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Humorists: From Hogarth to Noel Coward

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In the tradition of Paul Johnsons s,, and comes a new book of biographical portraits of the greatest humorists and wits in modern history.
Kindle Edition, 261 pages
Published November 30th 2010 by HarperCollins e-books (first published October 29th 2010)
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Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what to say about this one. Johnson presents a series of short biographies about people he considers the greatest Western humorists. He also introduces a thesis -- that all humor either stems from order or chaos -- and attemps to prove that point through the work of his selected funnymen. (And they are all men, btw.) Little mini-biographies arranged around a central theme are actually a great pleasure: you learn just enough to stay interested, you're given a lens through which to ...more
D. Ryan
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gliding over the lives of these humorists, Johnson creates a philosophy of humor.

Many of these funny-men had very sad lives, but his chapter on G.K. Chesterton made up for the gloominess.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A series of un-thorough biographies of a random assemblage of notable public figures whom Johnson has decided (through no clear method) are "humorists." His claims are often not cited and many chapters are marked by non sequiturs toward tangential issues beyond the scope of the humorist being discussed. Some chapters, by contract, spend entire paragraphs listing witty quotations authored by their subjects. Finally, and perhaps most damningly, female and non-white humorists are almost completely ...more
stephanie suh
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s gobsmacking to see how people misidentify humor with mockery or sarcasm in their misconception about laughter (the loud the better) as a product of a merry heart. Whereas humor should be appealing not only to the senses but also to Reason with a natural assistance of wit to discern the light side of life and to elevate it to wisdom of life it bears, people tend to derive funniness from faux-pas and gaucheness of targeted individuals as if they were Olympian gods and goddesses laughing at ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Paul Johnson has a remarkable ability to tell the stories of history in a wonderful manner. This book is on humorists from William Hogarth through Dickens and WC Fields and Laurel and Hardy and Noel Coward - and a host of others.

He reminded me of one of my favorite James Thurber lines - How could I have called a wrong number - you answered the phone didn't you? Or WC Fields line to a neighbor - Either get those geese to shit green or get them the hell off my lawn. One of Johnson's remarkable
Michael Milgrom
I haven't read any of Paul Johnons's books before and only know him by reputation - a good one. This book was not so good, however. It has interesting details about the lives of several "humorists" like Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and Damon Runyon but the examples and explanations of why they are good vary from useful and instructive to non-existent. It's tough to write about humor and, after a promising introduction, the book rarely gets you to laugh along with its subjects. It isn't helped ...more
Matthew Dambro
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enlightening survey of humor over the past two hundred years. Johnson is a master stylist and his theory that humor is either chaos driven or order driven is interesting. It encourages me to look deeper into some of the biographies listed.
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

Una de mis películas favoritas es el musical Cantando bajo la lluvia (1952) dirigido por Stanley Donen y el propio Gene Kelly, protagonista de la inolvidable escena que da título a la no menos inolvidable cinta. Tiene tantas escenas memorables que sería difícil quedarse solo con una.

De hecho, me quería centrar en una de ellas que considero un paradigma metanarrativo de lo que cuesta hacer humor, conseguir que la gente se ría. Para los que no
Paul Johnson's Humorists: Brief character sketches of his select few standout funny men--all British or American--big names and small, fools and geniuses, wits and wretches all. Loved the "A Living, Talking Gargoyle" chapter on G. K. Chesterton but always love me some GKC. Where but in casual passing are Chaucer and Shakespeare mentioned? What of Pope and Swift?

Two tragic challenges for both comedians and humans alike:

"In Groucho's moral universe (and all great comics have one), the destructive
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atico
«Johnson es un escritor con un don genuino. La habilidad de transformar vastas extensiones de la historia en una narrativa absorbente le asegura público durante años.»

«El talento de Johnson contando historias vívidas se combina con un asombroso dominio de grandes y complejos temas y con una inagotable capacidad de convertirlas en algo comprensible y absorvente.»

«Johnson teje de forma magistral un hilo narrativo entre estas figuras, muchas de las
This book is a collection of short biographical sketches about notable humorists -- many of whom I had never thought of as humorists, e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Johnson, and G.K. Chesterton. I found Paul Johnson’s analysis and insights highly perceptive as usual. And the sketches are short introductions that give you a taste of the individual's life; for the full meal you'll need to consult a biography. I was also impressed by the author’s diction and vocabulary: I often had to scramble for a ...more
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I love almost everything Paul Johnson has written. I learned several things about characters, including ...

