Monthly Archives: August, 2012

Funny weather we’ve been having.

Four hundred miles south of my home in Memphis, Hurricane Isaac has been hammering New Orleans. A few miles in the opposite direction, severe drought and triple digit temperatures have decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Arctic sea ice is at a record low.

Equally alarming and surreal is the widespread, ongoing denial that thrives in the face of hard evidence and scientific facts.

And this is global warming, a climate change poetry anthology published in 2012, is among the many artistic responses to this crisis. This international collection of selected poems engages the subject from many different perspectives.

Turning on my television to images of Isaac’s floods followed by coverage of a political convention where contempt for environmental protection is met with applause has led me to make a rare exception and run one of my own poems this time around: a humorous protest from the aforementioned book.

Thanks for indulging me.

Voicemail Received 02:17

Welcome to the Global Hotline
For Heatstroke, press One
For this month’s Atlas press Two.
If you’re a weather refugee press Three.
Our normal hours are no longer.
Anomalies are now the status quo.
If you know the extension of the party––

Hello, this is Joe Consumer
tax paying baby boomer
calling sick of trumped up journalese
from pseudo science socialists
who get off hugging trees
or using some emotional device
like pictures of a polar bear
that’s running out of ice.

We’ll win this propaganda war
and work to give our children more.
Inflate the Dream and raise the Bar––
a car for driving to their car.
Expand Hamburger Highway.
More jets in every skyway
flying merrily along
with plastic wrapped in plastic
imported from Guangdong.
Above a billion bulbs
outshining twinkling black.

Did you say coal mine?
Bring it on!
We’ll kick your
dead canary like a hacky sack.

We’ve earned the right to borrow
––without interest––from tomorrow
and ride your fabled pendulum
that swings from drought to flood.

We’re super-sized cowboys with
Devil-may-care blood.


 — Caroline  Zarlengo Sposto 2012

Purchase the book from Amazon to help support our site (and poetry, and the earth…)
And This Global Warming: A’r Cynhesu Byd-eang Hwn: Poetry on Climate Change; Barddoniaeth am Newid Hinsawdd

Political Cartoons About Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s Unpopular Opinions

Check out Self Deprecate Political Humor for more political cartoons!

Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin-R, who is now trailing 9 points in his race for a Senate seat, has had one hell of a time, lately.   No one told him that you can’t spout nonsense data, not supported by science, as justification for the legal oppression of women in this country. Todd Akin, from the same party that brought us the 2012 Republican War on Women, is even getting dirty looks from within his own ranks. Not because of what he said, but because people are upset that he said it. Go figure.

Senate Candidate Todd Akin Evokes Dr. Strangelove

Todd Akin vs Women's Rights - 2012 Cartoon

Akin - Legitimate Rape Editorial Cartoon

Continue reading →

Remembering Phyllis Diller without Apology

I thought it would be nice to start with a video of Diller’s performance without any frames.  She’s genuinely funny, and in spite of the garish dress, she seems very genuine. It’s difficult for me to find the rapid-fire one-liners of yore (and of Jeff Foxworthy) funny, but with Diller, somehow, it works.

Now for the frame.

I recently read a piece in The Atlantic commemorating Phyllis Diller, and I found myself panicking.  Author Ashley Fetters put together many of the points I wanted to make in this post already. (Don’t you hate it when such an esteemed and often brilliant publication says exactly what you were going to say?  It happens to me all the time.)

The piece was thoughtful and thorough, but the premise troubled me:

Diller’s trademark brand of hapless, self-deprecating, ugly-girl humor was based [on] an invented set of shortcomings she didn’t actually have. Which highlights a weird glitch in the system that still plagues women in comedy today: Why can’t funny women be hot? Or accomplished? Or smart? Why do so many women with these otherwise highly valued traits have to downplay them to get laughs?

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What A Glorious Feeling: The Gene Kelly Centenary

Legendary dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, producer and director Gene Kelly was born 100 years ago today. Although his career included several dramatic roles – including a memorable performance as a reporter based on H.L. Mencken in 1960’s Inherit the Wind – Kelly is best known for his immense contribution to that uniquely American art form – the musical comedy.

The musical was nothing new in the 1940’s and 1950’s when MGM was producing epic classics in all their Technicolor majesty. Ever since the dawn of sound recording in film, our first instincts were to sing – starting with Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927) through Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing away the 1930’s cheek to cheek right up through the Kelly-helmed masterpieces of the genre including Anchors Away (1945), An American in Paris (1951) and the inimitable Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which takes place during those transitional years from silence to sound. Not even bad weather, it seems, can keep us from singing on film.

