In Season and Out

The Nilsens have produced an interesting, erudite, and thorough Encyclopedia of 2Oth-Century American Humor with entries ranging from American Indian humor to cartoons, exaggeration, hoaxes, joke patterns, sitcoms, and wit. It is a truly comprehensive and encyclopedic volume with an excellent bibliography, a work that will become a standard reference not just in libraries but in the homes of those who love humor.

America exports not only film and television comedies but new genres of jokes. The riddling style of joke, the rebirth of the ethnic joke in the latter half of the 20th century, disaster and dead-celebrities jokes, lawyer jokes, and blonde jokes—all have been exported to the rest of the would, which has then copied and adapted them to local circumstances, while adding a dash of relevance and ingenuity. In the 20th century, American humor became an important cultural influence throughout the rest of the world: a process much accelerated by the internet.

And so it is not simply Americans who will appreciate this book. Nonetheless, many of the entries—blackface comedy, comic books, dialect humor, frontier humor, urban legends, and vaudeville—relate to distinctive aspects of the American cultural tradition. Curiously, the entry on irony in American humor is only just over a page long, much of it concerned with such celebrated Americans as George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, and Peter Sellers....

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