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Old Time American Humor

Updated on May 17, 2016

In the beginning God created human governments and we all know what happened after that. Old fashioned American humor. Perhaps that’s what sets us apart from other countries and cultures…having the ability to laugh at ourselves, our history and national leaders.

Although England and America speak basically the same language their ideas of what constitutes humor isn’t exactly the same. Americans are slightly straighter to the point.They openly applaud ambition and success and will say, “Have a nice day,” whether they mean it or not. Brits are famous for their dry wit. Times and places may change, but good, witty humor doesn’t. Someone once said words have great power, if you don’t tie too many together at the same time.

Mark Twain

The 1800s seemed to be the Heyday of American humor. It was an era of great writers and humorists such as Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Here are a few of his quotes:

  • “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
  • “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
  • “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”

Abraham Lincoln was also a well known humorist and story teller. When he was young he loved listening to his father and other men swap yarns. As he matured he became quite adept at retelling them.

When he became a lawyer, he used this skill to influence juries. On more than one occasion his opposing counsel would complain stating Lincoln’s stories were irrelevant and distracting to the jury. However, the complaints more often fell on deaf ears as judges usually found them highly entertaining as well.

He once told a story of a time he was splitting rails when a man with a rifle came up and demanded he look him directly in the eye. Lincoln stopped his work and did so for a few minutes. Finally the man broke his silence and told Lincoln he "…had promised himself years ago if he ever met a man uglier than himself, he would shoot him." Lincoln calmly answered “If I am uglier than you, go ahead, because I don’t want to live!"

Another example of Lincoln’s humor told of a preacher who was always going on about Jesus being the only perfect man mentioned in the Bible. During one sermon as the preacher was again harping on the subject Lincoln asked him why the Bible never mentioned a perfect woman. A woman in the rear of the congregation called out "I know a perfect woman." "Who was she?" asked the minister. "My husband’s first wife," she replied.

The 1920s and 1930s were years the mass media began. Politics, culture, and economics were popular targets for humor as women gained the vote and the stock market crashed. What did audiences of the 1920s and 1930s find funny? Charlie Chaplin played a misfit who craved affection. Harold Lloyd played a typical man trying to live up to ideals he couldn’t achieve.

However humor doesn’t always belong to the famous or those having a knack of putting it to use. Sometimes it occurs naturally by accident, or lack of knowledge as illustrated by the following student answers to a history exam:

  • Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.
  • Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic.
  • Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments.
  • The Pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.
  • Romans were called Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long.

Hopefully, we will never lose the ability to laugh at ourselves.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 4 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      JamaGenee , I'm well aware of Will Rogers, did a hub on him some time back. There are just too many greats to mention in an essay.

      mythbuster, glad to see you still read my stuff.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Very Nice! These tidbits got me laughing, for sure! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the Lincoln material here.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I had no idea Lincoln had a great sense of humor until it was mentioned the other day in an interview with a cast member of the new movie "Lincoln".

      Since the hub is about American humor, I wonder that you didn't mention Will Rogers. Pretty sure he was from the same era as Clemens/Twain, but perhaps you have to live in Oklahoma to be aware of him.

      That said, Brits are still THE absolute funniest bunch on the planet. Also, masters of economy when landing a zinger . ;D

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey, JY, Awesome! This is so very interesting. Few know how Abe Lincoln was funny, most think of him as staunch and boring. Great stuff you got here, and I'm sharing it!