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The Comedian as Confidence Man

Studies in Irony Fatigue

Will Kaufman

Humor

Humor in Life and Letters Series

Paperback
Published: September 2019
ISBN: 9780814346792
Pages: 272 Size: 6x9
eBOOK
Published: October 2019
ISBN: 9780814346808

In this lively and fascinating analysis of humorists and their work, Will Kaufman breaks new ground with his irony fatigue theory. The Comedian as Confidence Man examines the humorist's internal conflict between the social critic who demands to be taken seriously and the comedian who never can be: the irony fatigue condition. Concentrating on eight American literary and performing comedians from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, this study explores the irony fatigue affect that seems to pervade the work of comedians—those particular social observers who are obliged to promise, "Only kidding, folks," even when they may not be; in G. B. Shaw's words, they must "put things in such a way as to make people who would otherwise hang them believe they are joking."

If these social observers are obliged to become, in effect, confidence men, with irony as the satiric weapon that both attacks and diverts, then the implications are great for those social critics who above all wish to be heeded.

Will Kaufman is a folk musician and professor of American studies at the University of Central Lancashire. He is the author of Woody Guthrie’s Modern World Blues.

Highly readable and carefully documented.

– Dana Rufolo-Horhager, American Studies in Europe

The Comedian as Confidence Man is a lively, fascinating analysis of humorists and their work which examines the humorist's internal conflict between the social critic who demands to be taken seriously and the comedian who never can be -- the irony fatigue condition. [The book] concentrates on eight American literary and performing comedians from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, whose social observations require the obligatory, 'Only kidding, folks!" even when they may not be.

– James A. Cox, The Midwest Book Review

Comedian as Confidence Man is still the most important, insightful read about comedy that I've ever found, especially my brand of comedy and the inherent frustrations related to it. Elated to see it back in print.

– Doug Stanhope, fatigued comedian

[The book] is at once a history and penetrating interpretation of the complexities of humor and of the various individuals selected for examination. Kaufman’s analytic sweep of literary texts and comic performances is wildly imaginative: Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, Benjamin Franklin’s literary confidence games, Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, the routines of stand-up comics Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, the works of Kurt Vonnegut, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson. In between are excellent insights into an array of the most influential writers and stand-up comics.

– Joseph Boskin, American Studies Journal

Useful new study of American humor.

– Forrest G. Robinson, American Studies

The Comedian as Confidence Man breaks new ground, not only in interpreting works that have been exhaustively mined, but in making us see new relationships in comic performance that cut across media. Such a foray can only encourage new approaches to the study of American humor.

– Thomas Grant, University of Hartford

Very readable and mighty interesting. Better yet, it really does talk about culture (and the role comedians play in it) without becoming wearily, predictably ideological, and without forcing readers on a death march down the tangled roads of theory.

– Sanford Pinsker, Franklin and Marshall College