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American Laughter

June 2024
1min read

Russell Baker’s Book of American Humor

read by Tony Randall, The Mind’s Eye (four cassettes) .

If you find that most American comic writing before Abraham Lincoln seems meant for a mysterious lost race of chucklers, then this sampler is for you. No humorist before the sixteenth President appears except for Benjamin Franklin. Russell Baker, the New York Times columnist and author, has collected works by familiar names from Artemus Ward to Molly Ivins. In Robert Benchley’s masterfully disappointing tale “Uncle Edith’s Ghost Story,” Uncle Edith repeatedly has to tell some interrupting brats to shut up as he works to his story’s anticlimax. There are dark epigrams from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary , domestic dialogues between a mother and daughter by Erma Bombeck, and Art Buchwald’s 1950s press-conference spoof inspired by Ike’s state visit to Paris (“Jim, whose idea was it for the President to go to sleep?” “How many blankets were on the bed?”). Lincoln himself shows up; his “Cables From the White House” is much funnier than Artemus Ward’s “How Old Abe Received the News of His Nomination.” And the master Mark Twain makes several welcome appearances. It’s worth hearing Tony Randall shift gears from his clipped, Broadway delivery into a plausible rural Missouri accent when reading Huck’s father’s drunken tirade: “And they call that a gov’ment?” There are thirty entries in all.

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