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timeline: 1732
wit and wisdom
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The laughing Audience
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In the great tradition of American humor, the title of "First American Humorist" rightfully belongs to Benjamin Franklin. He was the beginning of a long line of writers who created a uniquely American form of humor filled with clever wit, folksy wisdom, and a generous portion of irreverence. The tradition begun by Franklin was handed down to Mark Twain and, in modern times, to writers like Art Buchwald, Dave Barry and Garrison Keillor.

Franklin developed a satirical style of writing that examined the political, personal, and social issues of the time. Whether he was poking fun at conservative Bostonians or laughing at the battle of the sexes, Franklin's style was entertaining, but carried a message. His satirical pieces "made 'em laugh" but also "made 'em think."

Laughter was an effective way to reach the masses. Franklin scholar David Morgan points out that humor was important in much of Franklin's writing because he was "aiming at a popular audience. There weren't that many highly educated people in his [Franklin's] day. Most of the people were semi-literate at best. And so much of what they read . . . had to be put in a popular form or they wouldn't understand it."

Franklin also approached personal problems with humor. Throughout his life, he suffered from gout, which caused tremendous pain in his legs and feet. During one particularly painful attack of gout, Franklin wrote a dialogue between himself and the gout. Even though he was seventy-four and in pain, he still found humor in the situation.

Franklin's best-remembered and most popular humor was found in the pages of Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin first published it in December of 1732 and continued with one edition per year for the next 26 years. Many of the witty, clever sayings associated with Franklin come from the pages of Poor Richard's Almanack. Although many people think that Franklin wrote all the sayings, many of them were taken from other sources and reworked in his typically American style.
"Fish and visitors smell after three days."
"Beware of the young Doctor & the old Barber."
"God works wonders now & then; Behold! a Lawyer, an honest Man!"
"A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one."
Franklin freely shared his wisdom and sense of humor. As David Morgan says, "I think Franklin just had a great time writing." And we are the lucky recipients.


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