Friday, August 16, 2013

FFB: LAUGHING MATTERS: A CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN HUMOR edited by (of all people) Gene Shalit (1987)

Gene Shalit had a long but not all that distinguished career as a film (and to a lesser extent book) reviewer for television, usually the NBC morning series Today, before retiring in 2010. He has been fond of puns and lightweight judgment, and as such, not too much less illuminating in his compass than Siskel and Ebert (and their various heirs at their tv series) were in theirs, and the latter usually had more time to go on. 

Given that, it's mildly surprising (to me, in any case) how engaging his very eclectic 622-page (including index) bugcrusher of a humor anthology is...his taste in stories, essays, verse, cartoons, sketch scripts, jokes and other expressions of wit on the page isn't so much surprising as nonetheless rather sound, and while nostalgic, wasn't ignoring the then current-crop of contribution to the traditions (a generous helping of Crockett Johnson's Barnaby comic strip is supplemented by examples from Nicole Hollander's Sylvia, Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury, and Gary Larson's The Far Side, for example). Amusingly, Shalit was a schoolmate of Fran Lebowitz's father and apparently knew her from her childhood, so her work is introduced here with a bit of memoir. Also notable is the focus on material published during Shalit's lifetime...a few older chestnuts, from Mark Twain and others, are included, but more likely to be encountered here is the sequencing that goes from a short Lebowitz essay to a Charles Schulz Peanuts strip to an E. B. White rumination.

Doubleday did him few favors in pricing this book in '87 at $24.95, but copies can be had relatively inexpensively now, and in slightly shrunken dollars...

Here's Annie Van Auken's somewhat condensed (and alphabetical rather than in sequence of appearance) list of the contents:

Introductions by: Gene SHALIT, 

[these taken from other books:] Dorothy PARKER, Louis UNTERMEYER and Alexander WOOLCOTT

- - - - - - - - - - PROSE - - - - - - - - - -

Franklin P. ADAMS
A Pair of Sexes

Woody ALLEN
Confessions of a Burglar
Hasidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar
The Kugelmass Episode
The Scrolls
Selections from the Allen Notebooks
The Whore of Mensa

Kurt ANDERSEN
Affectations

Russell BAKER
Francs and Beans

Henry BEARD
The Congress of Nuts

Robert BENCHLEY
Christmas Afternoon
Kiddie-Kar Travel
Opera Synopses

Roy BLOUNT, JR.
Blue Yodel 9 Jessie
The List of the Mohicans
What to Do on New Year's Eve---I and II

Roark BRADFORD
Green Pastures

Lynn CARAGANIS
U.S. Torn Apart by French Attitude

Craig CLAIBORNE
Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris:31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4,000 Check

Gordon COTLER
More Big News from Out There

Steven CRIST
Letterati

T. A. DALY
Mia Carlotta

Finley Peter DUNNE
Over the Counter
Short Marriage Contracts
The Vice-President

Ian A. FRAZIER
Into the American Maw

Veronica GENG
Curb Carter Policy Discord Effort Threats
My Mao
The Stylish New York Couples

Jeff GREENFIELD
The White House is Sinking!

Milt GROSS
Ferry-tail from Keeng Mitas for Nize Baby

Garrison KEILLOR
Attitude
Shy Rights: Why Not Pretty Soon?

Arthur KOBER
Boggains in the Bronx

Ring LARDNER
Some Like Them Cold

Fran LEBOWITZ
An Alphabet of New Year's Resolutions for Others
Ideas
The Last Laugh
Lesson One
Tips for Teens

Don MARQUIS
The Rivercliff Golf Killings

Bruce McCALL
Rolled in Rare Bohemian Onyx, Then Vulcanized by Hand

H. L. MENCKEN
The Wedding: A Stage Direction

George MEYER
Food Repairman

Christopher MORLEY
Unearned Increment

Howard MOSS
The Ultimate Diary

Ogden NASH
I Never Even Suggested It

Mark O'DONNELL
Insect Societies

Mark O'DONNELL and Chris AUSTOPCHUK
The 1985 Old Codger's Almanac 

Michael O'DONOGHUE
How to Write Good

NATIONAL LAMPOON
Classified Ads

Dorothy PARKER
An Apartment House Anthology

S. J. PERELMAN
Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer
No Starch in the Dhoti, S'il Vous Plait
Nothing But the Tooth
Waiting for Santy

