Sunday Reading: The Funny Parts

Photograph from Alamy

In the early years of The New Yorker, humor of all shapes and sizes filled the magazine—sketches, parodies, satirical Comments and Fiction, and more. Harold Ross, the editor, had stated in the magazine’s prospectus that, although The New Yorker might include wit and satire, it would be more than simply “a jester.” That prediction has proved accurate. In the decades since, even as the magazine has become known for its far-reaching investigations and features, it has retained a lively through line of playfulness and whimsy, in the form of Shouts & Murmurs and cartoons.

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This week, we’re bringing you a medley of humor pieces—including, we hope, some surprises. In “About (Almost Surely) New York, or Something,” Nora Ephron’s first contribution to The New Yorker, the writer lends her dry wit to a parody of a newspaper column about Manhattan neighborhoods. (“ ‘Nobody in this column ever has a name!’ she cried, waving her Times in the air. ‘None of the stories in this column ever has a point!’ ”) In “A Short Autobiography,” a young novelist named F. Scott Fitzgerald chronicles the stages of his life by cherished vintage. (“1928: The Pouilly with Bouillabaisse at Prunier’s in a time of discouragement.”) In “LGA—ORD,” Ian Frazier imagines how the playwright Samuel Beckett might have depicted air travel. In “Just a Little One,” Dorothy Parker describes a night on the town that begins swimmingly and quickly devolves. (“You know what I like about this place? It’s got atmosphere. That’s what it’s got. If you would ask the waiter to bring a fairly sharp knife, I could cut off a nice little block of the atmosphere, to take home with me.”) In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” James Thurber presents his classic tale of a man who perceives his journey through the world as much more wondrous than it actually is. In “Closure,” Steve Martin pursues an intense longing for a sense of completion. (“Too many loose ends. But she wanted closure. I explained that because so many people in my life weren’t taking responsibility, it became impossible for me to accept my own responsibility.”) Finally, in “How to Be Obscene,” Upton Sinclair offers an ingenious idea for authors looking to create a stir. (“If it were necessary to write really obscene books, I wouldn’t recommend this plan, because real obscenity is altogether foreign to my interests. But the beauty of the plan is that you don’t have to write anything really harmful; all you have to do is to follow the example of the great masters of the world’s literature, and deal with the facts of life frankly and honestly.”)

Humor is sometimes seen as a literary afterthought, though its pleasures are always in demand. We hope that these pieces offer you enjoyment, and a bit of relief, this holiday weekend.

—Erin Overbey, archive editor

A photograph of someone talking on the phone inside a telephone booth

A photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald, smoking

An illustration of a figure in black, surrounded by faded animals

Just a Little One

A monologue in a speakeasy: “Oh, I like this place better and better, now that my eyes are getting accustomed to it.”

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An illustration of a Samuel Beckett-esque character making flight announcements from the grave


Welcome aboard the flight from nothingness to New York’s Laguardia non non non non non non nonstop to Chicago’s Ohare.

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An illustration of a theater screen displaying the word

A photograph of books catching fire

How to Be Obscene

“This matter is of such great importance to authors that I am sure they will want full particulars, seeing that I am here on the ground, and have got all the data.”

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An illustration of a man in the clouds

Source: Sunday Reading: The Funny Parts

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