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Ain't That a Knee-Slapper

Rural Comedy in the Twentieth Century

Publication Year: 2008

There was a time when rural comedians drew most of their humor from tales of farmers' daughters, hogs, hens, and hill country high jinks. Lum and Abner and Ma and Pa Kettle might not have toured happily under the "Redneck" marquee, but they were its precursors. In Ain't That a Knee-Slapper: Rural Comedy in the Twentieth Century, author Tim Hollis traces the evolution of this classic American form of humor in the mass media, beginning with the golden age of radio, when such comedians as Bob Burns, Judy Canova, and Lum and Abner kept listeners laughing. The book then moves into the motion pictures of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, when the established radio stars enjoyed second careers on the silver screen and were joined by live-action renditions of the comic strip characters Li'l Abner and Snuffy Smith, along with the much-loved Ma and Pa Kettle series of films. Hollis explores such rural sitcoms as The Real McCoys in the late 1950s and from the 1960s, The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee Haw, and many others. Along the way, readers are taken on side trips into the world of animated cartoons and television commercials that succeeded through a distinctly rural sense of fun. While rural comedy fell out of vogue and networks sacked shows in the early 1970s, the emergence of such hits as The Dukes of Hazzard brought the genre whooping back to the mainstream. Hollis concludes with a brief look at the current state of rural humor, which manifests itself in a more suburban, redneck brand of standup comedy. Tim Hollis is the author of numerous books, including Hi There, Boys and Girls! America's Local Children's TV Programs and (with Greg Ehrbar) Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: What This Book Ain’t

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pp. 3-5

You will notice that the subtitle designates it as rural comedy in the twentieth century. That means that for the sake of space, we are not concerning ourselves here with the vast history of hick humor that predated the modern mass communication era. Rural comedy has been an American tradition for longer than there has...

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Chapter One: Let’s See What’s Going on Down in Pine Ridge

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pp. 7-35

As we tune our vintage 1920s crystal set radios, we search in vain for some sort of programming to emerge from the mishmash of static and whine coming through our headphones. The world of commercial radio has changed little during the first five or six years of its existence: no one quite seems to know just what sort of programming the listeners—presuming there are listeners...

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Chapter Two: Radio Rules the Roost

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pp. 36-62

While it may seem that the airwaves were so crowded with rural comedy teams of the Lum and Abner, Eb and Zeb, and Si and Elmer tradition that you couldn’t stir ’em with a stick, the fact is that many other types of drawling, overall-clad, pigtailed comedians existed. Actually, the idea of a yokel monologist goes back even further than radio, with roots deep...

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Chapter Three: Hillbillies Go Hollywood

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pp. 63-93

While rural comedians and musicians were first making their mark—even though a good number of them could actually write their names—in radio, the folks in the seedling movie industry also found country themes to be new ground. While radio could present rural dialects and hillbilly music without providing a visual image to go along with it, the first...

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Chapter Four: Feudin’, Fussin’, and A-Fightin’

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pp. 94-120

Some historians—but by no means all of them—believe that, in many ways, decades cannot always be defined in ten-year increments, such as 1930–39, 1950–59, and so on. Instead, they feel, decades can be more accurately measured by dividing them according to historical events or even pop culture. This line of thinking designates the 1930s as beginning with...

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Chapter Five: Peace in the Valley

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pp. 121-142

After the war ended in August 1945, the entertainment industry had to retool itself to resume peacetime production. The returning soldiers immediately set to work producing a bumper crop of children, which would lead to the well-known baby boom that lasted until the early 1960s. The former soldiers had been exposed to much less restrictive forms of entertainment while...

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Chapter Six: What It Was, Was the Fifties

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pp. 143-171

When the time inevitably came that the radio audience defected to television, some tough decisions had to be made. Television was not certain just where its future lay, so with radio as the only prior comparable medium, much of TV’s early programming was patterned after what had gone before. Ironically, the remnants of radio would not be television’s biggest successes, but it would take a while before...

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Chapter Seven: The Country Broadcasting System

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pp. 172-200

Those sophisticated types who thought the country was going to the pigs with all the rural humor that had taken place over the years could only scream and gnash their teeth after the 1960s arrived. Television was about to experience the biggest hillbilly explosion since Snuffy Smith’s still blew up, and it all started almost imperceptibly on the ABC network in October...

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Chapter Eight: From Cartoon Alley to Kornfield Kounty

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pp. 201-229

Since animated cartoons had always been right out in front when it came to employing hillbilly humor during the 1930s and 1940s, it should have been no surprise that they would continue that tradition after theatrical shorts had given way to television. The silent Farmer Al Falfa cartoons were among the first to be made available to local stations, although the prints...

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Chapter Nine: They’re in a Heap o’ Trouble

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pp. 230-256

In the early 1970s, the hills were not alive with the sound of music. In fact, with every trace of a rural situation comedy consigned to the junkyard, them thar hills were as quiet as a cemetery. The performers who had been enjoying steady work found that their talents provoked nowhere near the same demand as they had during the preceding ten years. However, a few...

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Chapter Ten: Still Fertile Ground

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pp. 257-262

One danger in trying to be too current is that the definition of current changes daily. For this reason, this book is concerned with rural comedy of the twentieth century; we are not far enough into the twenty-first to ascertain where it will go from here. In this closing, however, we can make a few observations...


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pp. 263-266


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pp. 267-281

E-ISBN-13: 9781604739534
E-ISBN-10: 1604739533
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110737
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110736

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008