Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pg. 69: "Cracking Up"

Paul Lewis is Professor of English at Boston College and the author of the new book, Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict.

I asked him to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is his reply:
Cracking Up focuses on provocative American humor since 1980: jokes, satires and parodies intended to do more than amuse. Coming early in a chapter on the positive humor movement, page 69 introduces readers to a merry band of consultants and public speakers determined to bring mirth into our classrooms, offices, hospitals and homes. Inspired by Norman Cousins, the editor and writer who in 1977 claimed to have cured himself of collagen disease with large doses of vitamin C and laughter, these advocates come prepared with red clown noses and an inclination to pun. Specifically, the page mentions Ron Culberson, “Director of Everything! At FUNsulting,” Larry Wilde, “America’s Good Humor Man,” and the “caring clowns based at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina: ‘She’s Nola Nurse, RN! In case you don’t know what RN stands for, in her case it means really nutty.’” Written from a skeptical position from which it asks whether these practitioners promise too much and try too hard, the chapter moves onto discussions with movement figures, an account of a Laughing Club workout, the story of my participation in conferences sponsored by pro-humor organizations, and descriptions of humor-stimulating products (such as fake dog poop, yellow smiley face plastic shapes, and fart-sound-producing machines). Jolly, jolly, ho-ho-ho!

Elsewhere the book explores strains of intentional humor designed to terrify or persuade. Just as Norman Cousins inspired a generation of humor boosters, so Freddy Krueger, the killing joker of Nightmare on Elm Street fame, provided a much-imitated model for such villains as The Joker, Hannibal Lecter and the Vampire Lestat. With these extremes—Freddy vs. Norman—established and with questions asked about whether they represent contrasting responses to a set of widely shared anxieties—Cracking Up moves out across landscapes of recent political and social argument. Chapters called “Shut Up! No, You Shut Up! Fighting With and About Humor” and “Ridicule to Rule: The Strange Case of G. W. Bush” consider how the Freddy and Norman impulses (that is, the use of humor to terrify or soothe) figure in our angry politics. Topics discussed include jokes used to sell alcohol and tobacco to kids; the battle between the forces of political correctness and anti-political correctness; and the hotly debated question of whether Jesus ever laughed. Intentional humorists contrasted include Rush Limbaugh and Garry Trudeau, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart. By exploring realms of controversial, manipulative and disturbing laughter, Cracking Up challenges common sense notions about how American humor has been operating in recent years.
Many thanks to Paul for the input.

Whet your appetite for Cracking Up with these Op-Eds by Lewis:
"Liberal Bias of the Late-Night Comics?" The Providence Journal, October 21, 2006.
"Funny Thing About Elections," Philadelphia Inquirer, September 8, 2006.
"Rush Limbaugh: Court Jester for the Apocalypse,", August 6, 2006.
“Politics as ‘bait and witch,’” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 2006.
“The Nattering Nabobs of... Patriotism?” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 2006.
“Islamic Rage: Sometimes, It Hurts To Laugh,” Hartford Courant, February 6, 2006.
Paul Lewis is also the author of Comic Effects: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Humor in Literature.

Here's a cool item from Paul's biography: he's the neologist who coined the word Frankenfood.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue