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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
Re: Humor
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0476.  Wednesday, 14 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Joe Nathan <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 1995 17:25:37 -0700
        Subj:   Humour
 
(2)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 95 20:32:15 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0460  Re: American and British Humor
 
(3)     From:   David Jackson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Jun 95 10:29:31 est
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0472  Re: Humor
 
(4)     From:   Anna Cole <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Jun 1995 17:25:19 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0472  Re: Humor
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joe Nathan <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 1995 17:25:37 -0700
Subject:        Humour
 
Since this subject has gone so far afield, and humorous poetry has been
mentioned, I wonder if I could be lucky enough to get the name of a British
book of humorous poetry I loved as a child.  I know not the author.  But one of
the poems starts: <Thomas was a little glutton/who ate four times beef or
mutton/then undid a lower button/and consumed plum duff/.  Then when he could
scarcely swallow/asked if there was more to follow/as he'd still a little
hollow/which he'd like to stuff.>  If anyone knows this delightful book, I
would be so grateful for info.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 95 20:32:15 EDT
Subject: 6.0460  Re: American and British Humor
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0460  Re: American and British Humor
 
A bibliography item for giddy thoughts about satire:  John R. Clark, FORM AND
FRENZY IN TALE OF A TUB.  Clark is at University of South Florida, I believe,
and I haven't been tracking what he's been writing over the last bunch of
years, but he himself writes with Swiftian wit and immense good cheer.  He
tracks the forms -- plots, strategies, rhetoric, local devices -- in a wide
variety of satiric writings.  He and spouse (a Classicist) produced an
anthology of satiric literature in the 1970s.  Classes I took with him in 1967
and '68 crackled with tough laughter.  I still owe him for how he gleefully led
us through the rollercoasters of Juvenal, Pope, and Swift.
 
                                      Steve Not-So-Swiftowitz
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Jackson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 Jun 95 10:29:31 est
Subject: 6.0472  Re: Humor
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0472  Re: Humor
 
Tom Bishop's posting left out one of Benny Hill's lines (as WS's agent): "....
and there's a fairy called WHAT?"
 
On the topic of Brit vs. American humor, while I still adhere to the view that
there are stylistic differences (a lot of it has to do with delivery and
emphasis), I think that both cultures have their verbal and physical elements.
Furthermore, as the Benny Hill debate reveals, it is simplistic to attribute a
single level or style to even an individual comedian. BH was at times subtle
and witty, at others crass and infantile (but that can be funny, too). Leslie
Nielsen can be funny delivering a deadpan line, but he also raises hoots woth a
whoopee cushion. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore lampooned the social classes with
clever wordplay, but anyone who's heard their "Derek and Clive" recordings will
be aware that comedy can be based almost entirely on the repetition of a couple
of four-letter words (I often refer people who adore the wit of Cook and Moore
to "Derek and Clive", and imagine them listening with baffled expressions as
the barrage of expletives proceeds); still, this can be very funny in the right
context, as WS knew ("her Cs, her Us and her Ts; why that?"; "country matters",
etc.), so long as the delivery is right.
 
This raises an issue that has interested me for some time: How to treat WS's
comedy in performance. Specifically, when you have a line that probably had the
crowds rolling in the aisles four hundred years ago, but is completely
meaningless to modern audiences (except those who know the double-meaning of
the obsolete word in the punchline), what should you do? My first instinct as a
director is to cut it, but I'll sometimes save it if it can be made funny in
the delivery. For example, Touchstone may be a delight in many people's eyes,
but he has some of the unfunniest (today) lines in Shakespeare. But I've seen
people laugh at words they clearly didn't understand because of the timing and
manner of their delivery. Sometimes this bothers me, because the actor could
just as well be saying the ingredients list from a cereal box and still get the
same laughs, but if it's the only way to make the lines effective in this day
and age, perhaps it's ok. If the biggest laughs in a Shakespeare production
come from a drawn-out bit of clowning and choreography that has almost nothing
to do with the dialogue, is the text somehow diminished, inasmuch as the
director appears to be saying "this isn't funny enough, let's add some
shtick."? Don't get me wrong--I love shtick, and use it a lot; I just wonder
what others' thoughts are on all this.
 
Finally, on the issue of satirical writing, I recommend Martin Amis' "London
Fields" as one of the best satires on fin-de-siecle England (and, to some
extent, America). Also, as students of Tourner, Webster and Wharfinger will
know, Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" is a modern classic (a
30-year-old one, at that -- how time flies).
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anna Cole <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 Jun 1995 17:25:19 GMT
Subject: 6.0472  Re: Humor
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0472  Re: Humor
 
Re Alistair Scott's advocacy of Saki (H.H.Munro):  I entirely agree,  he is a
superb humorist and wit and I cannot understand why he is not much more widely
read.  Perhaps it is because a great deal of his writing has a very savage edge
and people seem terribly sensitive these days and recoil from "cruel" humour.
It might also be his uncompromisingly literary style.  My own favourite short
story is The Schartz-Metterklume Method, but I heartily commend the entire
oeuvre to all who value fine writing.   If any Shakespeareans do decide to read
Saki for the first time I would be delighted to hear what they make of him.
Since this thread has strayed somewhat from the Bard and his works perhaps any
correspondents may care to post to me rather than the conference.  As you like
it!
 

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