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Barreca's Latest Book Presents
Collection of Favorite Humor
January 31, 2000

What's so funny?

Regina Barreca, professor of English and noted author, answers that question in The Signet Book of American Humor, a collection of writings from a diverse group of American authors. In the book, Barreca rounds up old favorites from well known comedic writers such as Bill Cosby and Dave Barry and pairs them with unexpected choices from authors such as Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison, for a look at what's funny in America.

Barreca, a professor of English at UConn and the book's editor, notes that her selections come from "material that's slightly dangerous and more than slightly smart."

The featured authors include Benjamin Franklin on selecting a mistress, Anita Loos explaining her preference for young and "gifted" men when selecting a husband, and Dave Barry on "how to tell whether you're turning into a Republican." Other notables include Allan Sherman on why the phrase "she's a nice girl" should be translated to "she's got buck teeth," an illustrated short story by John Updike, Mark Twain's explanation of his hatred for James Fenimore Cooper and Bret Harte's merciless lampoon of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

In her introduction to the book, Barreca notes that humor in general is necessarily subversive. Humor, she says, "laughs out loud, makes noise, and by so doing, makes trouble about issues rarely spoken of in polite conversation." In American humor, the targets are often bullies, those in power who are often also humorless, she says.

In the book, Barreca manages to chart the history of the country's developing sense of itself through its ability to skewer the pretensions of the high and mighty. In the end, she writes, "laughter is the sound you make when you are free."

Barreca's other books are They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted; Perfect Husbands (And Other Fairy Tales); and Sweet Revenge: The Wicked Delights of Getting Even. She is also the editor of the Penguin Book of Women's Humor. In addition, Barreca is frequently quoted in national publications and has appeared on many television and radio programs. She has been at UConn since 1987.

Allison Thompson