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Comedic Tenor, Comic Vehicle:

Humor in American Film Comedy









Acknowledging all the people who have contributed to the present volume is daunting almost beyond undertaking.  And it is certain that no matter how hard I try, there will be many who should have been acknowledged and weren’t.  So let me begin by thanking all those who I hereafter will inadvertently leave out.  The fault is mine.  The debt to you is very real.


That said, in a work that could not have been written without extensive empirical research, let me begin by thanking all those who have participated in our humor experiments.  Notably, better than 2,000 thanks are owed to participants in the Humor Quotient Test (HQT). Equally, thanks should be expressed to the hundreds of participants who have responded to the Langer-Bergson Vitalist Humor Test (LBVHT). The Institute for Travesty, Comedy, and Humor Studies (ITCHS) considers you all as coworkers in all the amazing discoveries these tests have revealed about the discriminating work of humor in our lives.


Similarly, Robin and I wish to thank all the participants in the Legislative Simulation (LS), both in the United States and in Japan, with special mention of David Everding’s key role in progressing that research on an international level. 


Necessarily, such thanks must also extend to cooperating institutions.  First and foremost, thanks to Winona State University, its English Department and College of Liberal Arts, and its faculty and Winona State University Faculty Association in general, especially for their key participation in the Critical Thinking Inventory (CTI).  Thanks also to Augsburg College for allowing us to present our seminar on legislative involvement and the use therein of the Legislative Simulation.  And many thanks to the Bush Foundation for their grants through the Minnesota State University System (MSUS) and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU)  for the Critical Thinking Inventory.  Thanks are also due MnSCU and earlier MSUS for their support of extensive involvement in international humor scholarship and for funding of the film course, Comedy.  In thanking the Bush Foundation for its support, it is essential to equally thank the many local donors who made the CTI a community event with their in-kind gifts and cooperation.  Certainly I am forgetting some here, but our personal thanks to Wincraft,  to Hardee’s, to Burger King, to the Winona State Athletic Department,  to Winona State IT and its wonderful help in computing and SAS application, to the Winona State Bookstore. 


It goes without saying that I am personally indebted both to English Department scheduling and to ever-talented students who made teaching Shakespeare such a delight over three decades, Literary Criticism such a delight for almost as long, American Film Comedy for a decade, and Jane Austen Seminar for one glorious if  brief semester. I have always felt that being allowed to teach so much American Literature—something like 20 course titles, including Introduction to Film—allowed me a very special understanding of American humor, a major blessing which I would be extremely remiss not to mention.



Our thanks to the MN-WI Boundary Area Commission for their involvement, enthusiasm, and backing, to Sturdiwheat (particularly Suzanne Blue), Redwing, and to the St. Paul District Army Corps of Engineers Lockmasters’ Convention in La Crosse, WI.  Similarly to Prof. Jim Eddy and his study group at Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Winona, to Mr. Roger Moulton, Rochester, NY, and to the Defiance, Ohio women’s study group.


Very special thanks to Robin’s and my relatives who consented to be guinea pigs for the prototype of the HQT and managed to prove a most important fact about humor appreciation—that we look to things we are interested in for our high humor appreciation—as a research group unto themselves.


The present volume does not do as much with Vitalist humor results as we hope to do with worlds enough and time elsewhere.  But preliminary thanks are owed to Central Lutheran Church, Winona, to the brothers in community at St. Mary’s University, to St. Stanislaus Parish, Winona, to Faith Evangelical Free Church and Pastor Gordon McGee in Woodruff, WI, and to Redeemer Lutheran Church, Winona for their kind cooperation in key studies with the LBVHT


We have been especially blessed as well by the cooperation of Winona Health, by the very special involvement of Chaplain Bill Flesch, by the work of Holli Wieser and Mary Miller-Hyland and by the participation of staff and residents at Lake Winona Manor and associated residences.  Our understanding of how life changes humor are immeasurably indebted to these and to Elizabeth Jaeckle and Linda Brosi, Defiance Ohio.


Thanks are also due students at St. Olaf College for their research participation and to Elizabeth Grawe’s activity there.  Special thanks as well to the Alumni Society of Carleton College and particularly to the Class of ’66 and the five-year classes meeting in reunion with them for their very special research participation and results.  Thanks to

Northland College, Midland, MI, to the Creativity Institute there, and to all the 1998 seminar participants in the LBVHT.  Thanks are also due to all those who made HQN, the Humor Quotient Newsletter, a success.  Overlapping thanks to those who have worked in associated research on other campuses: to Dr. Dan Holt and Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt of Holy Family College and Pennsylvania State-Harrisburg, to Elizabeth Grawe at St. Olaf College for her work in Don Quixote, to Dr. Nathan Grawe and his economic education research at Carleton College, to Christopher Puhl, Mark Domeier, and David Everding for their pioneering humor research at Winona State and at Minnesota State University-Akita, Japan.


