The Self-Made Comedian
This chapter shows how performances that exploit the comically unstable persona for humorous effect update Twain’s brand of humor for contemporary audiences. In American literary humor, a second hallmark of Twain’s brand lives on in the form of the comic cross-cultural contrast. Mark Twain, throughout his career, mined a nationalist strand of literary humor that celebrated American separation from imperial Britain through comically invidious contrasts of American values, language, characters, and experience with those of other cultures, especially the ostensibly more cultivated European aristocracies and their descendents among educated Americans. Stand-up comedians perform oral narratives, usually monologues, in which they appear to express themselves rather than play a role. The genre of stand-up comedy actually encompasses a broad continuum of live performances ranging from solo and small-group verbal, musical, or physical clowning to direct joke telling and social commentary.
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