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The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism

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Edited By David Swick and Richard Lance Keeble

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.
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Chapter One: News Mockery in the English Civil War and Interregnum Press

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← 10 | 11 →CHAPTER ONE

NICHOLAS BROWNLEES

For much of the seventeenth century the periodical English press devoted little or no attention to humor. Editorial attention was, instead, focused on narrating foreign and domestic news in a reliable, credible manner that could convince prospective readers to pay a penny or two pence for a copy of the news pamphlet or gazette of the day.1 This focus on detail and hard news is seen in the 1620s and 1630s corantos—the first exemplars of English periodical news—and the London Gazette that acquired more or less monopolistic status from its founding in 1665 up until the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695.

It was only in the 1640s and 1650s that we see humor become a feature in some of the periodical press. In the 1640s much of the humor is associated with the pamphlet wars, as varying parliamentarian and royalist publications employed humor to mock and lampoon their adversaries in the English civil wars. Whilst much of this humor has not travelled well over time—for modern readers it often comes across as little more than unimaginative smut—we do find passages that are not just amusing but insightful too.

Some such passages relate to the contemporary world of news, and the various discourse, printing and commercial practices associated with it. The world of news is also an occasional source of humor in satirical periodicals of the 1650s. Weekly publications such as...

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