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Mark Twain
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The Trouble Starts At Eight 1865-1866
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Later Career as a Lecturer

“There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story babbles gently along; the others burst...

The humorous story’s told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the “nub” of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.”—Mark Twain, “How to Tell a Story,” 1895

Illustration from The Innocents Abroad
Illustration from
The Innocents Abroad
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Ron Powers, “Sammy’s Long Talk”

The American Humorists: Petroleum V. Nasby, Mark Twain, and Josh Billings
The American Humorists: Petroleum V. Nasby,
Mark Twain, and Josh Billings
Courtesy of The Mark Twain House, Hartford
Boston Speaking Engagements
Boston Speaking Engagements
Courtesy of The Mark Twain Project, Bancroft Library, Berkeley

I don't know anything bout this man. At least I know only two things; one is, he hasn't been in the penitentiary, and the other is I don't know why. Mark Twain, Autobiography, posthumous.