Hardy Har Har

April 21, 2009

I wrote a while ago about some comments Dorothy Parker made about the Beats, and I want to share another bit from the same 1959 interview with Studs Terkel. I thought of it because I recently put an ad in Poets and Writers, seeking submissions for the journal I run (shameless plug, here) and I put in some phrase like, “we accept all kinds of stories, but love a laugh,” or some other such thing. Maybe you are smarter than I am, but it is only now, after the ad has generated a few submissions, that I see what a fool I was for suggesting anything about humor. It seems that “humor” means stories about cats who think funny thoughts about “their humans.” It’s not like I thought I’d get Catch-22, or something by Sarah Vowell or Woody Allen (and no, I’m not going to say David Sedaris. He’s not all that. There, I said it), but come on. I guess I shouldn’t get too worked up about stories from cats’ points of view…there was a dog one, too. I’ll get worked up about that instead.

Anyway, here’s Parker,

Studs Terkel: And the question is a rather sad one to open this conversation, what has happened, what’s happened to American humor?

Dorothy Parker: I think there’s only one humorist left in American, and that’s Perelman. I don’t know why that is, I don’t know why it should be, I’m sick of everything being blamed on the times, and the unrest, and all that. I think there just, there just aren’t any born anymore. They’ve got to come along. Or else maybe we don’t want humor, maybe it isn’t that, maybe it’s, no supply because of no demand. I don’t know. I don’t see  why that whole, fine breed should die out entirely.

ST: I know in your interview, you were being interviewed by the young men of the Paris Review, he spoke of satire, and do you feel today there is a need for satire?

DP: I do, I feel there always had been, and there always will be, and that is lacking, too. I’m afraid the English are better at it than we are.

ST: I wonder the why the English are better than the Americans, at satire.

DP: Well I think they’re more accustomed to it. We find it, pretty perilous, you know, people don’t like it, or you have a chance that you’re not going to sell, or all those things. The British just go right ahead. I don’t mean to be anti-American.

ST: Do you feel perhaps we’ve lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?

DP: I think we’re timid. And I think that’s a grave, grave fault, particularly in any of the creative arts.


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