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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 Seventeen: How Spy, the Iconic Satirical Magazine of the 1980s, Invented Contemporary Snark, and How Internet Journalism Has Misappropriated It




In 2009, the comedian and satirical television news pundit Stephen Colbert traveled to Iraq to entertain American troops and tape an episode of his show, the Colbert Report. To commemorate the visit and tie in to a gag in which Colbert had his hair cut into a ‘high and tight’ military haircut on camera, Newsweek magazine of 15 June had Colbert guest-edit an issue, and ran a photo illustration of Colbert on its cover. The image showed Colbert and a pair of barber’s clippers, which had supposedly just carved the word ‘Iraq’ into his hair. It was a clever and striking image, but not, as it turns out, entirely original. Almost exactly 20 years earlier, in October 1989, a magazine called Spy ran an image of then-President George H. W. Bush on its cover, also with text carved into his hair.

The Colbert image is satirically on point, since the haircut more or less refers to the military, but Spy took the bigger risk. Colbert only mocked himself, and self-mockery was a constant theme of Colbert’s show. Spy gave the sitting President of the United States a haircut that promoted the magazine’s recurring feature ‘The Spy 100,’ an annual list of the ‘most annoying, alarming and appalling people, places and things.’ The cover was disrespectful, flippant and funny—and it flaunted the magazine’s creative use of typography to boot. It was everything Spy was when the...

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