Noel PERRIN
Answers to Poets' Questions

Lois ROMANO
English Lit(mus)

Leo Rosten
Christopher K*a*p*l*a*n

Philip ROTH
Letters to Einstein

William SAROYAN
Old Country Advice to the American Traveler

Max SCHULMAN
Excerpts from Barefoot Boy with Cheek

Casey STENGEL
Organized Professional Team Sports

Frank SULLIVAN
The Cliché Expert Testifies on Literary Criticism
The Cliché Expert Testifies on the Movies
A Garland of Ibids

James THURBER
The Little Girl and the Wolf
Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife

Calvin TRILLIN
Ben's Diary

Mark TWAIN
Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses

Ellis WEINER 
Patriotic Spot (60 Secs.)

E. B. WHITE
Across the Street and into the Grill
Dusk in Fierce Pajamas
The Sexual Revolution: Being a Rather Complete Survey of the Entire Sexual Scene

- - - - - - - - - - VERSE - - - - - - - - - -

Franklin P. ADAMS
To a Thesaurus

ANONYMOUS
Great Fleas

Morris BISHOP
Mournful Numbers

John Collins BOSSIDY
On the Aristocracy of Harvard

Margaret FISHBACK
I Stand Corrected
The Purist to Her Love

Robert FROST
A Considerable Speck

Samuel HOFFENSTEIN
Budget
The Notebook of a Schnook
Oral History and Prognostication
Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing
Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So As to Offend Nobody
A Simple Tale

Earnest A. HOOTEN
Ode to a Dental Hygienist

Frederick Sheetz JONES
On the Democracy of Yale

Harold A. LARRABEE
The Very Model of a Modern College President

Don MARQUIS
the coming of archy/mehitabel was once cleopatra/the song of mehitabel/
the old trouper/the flattered lightning bug/the lesson of the moth
the honey bee

Ogden NASH
The Firefly
How to Harry a Husband or Is that Accessory Really Necessary?
Look What You Did, Christopher!

Dorothy PARKER
Résumé

D. F. PARRY
Miniver Cheevy, Jr.

Edwin Arlington Robinson
Miniver Cheevy

Allan SHERMAN
The Drapes of Roth

Bert Leston TAYLOR
The Bards We Quote
To Lillian Russell

UNIVERSITY of CALIFORNIA
Engineer's Yell

- - - - - STAGE, RADIO & MOVIE - - - - -

Bud ABBOTT and Lou COSTELLO
Who's on First?

Fred ALLEN
Jack Benny in "Allen's Alley"

Marshall BRICKMAN
"The Enigma Redundancy"

George BURNS and Gracie ALLEN
Say Good Night, Gracie

Marc CONNALLY
A Fish Fry (Part I, Scene 2 of "The Green Pastures")

Brad DARRACH
Interview with Mel Brooks (from Playboy magazine)

Bob ELLIOTT and Ray GOULDING
Garish Summit---Episode 1

Harvey FIERSTEIN
Scene One: Arnold

Frank JACOBS and Mort DRUCKER
Antenna on the Roof (Mad Magazine spoof of Broadway musical)

George S. KAUFMAN and Morrie RYSKIND
Groucho and Chico Make a Deal

Garrison KEILLOR
U.S. Still on Top, Says Rest of World

The MARX Brothers
Why a Duck?

