- Where you going? I was gonna make espresso. [from the film “Young Frankenstein”]
People need to laugh. It relieves the tension of life and energizes us to confront harsh realities again.
- Arthur Power Dudden, ed., American Humor (Oxford University Press, 1987).
- Constance Rourke, ed., American Humor: A Study of Our National Character (NYRB Classics, 2004).
- Nancy A. Walker, A Very Serious Thing: Women's Humor and American Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1988).
- Edward J. Piacentino, The Enduring Legacy of Old Southwest Humor (Louisiana State University Press, 2006).
- Neil Schmitz, Of Huck and Alice: Humorous Writing in American Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 1983).
- Mel Watkins, On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy (Lawrence Hill Books, 1999).
- Mel Watkins, African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today (Lawrence Hill Books, 2002).
- Paul Beatty, Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor (Bloomsbury USA, 2006).
- Paul Johnson, Humorists: From Hogarth to Noël Coward (Harper/HarperCollins, 2010).
Histories of the comic arts:
- William Knoedelseder, I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era (Public Affairs, 2009).
- Steve Allen, The Funny Men (Simon & Schuster, 1956).
- Janet Coleman, The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre That Revolutionized American Comedy (University of Chicago Press, 1991).
- Jeffrey Sweet, Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of The Second City & The Compass Players (Limelight Editions, 2004).
- Mary Scruggs and Michael J. Gellman, Process: An Improviser's Journey (Northwestern University Press, 2007).
- David Bianculli, Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (Touchstone, 2009).
- George Carlin, Last Words: A Memoir (Free Press, 2009).
- Randy Skretvelt and Jordan R. Young, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies (Past Times Publishing, 1994).
- Simon Louvish, Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy (Thomas Dunn Books, 2002).
- W.C. Fields and Ronald J. Fields, W.C. Fields By Himself: His Intended Autobiography (Prentice Hall, 1973).
- Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, 1978).
- Jeffrey Vance, Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (Harry N. Abrams, 2003).
- Stephen Weissman, Chaplin: A Life (Arcade Publishing, 2008).
- Andy Dougan, Robin Williams (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998).
- Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (Scribner, 2007).
- Richard Pryor, Convictions and Other Life Sentences (Pantheon, 1995).
- Bill Cosby, Time Flies (Doubleday, 1987).
- David Sedaris, Naked (Little, Brown and Company, 1997): “Every Funny Family Is Funny In Its Own Way”.
- Mel Brooks, All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business (Ballantine, 2021): “Brooks . . . reads as the opposite of acrophobic: scaling the icy pinnacles of Hollywood without anything more than a pang of self-doubt, using humor as his alpenstock.”
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Mike Sacks, And Here's the Kicker: Conversations With 25 Top Humor Writers on Their Craft (Writer's Digest Books, 2009).
- Larry Wilde, Great Comedians Talk About Comedy (Executive Books, 2000).
- Franklyn Ajaye, Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy (Silman;James Press, 2002).
- Gene Perret, The New Comedy Writing Step By Step (Quill Driver Press, 2007).
- Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Northwestern University Press, 1999).
- Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (Routledge, 1987).
- Max Ernst, Sign for a School of Monsters (1968)
- Joan Miró, Ciphers and Constellations, in Love with a Woman (1941)
- Joan Miró, Self-Portrait (1917)
- Frans Hals, Jester with a Lute (ca. 1623-24)
- Jean Fouquet, Portrait of the Ferrera Court Jester Gonella (c. 1442)
Film and Stage
- Young Frankenstein: perhaps the funniest spoof ever made
- Airplane!: bad jokes at their best
- The Bank Dick
- Chicken Run
- Mister Roberts, a military service comedy
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit, on the connection between life and the cartoons
- Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers: “a hilarious parody on film noir”
- The Horse’s Mouth, a relentlessly funny spoof about an aging painter with absurdly grand opinions about his art
Laurel and Hardy:
- Way Out West: pure comedic brilliance by two masters
- Sons of the Desert: two knuckleheads who try to put one over on their wives
The Marx Brothers:
- A Day at the Races
- A Night at the Opera: Groucho and his brothers spoof a classic art form
- Duck Soup: having nothing to do with ducks
Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther series:
- A Shot in the Dark: the first film in the Pink Panther series
- The Pink Panther
- The Return of the Pink Panther
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again
- Revenge of the Pink Panther
A list of the 100 funniest comedies according to the American Film Institute
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Let us begin a journey from the ridiculously sublime to the sublimely ridiculous with Anna Russell, who who masterfully lampooned the classics.
- The Ring of the Nibelung
- Introduction to the Concert
- Gilbert & Sullivan Opera
- Survey of Singing
- The (first) farewell special
Drier in tone, Victor Borge accompanied his monologues on piano.
“Dry” might not best describe the humor of Fanfare Ciocarlia, a Balkan Brass Band from Romania; yet this sloppy-wet fun has a droll quality:
- “It Wasn’t Hard to Love You”
- “Onwards to Mars!”
- “Devil’s Tale”
- “Balkan Brass Battle”
- “Gili Girabdi”
- “Iag Bari”
- “Baro Biao”
- “Radio Pascani”
- “Best of Gypsy Brass”
- “Queens and Kings”
P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele) employed an orchestra to poke fun at the classics.
- Beethoven, Symphony No. 5
- Schleptet for Winds
- Oratorio: The Seasonings
- 1712 Overture
- Concerto for simply grand piano and orchestra
- Live show
- Abduction of Figaro
Leo Eide billed himself as the “Whistling Virtuoso”. He may have been serious.
Decidedly not serious were Jo Stafford and her husband Paul Weston, who challenged the tin ears of would-be jazz listeners with an act called Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Stafford’s discipline in singing so precisely off-key is remarkable.
During World War II, Spike Jones provided much-needed comic relief.
Bo Carter offered a steady diet of ribald musical humor.
A group called Pifferari di Santo Spirito gave us perhaps the most consistently humorous recording once available. Here they are live at Portscastho Village Hall.
- Salieri, Falstaff, an opera buffa about an epically comic character (performances conducted by Veronesi, Gregor and Malgoire)
- Jouni Kaipainen’s Bassoon Concerto, Op. 74 (2005) presents the composer’s view of the bassoon as “the clown of the orchestra.”
- Mozart composed “A Musical Joke,” k. 522, as a parody on musical conventions he found trite or distasteful. Perhaps humor was more subtle in those days, or maybe it was just that television had not been invented. Listen for the obvious clunkers (skip to the end for the “grand” finale) amid the parody of trite conventions.
- Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54 (1804): a work of good humor, such as that of a good-natured child or dog
Here are a few children’s humorous books, reviewed.
Novels and stories:
- Jessica Anya Blau, Mary Jane: A Novel (Custom House, 2021): “The Babysitter Knows All”.
- Kevin Barry, That Old Country Music: Stories (Doubleday, 2021): “What connects the novels and the stories is Barry’s style, a nervy mix of high poetry and low comedy that he applies with unceasing vigor.”
Books of poems:
- Mark Leidner, Returning the Sword to the Stone (Fonograf Editions, 2021): “Leidner is a comic genius, which is to say this book is both hilarious and profound.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Clarice Assad & Third Coast Percussion, “The Jester”