President-Elect, Mark Twain Circle of America
The Mark Twain Circle of America, founded in 1986, is dedicated to the study of Mark Twain, his work, and his life and times. It is the largest single-author society in the country. Almost all of the prominent Mark Twain scholars in the U. S. and abroad are members of the organization, but so are many non-academics, humor scholars, Mark Twain impersonators, and lay fans of his writings. Membership costs only $30 a year for U. S. members, and $32 for those from abroad, and for that they receive many benefits. The Web site for the Mark Twain Circle is to be found on the University of Illinois Honor’s Program home site.
The most prominent benefit is receipt of the Mark Twain Annual, a journal dedicated to publishing critical and pedagogical articles, as well as substantive book reviews. The Annual is edited by Ann M. Ryan. The most recent issue for 2010 contained eleven articles by prominent Twain scholars reflecting often in a personal way on earlier scholarship that influenced their own work; three critical essays; two “notes;” and six book reviews. The Annual is published by Wiley-Blackwell in their American Literature Collection, and all articles are peer-reviewed. The 2011 issue is due out in February and will be delivered promptly to all Circle members.
The Mark Twain Circle also publishes a newsletter, called the Mark Twain Circular, which is edited by Chad Rohman. The Circular, published twice a year, typically includes a “President’s Letter,” information about upcoming Circle and other Mark Twain events, and short reviews of recent books on Mark Twain, his life and work. All current members of the Circle receive the Circular, in April and in November.
In addition to its publications, the Circle sponsors panels each year at the MLA (the Modern Language Association) and the ALA (American Literature Association). Anyone may apply to present a paper, but we ask all those chosen to participate to join the society before the conference takes place. At the upcoming MLA conference in Seattle in January of 2012, the Circle is sponsoring two panels, one entitled “Mark Twain: Editing and Editions,” and the second entitled “Mark Twain and ‘The Other.’” The call for papers for Circle-sponsored MLA panels and papers goes out as early as February of the previous year, so watch for the call for next year if you are interested in presenting a paper.
We are also affiliated with the ALA, and that conference takes place each May, alternating between San Francisco and Boston. We always sponsor at least two panels there, as well as a lively reception for all Circle members and friends. Please see the conference program for the 2012 papers. Please check the Circle’s webpage for future CFPs for MLA and ALA.
The Circle is affiliated with all of the key Mark Twain sites in America. These include the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California at Berkeley, The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies, The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, and The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.
We’re a wide-ranging, inclusive organization, and all are welcome to join us. We hope you will consider it. It is hard to imagine an author more central to the study of American humor than Mark Twain.
Editor’s Note: We hope to have a number of academic societies describe their work. If you run a society, or know someone who does, please get in touch with us.
For other posts on Mark Twain, use the category cloud in the side bar, or:
Over the past few weeks, I had several discussions with friends and acquaintances about the upcoming Muppet movie. People were excited. I discovered that people my age grew up with the Muppets–first with Sesame Street and then the Muppet Show, with some Fraggles thrown in. My earliest movie-going memory is seeing a Muppet movie, probably “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984), with my dad and brother. I may remember it because my dad snored through the previews, movie, and credits–despite my brother nudging him constantly.*
But the Muppets are lodged in my memory for more than my dad’s critical response to the film, of which Statler and Waldorf would no doubt have approved. My sense of humor was shaped by the show and movies in ways that are hard to define–a mixture of bizarre (Gonzo and his chickens), cornball (Fozzie), counterculture (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem), anarchic (Animal; Crazy Harry), musical (Rowlf; musical numbers in general), absurd (The Swedish Chef; Beaker), brash (Miss Piggy), and sentimental (Kermit).
The Muppets helped to define humor for me and many people my age, along with Saturday Night Live, Looney Toons, the movies of Mel Brooks and John Hughes, The Simpsons and other sitcomes, and the stand-up of the 1970s and 80s. And then the Muppets faded. The Muppets movies of the 1990s, following the death of Jim Henson in 1990–Christmas Carol (1992), Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999)–were largely forgettable.
The new Muppet movie is planned as a reboot of the franchise, with a self-referential plot about the fade and rediscovery of the Muppets through what the Muppets do best: putting on a show. A main reason for hope for the new Muppet movie was the presence of Jason Segel at the helm. Segel wrote and stars, and his love for the Muppets as a comedic touchstone from his childhood shows through the film. When Segel stated in an interview that he cried the first time he heard Kermit read lines he had written, I understood. The new Muppet movie was thus overlaid with a heavy layer of generational nostalgia and the desire for a beloved childhood icon to return to past glory.
Thus, my expectations for the film itself were quite high: I wanted to be entertained. And entertainment is what the Muppets are all about. And the film is entertaining–from the opening montage of Segel and his brother (a muppet named Walter) through the big show in which the Muppets attempt to save their theater. A few dud moments–the “rap” of the evil villain Tex Richman, the unnecessary “Moopets”–are quickly glossed over in favor of highlights, including a few great musical numbers–the chickens clucking Cee Lo Green’s “F*ck You”; a Queen-inspired “Man or Muppet?” [listen below]; and a moving version of “Rainbow Connection.”
If I had gone into this movie simply wanting to be entertained, then the movie would have been a solid success. I laughed, I got sentimental, I enjoyed the celebrity cameos. I rooted for the good guys to overcome the villain, knowing full well that the Muppets always win in the end. But once the movie was over, my academic mind began to think over the movie, assessing its position as a humorous work. It’s difficult to approach a subject critically that has such a nostalgic connection to childhood. But I had promised to write a review for this website–something possibly insightful. I have never written a movie review–academic or otherwise–but here goes:
A clip from David Sedaris (contains adult language)
During our first few months of existence, we here at “Humor in America” have used holidays as a means of exploring humor (and filling space). From Fourth of July to Labor Day to Halloween, we have marked certain ritual days by linking them to their related humor. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, has very little humor to it–aside from the ceremonial Turkey, which is surely a funny animal.
