With age, Anthony E. Ponder has gained a crow's nest perspective of humor. He witnessed the golden age of radio, early movies, beginning TV, absorbed a wealth of local humor, and even invented some for our founding fathers. After observing and drawing from the masters of humor, he has written this work: his humor heritage of Madison County, North Carolina, and well beyond. One notable quote from this venerable humorist is "My publisher loves my analogy; he says that in the crow's nest I can lay an egg as well as any humorist alive."
In colonial times there was very little recorded humor. With the passing years and colonial population growth, humor began to appear in print. Ben Franklin was a noted colonial printer and most of his humor is with us today. Enamel challenged George Washington didn't gum up the works when gaining our independence from England; but we've smiled about his missing teeth ever since. We look at John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton who was embroiled in our nation's first political sex scandal.
In the 1820's the minstrel show became the rage. This was a form of entertainment mimicking plantation life. Stephen Foster's songs, Daniel D. Emmett's "Dixie," and Thomas "Daddy" Rice's "Jim Crow" song were three highlights. And there was Mark Twain. Want to tweak Twain? In his writings change his 'n' words to African American.
Vaudeville furnished polished performers for the early movies, radio, and later TV. From it emerged W.C. Fields, Fannie Brice, Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Lucille Ball, George Jessel, Jimmy Durante, Fred Allen, Red Skelton, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Rose Marie, Sammy Davis Jr., Edgar Bergen, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Buster Keaton, Margaret Dumont, Kate Smith, and Bing Crosby. There were partner acts like The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, and the Marx Brothers. A few witty wags say that we exported Groucho and imported Karl. Milton Berle became the father of TV by reviving his old vaudeville routines.
Sports provided colorful characters like George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Yogi Berra, Dizzy Dean, Joe Lewis, and Casey Stengel. Casey was considered a managerial genius until at age 72 he met with a serious accident...he fell off a barstool. This wasn't the "Casey at the Bat," this was the Casey at the bar.
Hollywood provided us with sex symbols like Mickey Rooney, Oliver Hardy, and Lou Costello. Seriously, natural, brown-haired beauty Marilyn Monroe was hyped and dyed into a blond bombshell. Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner, Mae West, and Joan Crawford were other favorite, female movie stars who had something to say. Who could forget Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and Al Jolson?
In 1956 Elvis Presley exploded onto the national stage. With Elvis adults didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or dance. The "Jim Crow" song and Rock and Roll were two musical phenomena that dramatically "shook up" American culture.
There was our local humor. Newspapers provided us with comics, Earl Wilson's Today's Chuckle, jokes, and even humorous letters to advice columns like Dear Abbey. Minnie Pearl was a favorite comedienne. Expressions, church bulletins, nicknames, and local jokes added to our humor heritage. Perhaps we laughed most by either aping opera singers like Enrico Caruso or reading about the antics of an area personality in our local newspaper.