Often times, in fact, the songs themselves weren’t even new.  Continue reading →

Parody: A Lesson

 Don and Alleen Nilsen

An essay based on a lesson, the Powerpoint of which can be found (along with many others) here

In the New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs wrote that parody is the hardest form of creative writing because the style of the subject must be reproduced in slightly enlarged form, while at the same time holding the interest of people who haven’t read the original.  Further complications are posed since it must entertain at the same time that it criticizes and must be written in a style that is not the writer’s own.  He concluded that the only thing that would make it more difficult would be to write it in Cantonese.

Obviously, it is easier for people to enjoy a parody if they know what the original was.  In our increasingly diverse culture, memories of “classic” children’s books may be one of the few things we have in common.  Advertisers, broadcasters, cartoonists, journalists, politicians, bloggers, and everyone else who wants to communicate with large numbers of people, therefore turn to the array of exaggerated characters that we remember from childhood books.  Chicken Little represented alarmists; Pinocchio stood for liars;The Big Bad Wolf warned us of danger; Humpty Dumpty demonstrated how easy it is to fall from grace; The Frog Prince gave hope to women of all ages; and Judith Viorst’s The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day lets us know that we all have really bad days.

Some of Lewis Carroll’s parodies were just for fun.  When Lewis Carroll wrote a parody of the poem “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.  How I wonder where you are,” it became, “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Bat.  How I wonder where you’re at.”  This is merely fun word play.  But some of Carroll’s parodies had a deeper significance.  Lewis Carroll lived in a time when the Victorian poetry tended to be filled with sentimentality and didacticism, so many of Carroll’s poems parodied that sentimentality and didacticism.  G. W. Langford wrote a poem that not only preached to parents, but also reminded them of the high mortality rate for young children:  “Speak gently to the little child! / It’s love be sure to gain; / Teach it in accents soft and mild; It may not long remain.”  Carroll’s parody turned this poem into a song for the Duchess to sing to a piglet wrapped in baby clothes:  “Speak roughly to your little boy. And beat him when he sneezes. / He only does it to annoy / Because he knows it teases.”  The  poem “Against Idleness and Mischief” by Isaac Watts read as follows: “How doth the little busy bee / Improve each shining hour / and gather honey all the day / From every opening flower!”  Lewis Carroll’s parody is much more fun, and much less didactic: “How doth the little crocodile / Improve his shining tail / And pour the waters of the Nile / On every golden scale?”

Continue reading →

Editor’s Chair: Humor Studies News

Tracy Wuster

Editor’s note:  Remember to check out the “Announcements” section above for updated CFP and other news of note.

I have been out of town a lot recently, so please excuse any irregular timing of posts.  But now I am back, gainfully employed, and ready for you to submit a post to publish here on “Humor in America.”  On what subject, you ask?  Well, if you would read the “Write for Us” section, you would find this:

Humor in America”  is a blog dedicated to the discussion of humor and humor studies in America.   Contributors are welcome to submit on any aspect of American Humor, broadly considered, although submissions are not guaranteed to be published.

We are interested in short articles (300-3000 words) focused on (but not limited to) the following areas:

*pedagogy of humor, including syllabi

*theory of humor

*recovery of sources/authors

*genre studies

*interviews with comedians, humor scholars, or other figures

*focused musings, thoughts, or polemics

*humorous writing

*responses to humor in popular culture, academic research, or any other venue that seems fertile

*movies/book reviews (apart from recent scholarly works)

But the main answer is, we are looking for good writing on humor.  If you have something you are thinking about, email me (Tracy) at

***Join us on Twitter: @HumorInAmerica.  We post all our new posts along with important articles and thoughts on humor and humor studies.

In other news in the world of Humor Studies:

***The American Humor Studies Association has a new website.  Soon, the name of the website will be “,” but that switch has not taken place yet.  The site includes history, membership information, links to past conference panels, and other information.  If you have any comments, suggestions, additions, or concerns, please email the webmaster: Tracy Wuster (

American Humor Studies Association

***The AHSA web platform also includes a new site for “Studies in American Humor”:  The website includes Table of Contents for Series 3 of the journal, from 1994-Present.  If you have TOC’s from Series 1 or 2 that you could send us as a text file or pdf, we would greatly appreciate it.  The AHSA also has a Facebook page.

