Congratulations to Carol Burnett for winning the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. According to the Kennedy Center:
The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”
Upon being notified of the award, Burnett noted:
“I can’t believe I’m getting a humor prize from the Kennedy Center. It’s almost impossible to be funnier than the people in Washington.”
The ceremony will take place on October 20, with tickets starting at $1000. In the meantime, enjoy one of Burnett’s best performances:
In other humor news:
*This week is the annual American Literature Association conference. Please join the American Humor Studies Association for the following panels:Session 5-G (Thursday 3:00) Humor in American Periodicals (Great Republic 7th Floor) Session 7-E (Friday 8:10) Reading and Teaching Humorous Texts (St George D 3rd Floor) Session 8-O (Friday 9:40) Business Meeting (Parliament 7th Floor)
And join the Mark Twain Circle of America for the following panels:
Session 15-C (Saturday 9:30)
Mark Twain: Iconic Texts Reconsidered (Essex North Center 3rd Floor)
Session 17-C (Saturday 12:30)
Mark Twain and History (Essex North Center 3rd Floor)
Session 18-M (Saturday 2:00)
Business Meeting: The Mark Twain Circle of America (North Star 7th Floor)
*For panels on Kurt Vonnegut and others, see the schedule here. Additionally, there has traditionally been a reception on Saturday. I believe that 2-4 of the writers for this site will be there.
*A number of the authors of this page will also be at the 7th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies at the beginning of August. The registration and program information can be found at the Center for Mark Twain Studies site. Even if you are not a scholar, this conference is well worth the trip. This year features a screening of a new documentary on Hal Holbrook, a keynote by Peter Kaminsky of the Mark Twain Prize, a closing picnic at Quarry Farm, and paper presentations by Sharon McCoy, Jeffrey Melton, ABE, and myself.
*Speaking of awards, did you know about the James Thurber Prize for American Humor, given annually for the best humorous writing of that year?
*And speaking of humor writing, if you are a student and in need of a term paper on American humor, look no further than this lovely writing, available for the bargain price of $15.90.
Third, a frosty streak of humor runs done American literary works from early times to present. In many cases, a dash of table salt humor saves a ripe penning from becoming in any case sentimental. American humor tends to be exaggerated rather than subtle. It reflects the peoples cleverness to laugh at themselves during the approximately voiceless times.
In these “approximately voiceless times,” how can you pass up such a bargain, and sure to get a D- or below!
*Ellie Kemper asks, “Can men be funny?”
*Did you see, “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise“?
*Have you been watching YouTube Comedy Week? Anyone want to write a review for us?
*Only 5 days until Arrested Development!
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?”