy hair, the crumpled clothes, the photo on the zip wire, the hesitant, twinkly, donnish speech pattern. There's something undoubtedly likeable about his demeanour, but what passed for refreshing a few years ago now comes across as a manipulative performance." So maybe not all of the columns are out of date.

If you like your humour more visual, then there is Cold War Steve Presents: A Prat's Progress (Thames & Hudson) and Led By Donkeys (Atlantic Books £10), which the aforesaid Boris Johnson will not be looking for in his Christmas stocking. Twitter followers may know Cold War Steve, aka Christopher Spencer, who creates haunting images of a bleak post-Brexit Britain populated by absurd images of Brexiteers such as Theresa May, Nigel Farage and Wetherspoons' owner Tim Martin. They are striking works of art, but after flicking through the book for five minutes you would simply put it aside. Definitely a Christmas panic buy. Led by Donkeys tells the tale of four friends who created anti-Brexit posters out of the historic Twitter statements of pro-Brixiteers contradicting their current views such as Jacob Rees-Mogg once arguing that it might make sense to have a second referendum once negotiations are completed. It's funny, but again too repetitive to hold your attention for long.

Trying too hard is Stuart Heritage's Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals (Profile Books £9.99), which squeezes political tales into old nursery stories – Boris Johnson eating your porridge, that sort of thing, and you can easily assume who Trumplestiltskin is. Save yourself a tenner. The laughs are thinner than the strands of hair on Trump's head.

Actually – and here is the inevitable plug – you can spend that £9.99 you saved on this year's Herald Diary compilation, A Quacking Good Read (Black and White), which though edited by my good self, was at least written by hundreds of Herald readers. It includes the tale of the Glasgow woman on a Ryanair flight to Spain who was sitting next to a member of a boisterous stag-do crew who cheekily asked her: "Do Ryanair charge you extra to sit beside a handsome young man?" "Yes," she replied. "But I wasn't willing to pay it."

So, hopefully you will be having a laugh at Christmas.

The Herald Diary 2019: A Quacking Good Read! is out now on Black and White, priced £9.99