The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism

by David Swick (Volume editor) Richard Lance Keeble (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XIII, 271 Pages


Charles Dickens, celebrated novelist and journalist, believed that his greatest ability as a writer was to make people laugh. Yet, to date, humor has been strangely marginalized in journalism, communication and media studies.
This innovative book draws together the work of seventeen writers to show that, starting in the 1640s during the English Civil War, and continuing through to the present time, humor has indeed been an important ingredient of journalism. Countries studied include Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile and the United States. The Funniest Pages is divided into four sections: «Seriously Funny, From Past to Present,» «Unsolemn Columnists,» «This Sporting Life» and a final section, «Have Mouse, Will Laugh,» which looks at humor in online journalism. Chapters examine Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the birth of social and political satire; Allen Ginsberg, Mad magazine, and the culture wars of the 1950s; John Clarke and the power of satire in journalism, and more.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Contributors
  • Introduction: Journalism – So Often Funnier than Fiction
  • Section One: Seriously Funny, From Past to Present
  • Chapter One: News Mockery in the English Civil War and Interregnum Press
  • Chapter Two: ‘Written with Powers Truly Comick’: Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the Birth of Social and Political Satire
  • Chapter Three: Travel Writing and Humor: From Dickens and Twain to the Present Day
  • Chapter Four: Sifting Comic Wheat from Western Chaff: Alex E. Sweet, John Armoy Knox, and the Humor of the American West
  • Chapter Five: Howling Mad: Mad Magazine, Allen Ginsberg, and the Culture Wars of the 1950s
  • Chapter Six: Comedy in Tragedy: Humor in the Literary Journalism of James Cameron
  • Chapter Seven: Words! Wisdom! Gibberish!: Verbal Irony in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
  • Chapter Eight: The Clinic: Satirizing and Interrogating Power in post-Pinochet Chile
  • Section Two: Unsolemn Columnists
  • Chapter Nine: Deadly Funny: How John Diamond Used Humor to Tackle the Taboo Subjects of Cancer and Dying
  • Chapter Ten: ‘Common sense dancing’: Clive James’s Invention of the Television Column as a Comic Genre
  • Chapter Eleven: John Clarke and the Power of Satire in Journalism
  • Section Three: This Sporting Life
  • Chapter Twelve: A Sporting Chance: Fun and Failure—Both On and Off the Field
  • Chapter Thirteen: Bowling Them Over and Over with Wit: Forms and Functions of Humor in Live Text Cricket Coverage
  • Section Four: Have Mouse, Will Laugh
  • Chapter Fourteen: Harmer, Humor and The Hoopla: In the Vanguard of Australian Female Comedy
  • Chapter Fifteen: Speaking Truth to Power in 140 Characters or Less: Political Satire, Civic Engagement and Journalism
  • Chapter Sixteen: Twitter and the Revitalization of Black Humor in Journalism
  • Chapter Seventeen: How Spy, the Iconic Satirical Magazine of the 1980s, Invented Contemporary Snark, and How Internet Journalism Has Misappropriated It
  • Afterword: Putting Fun into the Curriculum
  • Index

← viii | ix →Contributors

Nicholas Brownlees is Professor of English Language at the University of Florence. He is the co-compiler of the Florence Early English Newspapers Corpus (http://cqpweb.lancs.ac.uk) and has written extensively on news discourse in the early modern era. He is the author of The Language of Periodical News in Seventeenth Century England (2014, second edition) and editor of News Discourse in Early Modern Britain (2006). He is founder of the CHINED series of conferences on historical news discourse (www.chinednews.com). CHINED conferences have been held in Florence (2004), Zurich (2007), Rostock (2012), Helsinki (2014) and Porto (2015).

Antonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and academic. He is the Director of Journalism at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne, Australia. Apart from his scholarly work, he is a working journalist who has covered major international events, such as the peace process in Sri Lanka, the ‘Arab Spring’ and the civil war in Colombia.

Mary M. Cronin is an Associate Professor of Journalism at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM. She is the co-author of one textbook, The Mass Media: Invention, Development, Application and Impact (Dubuque: Great River Technologies, 2014); one monograph, ‘The Liberty to Argue Freely: Nineteenth-Century Obscenity Prosecutions and the Emergence of Modern ← ix | x →Libertarian Free Speech Discourse,’ Journalism and Communication Monographs (2006); and numerous scholarly journal articles, most of which focus on nineteenth-century media history issues. She teaches media law, media history, and print journalism courses at NMSU. Her PhD is from Michigan State University. She publishes as Mary M. Cronin, although legally she is Mary M. Lamonica.

Asif Hameed (BSc Psychology, MA Political Science) is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada. He has written for outlets as diverse as the Toronto Star, CBC.ca and WhatCulture, and is currently working on a documentary on viral participation, comedy and the state of democracy. You can follow him on Twitter @TheGospelOfAsif.

