Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor


 Don Lee Fred Nilsen & Alleen Pace Nilsen

Publication Year






Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor: Hardcover – January 20, 2000

Who says you can’t have a serious reference work on humor? This new resource offers a broad look at humor with more than 100 well-written and entertaining entries. Scholarly in nature, yet enjoyable to read, the Encyclopedia examines several aspects of humor, such as: styles of humor, subjects of comedy, media methods, academic endeavors, humor in society, historical aspects.

This volume celebrates a century of twists and turns in American humor. With entries ranging from the vaudeville days of the early twentieth century to the Internet’s influence on modern jokes, this resource is a valuable addition to any library.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The authors had been studying the subject of humor for 25 years when they were approached by Oryx to put their knowledge in encyclopedic form. The result is a 98-entry reference work. A bibliography that includes scholarly works on humor, biographies, and joke books stretches over 20 pages and rounds out the text.Arranged alphabetically, articles vary in length from one to five pages. A few are illustrated with cartoons and photographs. Some longer articles are broken down into subtopics. For example, Drama includes sections on “Comedy of Humors” and “Comedy of Manners,” followed by brief entries for 10 playwrights noted for humor in their plays. Radio and Television include entries for selected programs. Many articles end with lists of suggestions for further reading.

Despite the subject, the book’s overall tone is serious; Academic study of humor is one entry. Coverage is quite thorough, encompassing topics like African American humorAging and humorCensorshipFrontier humorMusical comedians, and School humor.

The authors have created a reference work that would appeal to psychologists, educators, sociologists, and other professionals who study emotional behavior. It will also appeal to those who are interested in what people find funny and why. The volume is enlivened by many examples of jokes, paradoxes, put-downs, and other forms of humor. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


The Nilsens outdo themselves in compiling this intriguing, amusing, and relaxed guide to humor from knock-knock jokes, Molly Ivins, and put-downs to Waiting for Godot,film noir, and postmodernism. Beyond clarity in formatting and describing topic, limits, and methods, their book posses the essential attribute of readability.


The extensive bibliography proper is excellent…. it would be excellent in a senior school library, and in larger public libraries as an addition to their literary criticism collections.

New Zealand Libraries

The authors have created a reference work that would appeal to psychologists, educators, sociologists, and other professionals who study emotional behavior.

Booklist/Reference Books Bulletin

A good starting point for understanding the structure, formats, and varieties of American humor.

C&RL News

As benefits an encyclopedia, this book is thorough and informative. As suits the subject matter, it is also entertaining. It is a valuable book, not only for humor scholars, but for students of culture, society, politics, psychology, and literature. The reader, of whatever background, will nod in agreement with the deft and knowledgeable observations, laugh at the humorous examples, and mutter in surprise at the many arcane bits of information. It is a difficult document to put down, even to write a review.

International Journal of Humor Research

An ideal reference acquisition for both academic and public library collection….truly encyclopedic in its scope, scholarly in its content, and a delight to simply browse through for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the history of humor, comedians, and popular culture.

Midwest Book Review

The Nilsens have produced an interesting, erudite, and thorough ^IEncyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor^R with entries ranging from American Indian humor to cartoons, exaggeration, hoaxes, joke patterns, sitcoms, and wit. It is a truly, comprehensive and encyclopedic volume with an excellent bibliography, a work that will become a standard reference not just in libraries but in the homes of those who love humor.


Some books are a lot of fun to review and this is one of them….This book is recommended for academic and public library reference collections and should make a nice case for going o the shelf rather than to the Internet for material on humor. There are plenty of joke websites on the Internet but nothing that is as extensive and informative as this encyclopedia.

Community & Junior College Libraries

This unique encyclopedia treats the concepts, persons, themes, and media of 20th-century American humor and humor studies. More than 100 alphabetically arranged entries highlight a broad range of humor-related topics from wit, understatement, and ambiguity to late-night talk shows and the Internet. Entries are enhanced with humorous examples and suggested readings.

American Libraries

An accessible writing style and well-chosen examples made pre-publication reviewers smile and even laugh out loud….The book is concise enough to be read cover-to-cover or used as a textbook for humor-related courses in the performance ats or in literary or cultural studies. [I]ts organization also makes it ideal for research in specific areas.

The Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop Journal

The encyclopedia contains an excellent 20-page bibliography of works on humor. Incredibly up-to-date, the bibliography includes books as recent as 1999 and is especially rich in sources from the 1990s as well as those of historical importance. The index is also praiseworthy and is useful in finding the names of individuals, movie titles, television shows, and books that are mentioned in the entries….Libraries that collect materials in popular culture or American studies will definitely wish to purchase this book.


Encyclopedias are always useful books for any library. This one is also amusing. 20th century American humor gives an interesting insight into the culture of 20th century America. This encyclopedia is an excellent source of ideas for that occasional speech you may be asked to give. For occasions like weddings and surprise birthday parties where you are stuck for ideas, pop open this book and something will quickly grab your attention and subsequently your audience. From the first entry, `Academics Study of Humor’. to the last one, `Wit’, this is a good addition to an academic, public or personal collection. There is a good bibliography and a full index at the back of the book.

Education Libraries

…this book is thorough and informative….It is a valuable book, not only for humor scholars, but for students of culture, society, politics, psychology, and literature….the reviewer recommends the whole book and looks forward to going back to it again and again.

HUMOR/ International Journal of Humor Research

It deserves to do well in US high school and college libraries and elsewhere. Students reading and researching for their Master of Arts in Humour at Reading University will find it indispensable. Besides all of which it is a good browse.

Reference Reviews

About the Author

Alleen Pace Nilsen is professor of English at Arizona State University and the editor of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS) Newsletter. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Scholarship and Service from the ISHS. She is the author of Literature for Todays Young Adults, Presenting M. E. Kerr, and Language Play in addition to many humor related articles. In addition, Dr. Nilsen is a founding member of the ISHS and a former president of the American Humor Studies Association.

DON L.F. NILSEN is professor of English at Arizona State University and executive secretary for the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS). He is the author of many books about humor including Humor in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Literature: A Reference Guide

mor Scholarship: A Research Bibliography

mor in American Literature: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

language Play: An Introduction to Linguistics

d English Adverbials. He has also edited several books on humor including Humor and Translation and a series of six World Humor and Irony Membership Serial Yearbook (WHIMSY) titles. Dr. Nilsen has also been recognized by Contemporary Authors, International Whos Who in Education, and 2,000 Notable American Men.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Greenwood; Annotated edition (January 20, 2000)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 376 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1573562181
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1573562188
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.91 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7 x 0.88 x 10 inches

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