About Mark Twain

The Curmudgeon spent a little time on YouTube recently watching some of the ceremonies honoring the winners of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor – remarks by the people introducing the winners and then by the winners themselves. Past winners include Carl Reiner, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Tina Fey, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, and others, and while The Curmudgeon would be happy to debate the merits of some of the past recipients – Will Ferrell? really? – it’s pretty hard to argue against any of the winners based either on their ability to bring the funny or at least the impact of their funny.

mark twainBut that brings us to the man after whom the prize is named: Mark Twain.   According to the people who sponsor the prize,

As a social commentator, satirist and creator of memorable characters, Samuel Clemens – the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist also known as Mark Twain – was a fearless observer of society, who outraged many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.

Now The Curmudgeon realizes this is a sensitive subject for some people because once someone is considered great, and a classic, it becomes impolite to question that status, but…

Mark Twain?

Have you read Twain? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

Did you enjoy them?

Did you even find them readable?

And in hindsight, did you find any humor in them? Did they elicit even a simple smile?

Didn’t think so. And they didn’t for The Curmudgeon, either.

If anyone, The Curmudgeon thinks the prize should be named after the man he believes really IS the foremost humorist this country has ever produced: Calvin Trillin. Or perhaps James Thurber. Or maybe even Will Rogers.

But Mark Twain?

The Curmudgeon, for one, thinks not.

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  • pastorbeetle  On November 25, 2014 at 10:09 am

    For what it’s worth, I disagree with your assessment of Mark Twain. I actually just finished reading Tom Sawyer again the other day (really!), and did find myself pretty amused – the time on the island is a wonderful tale reminding me of my own boyhood. No, I didn’t have the same adventures exactly (playing pirate in NE Philly doesn’t work unless your pirate is named Rizzo), but the spirit of their games is spot on. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is, while not a gut buster, an amusing mirror of the human condition.

    Twain’s most famous work, “The Adventures or Huckleberry Finn” wasn’t funny, but it wasn’t meant to be. In it, Huck does the right thing, even though the rest of the world thinks otherwise; he’ll go to hell for freeing the runaway slave, Jim, and that’s alright by him. In 1885, only 20 years* after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, to portray a black man as a human being was unheard of. The book was banned in many places. The author of any banned book is alright by me.

    The award isn’t just about funny, methinks. It’s about the impact one has on culture and society. True, Twain’s no Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, or Steve Martin; but as Richard Pryor (awardee of the very first first MTPFAH) did for them, Twain paved the way for Thurber, Trillin, and Rogers.

    Merely my opinion…

    Yeah, really, Will Ferrell?

    *One Score…

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On November 25, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      You make excellent points – which is why, ultimately, it’s so good that libraries have so many books. The one thing that surprises me about Twain, thinking about, is that except for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog…” I don’t remember ever being assigned to read him in school.

      Happy Thanksgiving and thanks again for reading.

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