Will ROGERS
Timely Topics

- - - - - CARTOON & COMIC STRIP - - - - 

Charles ADDAMS
Peter ARNO

George BOOTH

Roz CHAST
Frank COTHAM

Robert DAY

Jules FEIFFER
FLENNIKEN

Rube GOLDBERG
Edward GOREY
Sam GROSS

Bud HANDELSMAN
Johnny HART
George HERRIMAN
Nicole HOLLANDER

Rea IRVIN

Crockett JOHNSON

B. KLIBAN
Ed KOREN

Gary LARSON
Bill LEE

Jeff MacNEELEY
Robert MANKOFF
Howard MARGULIES
Skip MORROW

Mike PETERS
George PRICE

Arnold ROTH

Charles SCHULZ 
Tom SMITS
Gary SOLIN
M. STEVENS

James THURBER
Garry TRUDEAU 

Jim UNGER

Gluyas WILLIAMS
Gahan WILSON

Jack ZIEGLER

Afterword by Kurt ANDERSEN

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Of related interest:
Bennett Cerf's Houseful of Laughter
Parodies, edited by Dwight Macdonald, and The Stuffed Owl edited by Lewis and Lee
Funny Papers: from 5 years of reviews on this blog

8 comments:

Kelly Robinson said...

Oh, what a nostalgic rush I just got! I remember getting this out of the library. It was probably my first introduction to Robert Benchley, now that I think about it.

R.K. Robinson said...

What, no Bennett Cerf?

John said...

An impressive spread. What's Craig Claiborne's indulgent and selfish prank restaurant review of Chez Denis doing in there? I would've ditched that vanity piece for more Mencken or Lardner.

Todd Mason said...

Well, there's its reason to exist right there, Kelly.

Rick, are you asking if Cerf was not represented as a joke teller? Certainly I've FFB'd his HOUSEFUL OF LAUGHTER previously...

John, well, old buddy-dom will out, I suspect. One reviewer in NYC to another...

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, thanks for bringing this book to my notice. It's good to know that I can buy it relatively cheap. I have always wanted to read the work of S.J. Perelman though I have read a fair bit of humour and satire by his "disciple" Woody Allen whose "The Kugelmass Episode," I thought, was a brilliantly written story. I have read it at least thrice if not more. Has Groucho Marx written anything by way of a book or two? All I have come across so far are his quotes mostly from his films. James Thurber is another humourist I have long neglected. However, I was able to download some of his books like "Thurber Country" and "Lanterns and Lances" from Archive.org.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, reading Thurber and Perelman won't hurt you, nor will Robert Benchley (whose son was novelist Nathaniel, and his son was journalist and eventually novelist Peter, the JAWS guy). "The Kugelmass Episode" is pretty typical of Allen's best writing...it strives for the jokes a little hard, but it's clever and funny. Marx's writing has been collected in books, such as his radio scripts and such, but if I remember correctly he never wrote a book as such (though he did write the occasional short essay)...I certainly read a book-length collection of interviews with him, by a fan and writer named Richard Anobile, called THE GROUCHO FILES, and that was pretty interesting.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, I did wonder if Peter Benchley was related to Robert Benchley but couldn't figure it out as I'm only vaguely familiar with the latter. I read that Allen's "The Kugelmass Episode" is a part of college/university curriculum in the West. I have "The Complete Prose of Woody Allen," an early collection of fifty-two pieces of hilarious writing, though frankly I didn't find all his essays funny.

On another note, I'm going to shamelessly solicit your views on a very short piece I wrote on my blog on August 14, about the first issue of SCREAM published by Skywald Horror-Mood Magazine. Patti thought you could "fill" me in on it and I think so to. Thanks, Todd.

Todd Mason said...

Well, sure, Prashant! Though I'm not the comics guy that some are (Skywald has a certain notoriety among horror/comics folks)...some Woody Allen might be taught in some courses, but mostly in film and popular culture courses still, I'd wager, rather than in literature courses..."The Kugelmass Episode" might be one of Allen's most reprinted stories, as it appeared in The New Yorker and shortly after was reprinted in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (editor/publisher Edward Ferman was a huge fan of Allen from his standup days) and Short Story International, and perhaps other magazines, before books started getting a crack at it...