***Speaking of Facebook, are you a fan of our page, or of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

***Speaking of Mark Twain, the Mark Twain Project is hiring.

***The Center for Mark Twain Studies has sent out information on next summer’s conference.  I know that many who attended the previous conference would testify that it was the best conference ever.  See our post on Hal Holbrook for video/audio of Mr. Holbrook telling stories on the site of Mark Twain’s study.  Here is the announcement:

We are just a year away from Elmira 2013: The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.  The Call for Papers has been posted on the web.  Google Elmira 2013 Call for Papers for information about submitting a Developed Abstract of 700 words — due Monday, February 4th, 2013.  Final papers must be suitable for a 20-minute presentation.  Please send your attached abstract, via electronic submission, to  Provide your name, mailing address, and email address.  Developed abstracts will be reviewed anonymously for acceptance by selected panel chairs.

We look forward to greeting you in Elmira on August 1 through 4, 2013.

***For more CFPs, please see our announcement section, or the conference announcement page of the AHSA webpage.  And since I am in charge of both, you can send me announcements and take care of both places.

***Birthdays below

Continue reading →

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: A Roundup of Recent Cartoons

As strategists on both the left and the right celebrate the inclusion of Paul Ryan on the 2012 GOP ticket for what seem like a lot of the same reasons, I suppose that we can also add humorists and cartoonists the list of beneficiaries of this nomination. So for the moment at least, everybody is winning.

Copyright Steve Breen 2012

Copyright Mike Luckovitch 2012

Many of this first round of editorial cartoons also emphasize the marquee name of Ryan, whose ideological convictions and actual specificity when it comes to stuff (like, you know, budgets) threaten to eclipse whatever it is that Romney was predicted to one day have had from the beginning. It’s not surprising, then, that many cartoons adopt pretty a reasonable approximation of Ryan’s star status, as though betraying a certain ironic accuracy in Romney’s own recent gaffe that, when introducing Ryan at a rally, the attendees were meeting “the next president of the United States.”

Copyright John Deering 2012

It may be an easy gag, but it is compelling enough to already have several iterations, some of which can be found here and here.

One of the more curious trends among Romney/Ryan cartoons, however, is that of violence, in the sense that Ryan’s proposed budget is set to (or threatens to, or is thought to) significantly curtail federal spending, which forces us to consider the vocabulary with which we address financial reform — “slashing the budget,” for example, or “trimming the fat,” or the seemingly benign, “budget cuts,” which nevertheless implies a sense of slicing, incision. When, however, cartoons begin to give a visible body to what in language has become almost innocuous or unremarkable, the results can be a little literally gruesome, as we see in this telling cartoon by Dale Cagle:

Copyright Dale Cagle 2012

Although Cagle’s may be the most extreme example, there is a certain stab-happiness and almost Shining-grade blade-eerieness to the way in which sharp implements signify Ryan’s fiscal conservatism.

Continue reading →

Re-Blog: Politics and the American Sense of Humor by M. Thomas Inge

A re-post of M. Thomas Inge’s piece, “Politics and the American Sense of Humor.” This piece marked our official launch into the world one year ago today.

Humor in America



If incongruity is at the heart of humor and what makes people laugh, as some theorists have maintained, then nowhere is there a greater disparity between the ideal and the real, between the dream and our failure to achieve it, than in American politics.

The democratic system posits higher values than we can live up to—not only life and liberty, but the pursuit of happiness for heaven’s sake!  Not to mention equality, justice, and freedom of speech.  And then there are the politicians entrusted with achieving them.  We still laugh, unfortunately, at Mark Twain’s quip, “There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

A gauge of the success of our system is our willingness to make fun of ourselves and celebrate our failures with the horse laugh.  We hold nothing above ridicule—the law, government, religion, or the President—and we seek redress through satire.

Rather than…

View original post 1,143 more words

I’m the dog. You can be the wheelbarrow.

Today marks the birthday of Charles B. Darrow, the purported inventor of Monopoly.

Surprisingly, this 22-street microcosm––where the object of the game is to become the shrewdest plutocrat with the biggest pile of loot––was derived from “The Landlord’s Game,”an austere 1904 object lesson about the evils and injustices of capitalism.

Since its 1934 debut, Monopoly has become the best-selling board game in the world with over 250 million sets sold in 41 languages, including a Braille version for the visually impaired. The iconic graphics and comic mascot, “Uncle Pennybags” (above) have defined this time-honored classic for over 65 years.

Award winning poet Connie Wanek succinctly captures the magic of the game in this poem from her book, “On Speaking Terms” (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). You can read it below, or click here to hear Garrison Keillor perform it on The Writer’s Almanac.