Dermot Heaney is originally from Birmingham, UK. He graduated from the University of Warwick and was awarded an MA by the same university. He also holds a doctorate from the National University of Ireland. He has taught specialized translation on the two-year degree course run jointly by Milano Lingue and the Université Marc Boch of Strasbourg. He has also taught translation at undergraduate and post-graduate levels at the University of Bologna and the University of Rome 2 ‘Tor Vergata.’ He is currently a tenured researcher in Translation and English Language and Linguistics at the Università degli Studi in Milan. His research interests lie mainly in translation pedagogy, particularly conventional metaphor, multilingualism in sports media interactions, and discursive identity construction, particularly in the field of sport.

Dean Jobb is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. His research interests include the early press history of Canada, the United States and Britain. His work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US and Ireland. An award-winning author and journalist, his books include Empire of Deception (Algonquin Books, 2015), the incredible-but-true story of Leo Koretz, a 1920s Chicago swindler with a sense of humor almost as razor-sharp as that of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele.

Sue Joseph has been a journalist for more than thirty-five years, working in Australia and the UK. She began working as an academic, teaching print journalism at the University of Technology Sydney, in 1997. She now teaches journalism and creative writing, particularly creative non-fiction writing, in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Her research interests include professional ethics, trauma narrative, how sexuality, secrets and confessions are framed by the media, reflective professional practice, and ← x | xi →Australian creative non-fiction. Her third book, Speaking Secrets (Alto), was published in 2012.

Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln since 2003, has written and edited more than 30 books on a wide range of topics: including peace journalism, literary journalism, investigative reporting, practical newspaper reporting skills, the coverage of US/UK militarism and the secret state, and George Orwell. In 2011, he was given a National Teaching Fellowship, the highest award for teachers in higher education in the UK, and in 2014 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Journalism Education.

Blake Lambert is an instructor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and a Liberal Studies Professor at the Humber Institute of Applied Arts and Technology. He experienced minor infamy in 2006 for being expelled by the Ugandan government and being labeled a national security threat because of his journalism. In a twist of black humor, one of his academic specialities is now leadership. He finds humor in life through his wife, son and students. He tweets professionally and, hopefully, humorously @blakejlambert. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Kevin M. Lerner is Assistant Professor of Communication/Journalism at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. His research interests include American journalism history, particularly of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as press criticism, media law, and the alternative press. Among other projects, he is at work converting his dissertation, a history of the anti-institutional 1970s journalism review (MORE), into a book. As a journalist, he has published work with Slate, New York magazine and The New York Times.

Hendrik Michael is a research assistant at the Institute of Communication Studies at the University of Bamberg. His teaching focus is on theories of journalism and the public sphere as well as journalistic genres and narrative forms. In his doctoral thesis he analyzes how narrative journalistic strategies were utilized to report on urban poverty in American and German mass periodicals of the late 19th century. Before shifting his research interests towards journalism and communication studies, Hendrik earned his MA in American studies with a work on the use of verbal irony in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.

Mark J. Noonan is Professor of English at New York City College of Technology (CUNY). He is author of Reading the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine: American Literature and Culture, 1870–1893 (Kent State UP, 2010) as well as articles on Paul Laurence Dunbar, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Norman ← xi | xii →Mailer. He is co-editor of The Place Where We Dwell: Reading and Writing about New York City and presently serves on the Advisory Board of American Periodicals.

Matthew Ricketson is an academic and journalist. He was appointed inaugural Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra, Australia, in 2009. Before that he was media and communications editor for The Age. He has worked on staff at The Australian and Time Australia magazine, among other publications, and has won the national George Munster prize for best freelance journalism. Between 1995 and 2006 he headed the Journalism program at RMIT University. He is the author of a biography of Australian author Paul Jennings, of Writing Feature Stories and, most recently, Telling True Stories: Navigating the Challenges of Writing Narrative Non-Fiction. He is the editor of Australian Journalism Today and The Best Australian Profiles. In 2011, he was appointed by the federal Labor government to assist Ray Finkelstein QC in an inquiry into the news media industry, which reported in 2012.

Carolyn Rickett is an Assistant Dean of Research, Senior Lecturer in Communication and creative arts practitioner at Avondale College of Higher Education, Australia. She is co-ordinator for the New Leaves writing project, an initiative for people who have experienced or are experiencing the trauma of a life-threatening illness. Together with Judith Beveridge, she is co-editor of the New Leaves Poetry Anthology. Other anthologies she has co-edited with Judith include Wording the Word; Here, Not There and A Way of Happening. Carolyn’s research publications include the areas of trauma studies, writing as therapeutic intervention, cancer narratives, journalism, literary studies, poetry praxis and professional ethics.

