Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor

Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor

Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor

Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor


Who says you can't have a serious reference work on humor? This new resource offers a broad look at humor with more than 100 well-written and entertaining entries. Scholarly in nature, yet enjoyable to read, the Encyclopedia examines several aspects of humor, such as: styles of humor, subjects of comedy, media methods, academic endeavors, humor in society, historical aspects. This volume celebrates a century of twists and turns in American humor.


We were pleased and challenged when Oryx editors suggested that we write an encyclopedia of humor. When we shared the good news with friends and colleagues, they responded with opposite sets of assumptions. One group asked such questions as "How can you find out about all those sitcoms?" and "With the turnover in stand-up comedians, won't it be obsolete before you're done?" The other group smiled skeptically as if the concepts of humor and encyclopedia were incompatible; surely there isn't enough information about jokes to fill an encyclopedia.

To the friends who expected us to focus only on comedy performers, we explained that would be like writing an encyclopedia about food and commenting only on what chefs prepared and served. And to those who didn't think there was enough information for an encyclopedia, we said, "Wait and see!"

During the 25 years that we have been working with humor studies, we have found that, while most people think humor is important, they each have their own relatively narrow definition. For example, as English teachers, we were attracted to humor studies because we wanted to make our grammar lessons more interesting. We suspected that students could learn as much about language by working with deviant as with standardized sentences, and so, to us, humor meant language play. In 1982, when we invited the public to come to our first April Fools' Day humor conference at Arizona State University, we expected the participants to be people who worked with language in departments of communication, English, and perhaps drama and theater. We were pleasantly surprised when, in addition to language scholars, people came from medicine, art, business, philosophy, anthropology, history, political science, social work, sociology, education, performance, and the physical sciences.

Since then, we have been learning that humor means different things to different people. Many disagreements over the purpose of humor, its appropriateness, its effectiveness, and even what humor is, can be traced to people's differing definitions and expectations. By pulling together an overview of humor studies and treating a wide range of humor-related subjects, we hope to show that humor cuts across many aspects of life, and it is to be expected that architects, for example, will view humor differently from lawyers, or children, or stand-up comedians. It is also to be expected that circumstantial and individual experiences and differences will influence the way individuals respond to various kinds of humor. We recently . . .

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