We used to play, long before we bought real houses.
A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail.
The money was pink, blue, gold as well as green,
and we could own a whole railroad
or speculate in hotels where others dreaded staying:
the cost was extortionary.

At last one person would own everything,
every teaspoon in the dining car, every spike
driven into the planks by immigrants,
every crooked mayor.
But then, with only the clothes on our backs,
we ran outside, laughing.

What Could’ve Been What’s Meant to Be

When asked last week if I could contribute today, I said yes, because satisfying the request seemed more definite than the possibility of could, or the ability of can, and ranked up there with the obligatory shall. I must contribute today, and so prepared humorous resources and online links to gird my humble opinion into resplendent truth.

And then I was hit by a car.

Thankfully, I had my own car surrounding me at the time to prevent significant damage, but my opinion in truth, unattended this past week, grew desperate in need of a blacksmith and some polish for its brilliant panoply, as I was in need of medical and mechanical attention. But here I am, without my original idea, inspired to write something else—more fitting to my present circumstances.

Sam Kinison came into my life at the impressionable age when children choose sports teams and musical genres to define them. My family had cable in the 1980s, and not just cable but HBO. They later regretted the lack of supervision they placed on their children’s television habits, but before you assume poor parenting remember the time and place. America in the 1980s was Dickensian dichotomy: the best of times and the worst of times, capitalism vs. communism, televangelism vs. the Devil, AT&T vs. MCI. Baby Boomers cared more about their social status than the state of society, and the family unit fell apart from rampant divorce and parental apathy. Preachers, teachers, and politicians condemned the arts for drug abuse and questionable morals while the same vocal minority were caught trafficking their own vice. Cocaine fueled the American dream, but I didn’t know what made it run. Like many children I was just glad it went fast and loud.

Basketball was fast. Magic, Larry, and Michael. Music was faster. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen were the technical greats, but in the eighties you also needed to shock in order to sell. The biggest comedians were shocking. Howard Stern earned the crown King of All Media in the 1990s, but he won his kingdom one decade earlier pushing the limits of censorship in radio broadcasting. Andrew Dice Clay sold out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row riding a wave of profanity and misogyny in nursery rhyme. Sam Kinison was all of this. He was fast. He was loud. He was good, and he was very, very bad.

Sam Kinison was born to Pentecostal preachers in 1953, and raised in Middle America, where a God-fearing message found its widest bulletin board. Young Samuel accepted the family business warning parishioners of fire and brimstone with the trumpet of his voice and a righteous sneer. He played guitar during service, and these elements of evangelical performance never left his stage act, just reversed direction.

Kinison abandoned the pulpit for the Comedy Workshop of Houston when he joined the Outlaw Comics (Bill Hicks, Ron Shock, Riley Barber, and others) in the late seventies before striking out for Los Angeles a few years later with Carl LaBove, both landing jobs as doormen at the Comedy Store. I don’t remember Rodney Dangerfield’s 1984 Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special when Kinison broke through to the mainstream. I discovered him three years later, watching unedited broadcasts of Dangerfield’s Back to School (1986) on HBO, where he played the volatile Professor Terguson. His rise to the top was meteoric. Suddenly all over MTV, Kinison appeared in Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine video, and made his own video covering The Troggs’ Wild Thing. He was the hottest comedian in Hollywood, and kept up with the likes of Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses, two more cornerstones of my childhood not known for their Christian missionary work.

But the highs of 1987 preceded terrible lows in 1988. When Sam Kinison’s younger brother, Kevin, committed suicide in May of that year, Sam’s drug abuse spun out of control. For all of his excess, Kinison lasted another four years, and could’ve gone longer, if not killed by a drunk driver on April 10, 1992 in Needles, California, near the Arizona border. I drove through Needles ten years ago. Not much to note besides the obituary.

Twenty years after Sam’s death I wonder if he could’ve survived the rest of the nineties. Like 1970-71 saw the deaths of Jimmi, Janis, and Jim affect the cultural landscape, the loss of Kinison and the release of Guns N’ Roses’s overindulgent Use Your Illusions 1 and 2 in late 1991 helped push society towards the sobering reality of Seattle grunge and alternative comedy grounded in observation and not gimmick (four screams—one long, two short, one long—explain Kinison’s act to current audiences). I miss Sam Kinison. His overcoat covered the chasm of eighties culture, and he knew it: “If you’re going to miss Heaven, why miss it by two inches? Miss it!” I thought of him after my own brush with vehicular manslaughter last week, but it could be the concussion contributing to Humor in America. I can end it here, as I shall make time for medicine. Possibility, ability, obligatory.