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The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism


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 Eleven: John Clarke and the Power of Satire in Journalism


← 152 | 153 →CHAPTER ELEVEN


The Oxford English Dictionary defines satire as: ‘The employment, in speaking or writing, of sarcasm, irony, ridicule, etc. in denouncing, exposing or deriding vice, folly, abuses, or evils of any kind.’ That is fine if a little flavorless but then most dictionary definitions are. Most but not all. John Clarke, the New Zealand-born satirist who arrived in Australia in the 1970s and acquired a nasal local accent that he has since deployed deadpan to devastating effect, once tried his hand at a definition of satire: ‘Noun: a reaction to the process whereby politicians and public figures hold the community up to ridicule and contempt.’ That is better, not least because the definition itself makes a satirical point. It also offers a key to the power of Clarke’s satire: his brilliance in adapting forms, especially media forms, for satiric purposes. This can be seen in his re-moulding of staple journalistic forms, ranging from the standard news report to sports commentary and from newspaper quizzes to the question and answer interview.

If all Clarke did, though, was parody journalistic forms, his work would not rise above the level of a television sketch show. Instead, the inverting of these journalistic forms is used to ask questions of and critique those in positions of power and authority. Scrutinizing power and authority is what journalists do, according to conventional understandings of the news media’s fourth estate role. Clarke is not a journalist; indeed,...

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