The Dance of the Comedians
The People, the President, and the Performance of Political Standup Comedy in America
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
List of Illustrations
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I am grateful to the many people whose expertise, patience, and good humor helped to make this book possible. First, the guidance and encouragement extended by the History Department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, were extraordinary. I am particularly grateful to Andrew Cayton, William Doan, Sheldon Anderson, and Peggy Shaffer, who improved this project ...
Prologue: “I’m not kidding”
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Without warning to her audience, and with even her husband uncertain of exactly what was coming, first lady Laura Bush took the stage and stole the show at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 30, 2005. In a performance widely applauded by supporters and critics on both sides of the culture wars, Mrs. Bush made ...
1. An American Company of Comedians
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Not long after the election of 1860 Artemus Ward paid a visit to Abraham Lincoln at his home in Springfield, Illinois. The courtesy call by America’s favorite humorist on the “President eleck of the United States” was bedlam from the outset, and the zany confusion for readers was hilariously compounded by the frayed homespun dialect that Ward used to ...
2. Dance Partners
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If Charles Browne was the first meteor of standup comedy to appear over the American landscape, Samuel Clemens was the comet. While Browne’s fame as Artemus Ward was as brilliant as it was short-lived, Clemens’s as Mark Twain burned on into the twentieth century, and his humor came to be celebrated by the nation and much of the world as ...
3. A Presidential Crinoline
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Will Rogers was unique. At first the arrival in 1904 of the funny, disarming, and oddly enchanting cowboy, whose show business debut coincided with the cresting popularity of vaudeville, did not augur any profound change in the state of the nation’s humor or the relationship between the American people and their president. During the next three decades ...
4. New Frontiers
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The Remarkable connection between the most significant political comedian of the twentieth century, Will Rogers, and its most powerful president, Franklin Roosevelt, began to cement the relationship between the presidency and comedy performance in the minds of many Americans. Both men were agents and beneficiaries of the boom in ...
5. All Lies and Jest
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The first days and months after John F. Kennedy’s assassination were as unkind to political standup comedy as they were to the grieving nation as a whole. The First Family was removed from store shelves, as was a sequel, which had been released in the spring of 1963. The horrors in Dallas prompted the albums’ producers to call Cadence Records and ask that all ...
6. Rebellion by the Pound
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"I hear that whenever someone in the White House tells a lie, Nixon gets a royalty.” By the fall of 1973 Johnny Carson’s jabs at the president of the United States were becoming more constant and merciless as the deepening Watergate investigation pointed decidedly toward Richard Nixon’s personal criminal involvement. In one monologue that autumn ...
Epilogue: Back to the Future
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On April 17, 2008, Stephen Colbert broadcast his half-hour satiric send-up of political infotainment, The Colbert Report, from the birthplace of American democratic government: Philadelphia. In the wake of the latest debate between the Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination, and just prior to that month’s Pennsylvania primary, all the ...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy