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Professor edits new book on humor (Released: 1/25/00)

by Allison Thompson, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- What's so funny?

University of Connecticut professor and noted author Regina Barreca 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 humo in general is necessarily subversive. Humor, Barreca 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 vain pretensions of the high and mighty. In the end, writes Barreca, "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 including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Hartford Courant, and has appeared on many television and radio programs such as 20/20, 48 Hours and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Barreca received a BA from Dartmouth College and a PhD from the City University of New York. She has been at the University of Connecticut since 1987.