• William Hogarth
• James Thurber
• Marx Brothers
• Benjamin Franklin
• Charles Dickens
• Damon Runyon
• WC Fields
• Samuel Johnson
• Laurel and Hardy
• Thomas Rowlandson
• G. K. Chesterton
• Chaplin

Most of Johnson books are about major historic events or personalities. This book was about people from the arts which is not really my area of interest and certainly not my area
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own, europe
Humorists is a very pleasant read. The introduction, explaining humor, laughter, and comedy, makes the book worthwhile by itself. However, it seems that Johnson is trying to do something that is perhaps left untried. He creates some broad categories that are useful in understanding the subjects' humor, and he gives some hilarious examples of the humor. (The Dickens examples are particularly good.) Yet, I did not fully understand what warranted some of the characters' inclusion in the book, ...more
Sergiu Pobereznic
Jun 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of biographical vignettes about several humorists in the western world such as Hogarth, Rowlandson and Coward to name but a few.
There are some funny anecdotes, he analyses stand-up comedy, one liners and much more. His storyline manages to weave its way through countless more people than are listed in the book's blurb.
By the end I was quite interested in doing some research of my own.
An interesting and quick read.
Sergiu Pobereznic (author)
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson always writes captivating stories. Several of the chapters in this book very fascinating as they delved into the lives of a colorful cast of humorists and explain the basic art forms used by those who evoke laughter.

A couple of the chapters were less compelling, almost having a Freudian feel to them. But I did find the book a good and informative read. The analysis is notable for its historical breath, scope of genres and collection of an unusual collection of personalities.
Karl Rove
Anything by the great British writer Paul Johnson is worthy ready. Anything. This is an idiosyncratic book about humor and those who made it in their books, speeches, appearance, films, and plays. You may wonder at his choices (or omissions) but you will find yourself alternately chuckling, giggling, guffawing, snorting and just plain laughing as Johnson recounts the humorous antics of his picks as history’s greatest wits.
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Humorists is a step down for Johnson after his engaging works on Creators and Heroes (and, I believe, Intellectuals, which I have not yet read). I still enjoyed getting to know many of these famous and not-so famous greats, but the prose wandered more, and his characters' sexual oddities seemed to occupy vastly more of Johnson's attention than they deserved. Still, he got me to watch two great Chaplin movies (Gold Rush and The Kid), for which I am grateful.

May 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that doesn't work for an audiobook. Considering at least 3 of the humorists (honestly, I lost count because I started tuning out the audiobook about 2/3rds through - never a good thing) in this book are artists, verbose descriptions of the humor in their drawings & etchings just doesn't cut it.
Mary Blye Kramer
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think I'd like this book so I began by skimming. By the time I realized how fabulous it is, I was nearly halfway through. I savored all the rest, written by a great and very knowledgable author, learned a lot and had fun. Now I have to start all over at the beginning and absorb what I missed by skimming
David Ward
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor, non-fiction
Humorists: From Hogarth to Noel Coward by Paul Johnson (Harper Collins 2010) (920) contains mini-biographies of a number of humorists. None of these are my favorites, and none were of any real interest to me. My rating: 3/10, finished 8/24/11.
Dec 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Johnson's profiles of individual comic writers, actors and artists articulate not only what they did but also the source of their humor. I enjoyed chapters on those I knew well as well as those I didn't know as well.
Robin Gane-McCalla
Summary of historical figures who have been funny. A lot of the emphasis was on people's visual wit (cartoons) rather than verbal wit. Though there were interesting examples and anecdotes, there was little actual analysis of why the humorists were funny or how their life influenced their humor
Shaon Castleberry
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Humor tends to be very personal and cultural. It is interesting to see the choice of subjects used to illustrate the humorists - bare bottoms & pie throwing. The choices seem to be between "chaos" humor and one liners. But then I have always heard that comedy is hard.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Some parts of this were quite good; however, some of the humorists indulged in various kinds of bawdy humor, which was not exactly pleasant reading.
Vikas Datta
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Engaging analysis of set of the most magical wordsmiths of all times...
Eddie Howden
Not bad. The author has this elitist air about him which I found extremely irritating.
I enjoyed reading this book but the focus was too arbitrary. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the humorists Johnson chose to write about when there were so many he left out.
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far, so good. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on Benjamin Franklin. It gave great insight into a prominent historical figure.
Jul 29, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books
“Morecambe and Wise, the famous team of Northern comedians, used to complain about the propensity of Yorkshire audiences to “zip their teeth up,” as they put it. Eric Morecambe claimed one man in Leeds said to him, “Ee, lad, thou wert so funny tonight I almost had to laff.” 0 likes
“In Germany, as in parts of Yorkshire, laughing—at least among people with pretensions to rank—was regarded as a form of weakness. Goethe, whose own laughter was seldom observed, thought a lady might laugh where a gentleman should keep a straight face. Frederick the Great might laugh with a Frenchman, such as Voltaire, but “would not so condescend” with his compatriots.” 0 likes
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