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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 Two: ‘Written with Powers Truly Comick’: Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the Birth of Social and Political Satire

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← 24 | 25 →CHAPTER TWO

Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the Birth of Social and Political Satire

DEAN JOBB

Mr. Spectator introduced himself to the world—the world of early eighteenth-century London, at least—as a man on a mission. ‘I shall publish a sheetful of thoughts every morning for the benefit of my contemporaries,’ he told readers of a new periodical, aptly named The Spectator, on 1 March 1711, in the belief that these musings might ‘contribute to the diversion or improvement of the country in which I live.’ This public–spirited commentator assured readers he was up to the task; he was well-read, possessed an ‘insatiable thirst after knowledge’ and had traveled as far afield as Egypt. Most of all he was an outsider, a ‘silent man’ who let others do the talking as he absorbed their words and observed their behavior. ‘I live in the world rather as a Spectator of mankind than as one of the species,’ he explained, ‘by which means I have made myself a speculative statesman, soldier, merchant, and artisan, without ever meddling with any practical part in life.’ With detachment, he argued, came insight, as ‘standers-by discover blots which are apt to escape those who are in the game’ (The Spectator 1832: 17–18).

Mr. Spectator and his eponymous publication were the creations of Joseph Addison (1672–1719) and Richard Steele (1672–1729), pioneering journalists and satirists who celebrated the best qualities of...

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