Party of One: The Selected Writings of Clifton Fadiman

By Clifton Fadiman | Go to book overview

Clowns, Humorists, Comics

IN THE course of my immersion in the wild waves of radio and television, I've worked with perhaps a hundred and fifty professional funny men. They split up into three main classes: clowns, humorists, comics.

There are very few great clowns. One is Jimmy Durante, whose art is that of making quietly despairing men suddenly catch a vision of the surprisingness of life, the breakability of rules, the spirit-cleansing power of the irrelevant.

The Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields in their finest period about two decades ago were unsurpassed clowns. Fields dealt in understatement, the Brothers in overstatement. Fields' face expressed resignation, varying from the quiet to the desperate. Groucho's expressed exaggeration. Harpo's was exaggeration itself, a kind of ne plus ultra in faces. Even in his juggling act Fields seemed to move slowly, whereas the Marx gestures were all rapid. There was something reasonable about Fields, but the Marxes were so confidently unreasonable as to awaken in the spectator bitter doubts as to the worthwhileness of not being a fool. Fields was a Stoic, the Marxes Anarchists.

Fields, Harpo, and Groucho were "smart" clowns. Bert Lahr is the supreme type of the yokel clown. He is organized mental innocence, his face one question mark.

If great clowns are rare, humorists are almost as rare. The great remainder are comics.

-271-

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Party of One: The Selected Writings of Clifton Fadiman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 5
  • Contents 9
  • Prefatory and Retrospective 13
  • From My Notebooks 33
  • Admirations 45
  • No Knights in Minnesota 47
  • A Traveler in Reality 54
  • I- Nominate for The Pulitzer Prize-- 63
  • Abner Dean's Naked Little Man 71
  • G. K. C. 74
  • She Did Not Know How To Be Famous 77
  • Puzzlements 83
  • Gertrude Stein 85
  • William Faulkner 98
  • Lead-Ins 127
  • A Note on Huckleberry Finn 129
  • Dodsworth 132
  • Moby Dick 136
  • Portrait of a Misanthrope 145
  • Three Notes on Henry James 154
  • War and Peace 176
  • Pickwick and Dickens 203
  • Conversation 251
  • Onstage 269
  • Clowns, Humorists, Comics 271
  • Emlyn Williams, Charles Laughton, and the Art Of Reading Aloud 274
  • Reflections on Musical Comedy 280
  • Judy and Juan 285
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Host-- 292
  • The Reading Lamp 303
  • The Book-Reviewing Business 305
  • An Experiment in Teaching 320
  • The Wild Child 324
  • Pillow Books 334
  • The Voice of the Dodo 341
  • A Gentle Dirge for The Familiar Essay 349
  • The Decline of Attention 354
  • Children's Reading 367
  • Books for Children 382
  • Mother Goose 396
  • The Maze in the Snow 404
  • How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear! 411
  • Assortment 421
  • Fanfare for Fireworks, Fawkes, And the Fifth 423
  • Fadiman's Law of Optimum Improvement 430
  • Plain Thoughts on Fancy Language 437
  • A Period Sample: Three Reviews of John O'Hara 446
  • The Wolfe at the Door 455
  • How to Attract the Attention Of a Schrafft's Hostess 461
  • Some Passing Remarks On Some Passing Remarks 466
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