But Thanksgiving is a holiday with little humor to it. Few movies focus on Thanksgiving family foibles–it is too close to Christmas, and few of the traditions associated with the holidays evoke laughter.
Instead, the holiday is a time for giving thanks. So, thank you for looking at this site. Yesterday we passed 4,000 page views, with over 50 posts from contributors.
[Update: three years later, we have passed 300k views with over 200 posts. Thanks to all our contributors–old and new–for helping us expand. Check out the “Contributors” section for more information. The top posts below are also new, but fitting for this post.]
Thanks to our contributing editors for their excellent work:
Caroline Zarlengo Sposto (our poetry editor)
Tracy Wuster (managing editor)
We would also like to thank our many contributors:
M. Thomas Inge
Please read and enjoy the posts. And please contribute. We would love to add you to this list.
Dana Summers-Tribune Media Services
Thanksgiving on Wall Street, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.
First off, they had it coming, let’s be honest. Seriously. Who gives press passes to the National Lampoon? Whose decision was that? I can just see our application hitting their desk: Deloris, another pass request! Oh for the love of God, Mildred, who is it this time? Who knows? Something called National Lampoon. Sounds kind of familiar…but I can’t quite place it…National Lampoon…National Lampoon. Dotcom. They have a dotcom after their name. And then Deloris brightens up, “Oh, dotcom! Al loves dotcoms. Very green, apparently. Piles and piles of cash, he says. Any dotcoms are a go!
We couldn’t believe it ourselves when the passes arrived in the mail. It was like Willy Wonka and the golden ticket. We literally jumped around the office holding hands and doing kicks and singing (to the tune of ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’): “We’re gonna see Al Gore!!! We’re gonna see Al Gore!!!” There was only one problem. There were two passes. And there were five of us: an art director (Joe) and four editors (Mason, Cummin, Crespo and myself). My editor, our boss: Scott Rubin (ticket holder #1) snapped into action:
Brykman!! You’re the smallest guy here. Tiny, in fact. You’re..you’re like a weasel.
Thank you, sir, I said.
I mean that in that you can work your way through a crowd.
Lithe would have sufficed.
I prefer to think of myself as lithe.
Whatever. I’m gonna need you on my team. Here’s the other press pass. I mean, nobody can even see you, you’re so little. Er, lithe. Sometimes I don’t even see you and you’re standing right in front of me.
Whisper words of wisdom, I said, hugging my press pass to my breast, Let it be.
Everything was finally coming together. Of course I should be the one chosen. After all, I was the smallest. It was unbelievable. Was I dreaming? Could this really be happening? It was the exact opposite of everything I’d ever experienced in my life up until that moment, particularly when it came to gym. And yet today, all that had changed, the slate wiped clean. For today, I had been picked first not in spite of being the smallest, but because I was the smallest. The most nimble. Dare I say, the most political-ninja-like.
The Muppet Movie opens this week. For people who grew up watching the Muppet Show and the early Muppet movies, the return of the gang to cultural relevance is exciting. Watch out for a review of the movie. In the meantime, enjoy Kermit the Frog and Seth Meyers skewering Congress on Saturday Night Live.
Here at “Humor in America,” we have seen a significant number of people searching for political cartoons. As a form of visual humor, cartoons are a key facet of American humor. The study of visual humor was historically taken less seriously than the study of literary humor, although recent work has begun to rectify this disparity.
The editorial board of “Humor in America” has found a Visual Humor editor to post on a regular basis (one or two times per month) about visual humor in America. We envision this subject broadly–from Columbus (and before) to today’s newspaper; from all regions of America to the “Americas” imagined hemispherically; visual humor by Americans and about Americans; and visual humor of a wide range of genre–cartoons, comic strips, high art, folk art, graffiti, sculpture, film, advertisements, graphic novels, comic books, photographs, etc. etc.
There has been significant interest in the subject of political cartoons on Occupy Wall Street. Here are a few new cartoons and links of collections of cartoons. The crackdowns on the OWS protesters this week have created new images connected to the subject–such as the anonymous or otherwise militarized police and the question of Constitutional rights.
Drew Sheneman-Tribune Media Services
Michael Ramirez-Creators Syndicate
While the comparison of the OWS movement to the Tea Party is undoubtedly important, the above cartoon seems shallow and not terribly humorous. The below piece, on the other hand, is more evocative–and not entirely clear on its political stance.
Don Wright-Tribune Media Services
The above from: U.S. News (See link for 22 more cartoons)
See below for:
Independent comic artists on the OWS movement
Liberal Website Daily Kos features regular comics as part of their activism
Michael Cavna’s Washington Post column on cartoons
Daryl Cagle’s Cartoon Blog
Happy Birthday W.C. Handy!
Composer, musician and lyricist W.C. (William Christopher) Handy was born November 16, 1873 in Florence Alabama. In 1909, he moved his band to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee and became the “Father of the Blues.” Handy was an educated man who used folk influences in his music, meticulously studied his influences and carefully documented his work. In addition to the wonderful, distinctively American contemporary blues sound he created, he also developed wonderful lyrics that helped to shape and popularize this genre. Handy died in 1958.
Here is Louis Armstrong performing Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues.”