Category Archives: Will Rogers

The Mount Rushmore of Mount Rushmores

It is a threadbare premise, for a medium still in its pull-ups. When we think of greatness, whose face goes on the largest of sculptures—formed by God but finished by men—vandalizing the Dakotan landscape?

For the field of American humor I’ve had one year to think it over. Last September my friend Steve (whose real name is Mark, but in these kinds of online articles an alias is typical) said to me:

“Twain is sort of the great white whale of American literature. Dickens assumes the same type of stature for 19th century England. And Tolstoy (sorry Mr. Dostoyevsky and my beloved Mr. Chekhov) occupies the place for Russian literature. Who for France? Hugo? What a Mount Rushmore for 19th century literature.”

I agreed with Steve, but turned the direction of our conversation to something even more trivial: American humor. Putting very little thought into it I said:

Of course, the problem is limit. I immediately regretted the absence of George Carlin, but I didn’t know if he trumped Pryor. I couldn’t remove Groucho to include both influential standups when Marx represented the long stretch of Vaudeville and Jewish humor that shaped early Hollywood. And Franklin? You don’t see a lot of comedians today reference Ben Franklin as a significant influence on their craft, but then again what politicians model themselves after Washington? At the time it didn’t matter. Steve agreed with my list.

“I think you’ve nailed the Mount Rushmore for humor…Franklin is the headwaters. Essential. But you’ve got a nice spread of eras there, too. If we were confining this to movies and television, we could throw out Franklin and Twain and make room for Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball (hate to leave Fields out). But they don’t make the cut if we’re looking to represent all of American humor. Groucho is one of the few humor masters, by the way, who mastered almost every medium available to him: vaudeville, Broadway, movies, radio, television, books. And he could get laughs in a stunning variety of ways: monologues, acting, singing, dancing, ad-libbing, sophisticated word play, low slapstick. Pretty remarkable career.”

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Happy Halloween!

While watching scary movies this weekend, I noticed the similarities between horror and humor: suspense released through an emotional response, expectations build up and often end in surprise, and lots and lots of blood…

*Seven Graveyard Smashes…our own music editor, Matt Powell, on Halloween music.

*Michael Collier’s “All Souls”

*Will Rogers in “The Headless Horsemen

*Halloween on Parks & Rec

*Comic Pumpkins

*Vincent Price and Muppets!

*Halloween music, via Nine Kinds of Pie

*the origin of Halloween traditions

*Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky scary….

*A great version of Poe’s “The Raven” mixing humor and horror.

*Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals San Francisco Giants …via funny baseball quotes.

*Finally, some political cartoons  from the past few years, as Halloween tropes are recycled to address new fears and old.

2014

Halloween political cartoons 6970cf983d30e7e4962f8a71a43ee176f869250e 155447_600 155543_600 155561_600 155582_600 B1NJ0NWIAAAsybq.jpg-large Ebola-Quarantine halloween-cartoon-09 halloween-linus-great-pumpkin-political-cartoon halloween-political-cartoon-isis-ebola-scares halloween-political-cartoon-obama-halloween-candy halloween-political-cartoon-scaring-children halloween razorblades3

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2011

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Sagebrush Comedian: The Passing of Cactus Pryor

Jason Mellard

Last week, Texas media personality and humorist Richard “Cactus” Pryor passed away at the age of 88.  A number of fitting tributes to the man have since appeared in Austin.  Many of these attest to Cactus’s role as a pioneering media presence who defined the city’s voice on radio station KLBJ since the mid-1940s, and as program manager of Austin’s first, and for a long time only, television station, KTBC.  Incidentally, Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson owned both stations, placing this regional humorist on an interesting historical stage.  Unlike many of the tribute writers over the past week, I did not come to know Pryor by growing up with his iconic voice and image, listening to his narration of Austin’s civil defense films in the 1960s or watching his weekly shows on UT football with Coach Darrell Royal.  Rather, I first encountered him in the archives of the Briscoe Center  for American History at the University of Texas, finding in him an associate and contemporary of Texas regional folklorists and historians J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, Roy Bedichek,     and Alan Lomax, and as the funny face of LBJ’s political machine in Central Texas.  Some of my most enjoyable experiences in archival research, actually, came in a packet of correspondence between Pryor and humorist John Henry Faulk.  Faulk, like Pryor, is an Austin icon whose career had many phases.  He studied under Dobie, conducted some of the only existing recorded interviews of ex-slaves in the Library of Congress, moved to the East Coast for a career in radio before being purged for supposed Communist associations, won one  of the largest libel suits in U. S. history based on those charges in 1962, and, late in life, ran for Congress and had a recurring role on Hee Haw.  The two men were close, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share a nugget or two from their correspondence speaking to the issue of humor.

I’ll begin with the tragic moment that upended Pryor’s life, as it did so many others.  More or less a local dj at the time of the JFK assassination, LBJ’s ascent to the White House suddenly changed Pryor’s points of reference.  Cactus had been slated to emcee Kennedy’s dinner in Austin after his visit to Dallas.  Instead, he suddenly saw his immediate social circle transform into a locus of American politics.  In a letter to Faulk in early December, 1963, Pryor wrote:

You won’t want to miss the rest of the story

(including a monkey on a dog),

please click to see:

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