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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 Four: Sifting Comic Wheat from Western Chaff: Alex E. Sweet, John Armoy Knox, and the Humor of the American West

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← 52 | 53 →CHAPTER FOUR

Alex E. Sweet, John Armoy Knox, and the Humor of the American West

MARY M. CRONIN

Gilded Age Americans liked to laugh. Foreign visitors to America had pronounced humor to be ingrained in the nation’s character from its outset (Blair 1993: 15), and late nineteenth-century citizens needed humor. Theirs was a world riddled with political corruption, economic downturns, post-civil war racial unease, massive immigration, Indian troubles (spurred by ongoing Western migration), environmental pollution, labor unrest, and industrial accidents. Not surprisingly, national and regional humorists’ writings and lectures found large and usually appreciative audiences. Comedic plays filled theaters, and newspaper readers—both urban and rural—looked forward to daily doses of laughter via then-common humor columns.

Periodicals allowed the broadest variety of printed humor to shine and thrive. Magazines devoted entirely (or partly) to humor were ‘a phenomenon of the eighties,’ according to journalist James L. Ford (1903: 21). Historian Frank Luther Mott concurred, noting 1885–1905 was ‘unique in having so many humorous journals of high quality in course of publication’ (1957: 383). The success of three publications in particular—Life, Puck, and Judge—led to dozens of national and regional imitators in the 1880s and 1890s (Ford 1903: 21), including Truth, the Philadelphia Jester, the Chicago Figaro, and the Arkansas Thomas Cat (Mott 1957: 383–385). An unnamed journalist writing in the mid-1890s for the Hamilton Literary Monthly confirmed the humor press’s popularity. ‘No reading room...

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