Rob Steen is co-leader and Senior Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Sport Journalism course at the University of Brighton, England. He has been a sportswriter since 1983, writing for, among others, the Guardian, the Independent, Sunday Times, Financial Times, India Today and Sydney Morning Herald. In 2005, his article for the Wisden Cricketer magazine about the decline of Anglo-Caribbean cricketers won the UK section of the EU Journalism Award ‘for diversity, against discrimination.’ He has also written more than a dozen books on sport, including Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport (shortlisted for the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and the Lord Aberdare Literary Prize for Sports History), Spring, Summer, Autumn (runner-up for the 1991 William Hill award), David Gower: A Man Out of Time (winner of the 1995 Cricket Society Literary Award) and Sports Journalism: A Multimedia Primer, the second edition of which was published in 2015.

← xii | xiii →Ben Stubbs is a lecturer in Journalism and Writing at the University of South Australia. His background is as a travel writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and his current research looks into the legitimization of the form within journalism. His first book, Ticket to Paradise, was published by HarperCollins (2012) and traced the journey of Australian socialist utopians in Paraguay. His most recent book, After Dark, will be published by Signal Books in 2016 and draws inspiration from Charles Dickens’s Night Walks. It explores modern Madrid in darkness. His PhD was on the plurality of book-length travel writing.

David Swick is Associate Director of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He teaches writing courses to undergraduate and MFA students, and takes pleasure in introducing them to the brilliant, funny work of James Cameron. A journalist for more than twenty years before entering academia, Swick’s journalism includes hour-long documentary Ideas programs and foreign correspondence for Canada’s national CBC Radio, scriptwriting and editing for TV documentaries, dozens of magazine articles, nearly 2,000 newspaper columns, and one non-fiction book. Honors include winning two major fellowships. Judging includes Canada’s National Magazine Awards, national music awards, and national CBC Literary Awards. He has designed courses inspired by the writing of great journalists and in journalism ethics, and is regularly interviewed on questions of journalism ethics across Canada.

James Waller-Davies is a postgraduate of the Lincoln School of Journalism, University of Lincoln. After a previous career in education, he now works as a freelance writer and journalist. His research interests are in literary journalism and lifestyle journalism.← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | 1 →Introduction

Journalism – So Often Funnier than Fiction


Some unfortunate people cannot tell a joke. The journalists considered in this book, on the other hand, know how to make us laugh. Their perceptions are smart and insightful (and sometimes biting); they have a playful way with words. Charles Dickens, who is among the journalists included here, believed that his greatest ability as a writer was to make people laugh (Andrews 2013).

Funny journalists hold a trump card over mere joke tellers. Journalists are not using imagination or speculation or far-flung fancy as the source of their material; journalists deal with the ‘rhetoric of factuality’ (Keeble 2007: 9). And ‘facts’, as anyone who has been astounded by the quirks, weirdnesses and ironies of the human animal knows, are frequently funnier than fiction.

Yes, a lot of journalism is serious by demand. Some of it needs to be this way. (Would you want humor mixed in with a brief on soybean futures?) People wanting news about government legislation, or a corporate scandal, or a concert, or a sports team, or the stock market, or a downtown murder, or a car crash in the neighborhood turn to journalists for information that is fresh, fact-based and decidedly giggle-proof. If people want to laugh, the common thinking goes, they will turn to family or friends or Entertainment.

This may explain why, so far as we can ascertain, until now no one has gathered an anthology of international perspectives on humor in journalism. With seventeen writers in seven countries this book shows that, starting in the 1640s ← 1 | 2 →English civil war through to our own time, humor has been a small, vigorous, important part of journalism.

In some news stories, without a doubt, humor would be inappropriate, the equivalent of presenting video footage of a fatal fire underscored by circus music. Without crossing over that line, you will discover, is a space for humor in the news that sharp-witted journalists through the centuries have been happy to fill. (This volume focuses on writers for print or online, not cartoonists or journalists working exclusively in radio or television.)

As you enjoy these thoughtful, deeply researched articles, consider the qualities of journalistic humor. One key to success, for the more than thirty journalists considered in these papers, is brilliant writing. Just as a joke, poorly told, falls flat—or worse, comes across as crude or cruel—humor in journalism needs to be crafted with fine skills. The journalists spotlighted in this volume have those skills, which is why we believe you will find this book both enlightening and at times delightfully funny.


XIII, 271
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
satire free speech journalism
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XIII, 271 pp.

Biographical notes

David Swick (Volume editor) Richard Lance Keeble (Volume editor)

David Swick is Associate Director of Journalism at the University of King’s College, Canada. He was a journalist for more than 20 years before moving into teaching. His work includes CBC Radio documentaries, TV documentaries, nearly 2,000 newspaper columns, and one nonfiction book. Richard Lance Keeble is the winner of the National Teaching Fellowship 2011 – the highest award for teachers in higher education in the UK – and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Journalism Education, 2014. He has written and edited 35 books and is Chair of the Orwell Society.


Title: The Funniest Pages