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Mark Twain's advice on how to tell a humorous story

Discussion in 'Storytelling and Puppets' started by The Princess of Bozonia, Apr 13, 2017.

  1. The Princess of Bozonia

    The Princess of Bozonia Administrator Staff Member

    In How to Tell A Story and Other Essays, Mark Twain shares a little advice on how to tell a humorous story.

    I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert story-tellers for many years.

    There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind -- the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

    The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. The humorous story is strictly a work of art -- high and delicate art -- and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print -- was created in America, and has remained at home.

    The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the 'nub' of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

    Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretense that he does not know it is a nub.

    Artemus Ward used that trick a good deal; then when the belated audience presently caught the joke he would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had found to laugh at. Dan Setchell used it before him, Nye and Riley and others use it to-day.

    But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you -- every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation -- points after it, and sometimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.​
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  2. V

    V Well-Known Member

    Man, I hate Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Okay, maybe not hate as I don't really think abut him that much. However, he is 100% one of the most overrated authors ever to put pen to paper imho. I wasn't around during the book burning days of his controversy, but I'm willing to toss a few of mine in the next pile - not of them being of questionable content, more an example of questionable quality.

    I get the nostalgia many hold for him, being one of the better known early American authors, but for the life of me I don't understand it. I like this quote from "the thought catalog" about Mark Twain:

    His hometown is a 30 minute flight from my house. In this town: Every single street and building has a sign with his name on it. Statues, hotels, rivers, roads, this small barn labeled “Mark Twain’s boyhood home.” He shares this town with a Titanic survivor. But all it makes me think is that Mark Twain should’ve drowned on the Titanic or died in a fire so I never had to read his awful books. -
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  3. Barry Daft (Mr. B. Daft)

    Barry Daft (Mr. B. Daft) Old Bucket Spitter

    I read Huckleberry Finn as a child and found it readable enough to finish but not remarkable enough to want to read more. I wouldn't describe him as overrated but he's probably more important now, for his historical significance, rather than his story telling. Whenever you open up a book on quotations alongside Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx, there always seams to be Mark Twain. I think that's a pretty good sign to show he's pretty good with language and ideas.

    It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

    It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

    A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  4. The NORMAL One

    The NORMAL One Active Member

    Like Mark Twain or dislike Mark Twain so what. What ,is for his time he was a good story teller. Every era has their story tellers. Until this generation now all the high tech gadgets are robbing us of the art of story telling. Folk lore is pasting a way. So what , I try to encourage story telling where ever I can. One thing that clowning has done for me is it have gave me some great humorous stories which I Truely thankful.
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  5. Barry Daft (Mr. B. Daft)

    Barry Daft (Mr. B. Daft) Old Bucket Spitter

    Now if you'd taken notice of Mark Twain's quotes beforehand, perhaps you would never have written this.
    Quinten Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, obviously I could go on. We live in a great age of storytelling. At no time in history has humanity had access to so many stories. High tech gadgets haven't robbed us of stories they have helped create and disseminate stories.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
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