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The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism


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 Twelve: A Sporting Chance: Fun and Failure—Both On and Off the Field


← 170 | 171 →CHAPTER TWELVE

Fun and Failure—Both On and Off the Field


If this chapter suffers from excessive nostalgia, please forgive me. Sport’s transformation from pastime to global profit machine-cum-social barometer has bred a more scathing press and a graver, shriller tone—a welcome corrective to the incessant cheerleading of broadcasters and PR flunkeys, yes. But genuinely witty reporting, legitimized by the boundary-free excesses of social media, is harder to find than master classes in sneering, sarcasm and histrionics. With salaries for athletes soaring and press barons slashing not only wages but jobs, it is not difficult to see resentment and envy as spurs. That the chuckle supply now stems largely from fringe players, the TV sport columnists and (often unpaid) bloggers, does not feel coincidental either.

As coverage of boxing, ball games and horse racing began to take wing in the 19th century, the desire to be taken seriously bred over-compensation; witness the over-excitability, excessive gravitas and cringe-inducing grandiosity of the early sportswriters. Even now, several decades after the New York Daily News and New York Post columnist Jimmy Cannon (1909–1973) was purportedly the first to celebrate sport as ‘the toy department of life’ (Talese 2010) the newspaper sports desk, source of some of the most avidly consumed pages, print and web, is still regarded as such in some haughty quarters.

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