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American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funnyby Christopher Miller
Synopses & Reviews
American Cornball is Christopher Miller's irresistibly funny illustrated survey of popular humor—the topics that used to make us laugh, from hiccups and henpecked-husbands to outhouses and old maids—and what it tells us about our country yesterday and today.
Miller revisits nearly 200 comic staples that have been passed down through our culture for generations, many originating from the vaudeville age. He explores the (often unseemly) contexts from which they arose, why they were funny in their time, and why they eventually lost their appeal. The result is a kind of taxonomy of humor during America's golden age that provides a deeper, more profound look at the prejudices, preoccupations, and peculiarities of a nation polarized between urban and rural, black and white, highborn and lowbrow.
As he touches on issues of racism and sexism, cultural stereotypes and violence, Miller reveals how dramatically our moral sensibilities have shifted, most notably in the last few decades. Complete with more than 100 period illustrations, American Cornball is a richly entertaining survey of our shifting comic universe.
"All manner of stale gags from the century past are jolted back to life in this amusing cultural study. Novelist Miller (The Cardboard Universe) mines comic strips, cartoons, novelty postcards, joke books, Marx Brothers movies, and Three Stooges episodes to unearth obsolete, semi-forgotten, and downright embarrassing tropes of mass humor from the period between the Spanish-American and Vietnam wars. His alphabetical essays riff on archetypes, settings, subjects and props, including roller pin-wielding wives, traveling salesman, dumb blondes, absent-minded professors and dim-witted yokels; yowling alley cats and gabbling chickens; desert islands, psychiatrist offices and golf courses where punch lines breed; disappointing honeymoons, baffling Rube Goldberg mechanisms and mass pie fights; plummeting safes, pianos and anvils and the apparently hilarious though never lethal head injuries they cause. While drolly taxonomizing the absurdities and arbitrariness of stylized humor, he digs into its psychological resonances: the undercurrents of violence and sadism; racial bigotry and the asymmetric war between the sexes; the conflicting impulses to both stigmatize nonconformists and upend the stuffed shirts, dowagers and cops who police conformity. Miller's lovingly jaundiced exploration of the way America once laughed crackles with insight; the result is that rare book on humor that is as entertaining as its subject. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Why do anvils fall from the sky?
And backseat drivers make us cry?
What do these old jokes mean?
The answers are in American Cornball, a hysterical illustrated survey of things that used to make us laugh. From hiccups and henpecked husbands to outhouses and old maids, Christopher Miller revisits nearly 200 comic staples, their (often unseemly) origins, why they were funny then, and why theyre not so funny now. The result is a grand tour of the era between vaudeville and TV—a world of black and white, highborn and lowbrow, witty and wacky, the awkward and the sublime. Complete with more than 200 period illustrations, American Cornball is a masterwork of cultural excavation . . . and a genuine laff riot.
About the Author
Christopher Miller is the author of Sudden Noises from Inanimate Objects, a Seattle Times Best Book of the Year. He teaches at Bennington College in Vermont.
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