For almost two decades, we have been blessed with the help and inspiration of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS).  Every member has been important to our work, but we would be more than remiss not to mention Drs. Don and Alleen Nilsen for their repeated encouragement, along with Drs. Mary Ann Rishel,  Bill Frye,  Peter Derks,  Ofra Nevo,  Robert Priest,  Clyde Wade, John Batts, Willibald Ruch,  John Morreall,  Paul Lewis, Larry Mintz, Salvatore Attardo, Joyce Saltman, Kathy Hurley,  Jessica Miller-Davis,  Marlana  Opitz, and  Frank Rizza.


Thanks also deserve to go to all of those who made five Critical Thinking Conferences so successful at Winona State, and to Creighton University’s annual literature conferences which heard several of our early research reports.


The friendship, collegial work and encouragement of Vera Zubarev of the University of Pennsylvania is of constant and abiding value to us, as is the encouragement and mentorship of President Emeritus, then-Mankato State University, Margaret Preska.  Between the Holts, Vera, and Margaret, we obviously owe a debt of gratitude to the State of Pennsylvania for the unusually gifted and personable people it has nourished to enter our lives.


MSUS Presidents have also played a large role in our lives and work.  For their mentorship, advice, and tolerance of our work, we particularly want to mention WSU Presidents Robert DuFresne, Thomas Stark, and Darrell Krueger.  With them, our special thanks to WSU Academic Vice President and later President of Southwest Minnesota State University, Doug Sweetland, for his personal friendship and practical encouragement of our work in difficult times.  Also special thanks to Deans Richard Coughlin, Peter Henderson, and Joe Gow for their direction and encouragement.


Professor of Art Judy Schlawin has been both a great friend and designer of our ITCHS logo.  And a special thank you to the Winona State University Foundation on which she has so faithfully served for its repeated support for our work.


These large-group thanks often conceal rather than reveal our indebtedness to individuals.

We thank most particularly Dr. Brian Aldrich of WSU’s Sociology Department for his leadership in the Critical Thinking Inventory. Dr. Linda Seppanen for her leadership in humor health studies (and with her the Nursing Department and the Cardio-Vascular Health Club), Dr. Larry Reuter of WSU’s Biology Department, especially for invaluable advice in statistics, to technical services at WSU particularly in John Stafford and Kathi Gudmanson.


John and Kathi remind me how technical support has always been essential to our work.  We thank WSU Audio-Visual Services and all their later successors for their help from the filming of Comedy on.  For the ITCHS.org site, we owe special thanks to Vision Design, Winona, for its kindness, HBCI for its patience, Richard Harding for his friendship as we move forward in a brave new cyberspace world.  Thanks also to Carleton College’s technical support and alumni support, most recently Luke Hasskamp, Merilyn Calcutt,  Jaye Lawrence, and Naja Shabazz.   And of course, thanks to all those at Nelson-Hall, Chicago, for their work on Comedy in Space, Time, and the Imagination.


Carol Borzykowski of Winona Public Library deserves special credit for design of the humor-color experiment.  To Dr. Jim Eddy of WSU’s Political Science Department for his loyal friendship, advice, and practical help in all these endeavors. To State Representative Mac McCauley of WSU’s Physics Department and his wife Margaret for their unremitting effort and encouragement.


Robin and I are continually mindful of the profound effects of great teachers on us.  Here especially, any listing of particular thanks is more than inadequate.  But for those especially in the study of literature that have guided us, we must mention at least F. Courtland R. Gilmore and Richard Dolezal of Latin School of Chicago, Drs. Owen Jenkins, George Soule, Jack Woodruff, and Wayne Carver of Carleton College,  Drs. Moody Prior, Gerald Graff, Douglas Cole, Wally Douglas, Samuel Schoenbaum, and Walter B. Scott of Northwestern University,  Drs. David Robinson and James Nichols of Winona State University.   We are at a loss for words to express our thanks to the Religion and English Departments of Carleton College, the English and Theater Departments of Northwestern University, the English Department of Winona State, and the Linguistics Department of the University of Minnesota.


That of course leads to those who have taught mainly at a distance and through their books. Here the list seems infinite, so I will mention again, as representatives for all, major figures mentioned in this book, Profs. Nelvin Vos, Nathan Scott, Jr, Suzanne Langer, Henri Bergson, Harold Watts, Northrop Frye.


Finally, our profound thanks go to our families and to our family. All of our kids and daughters-in law—Charles, Nathan, Elizabeth, Sharon, Tanya, and Heather—have done yeoman service in putting up with us, listening to our ideas, testing them formally and informally among their peers and in some cases among their students, and notably licking envelopes for conferences and grinding out sheets of statistics. We have already mentioned the specific help of our extended family as guinea pigs, but that is the merest surface of their support and love.


Which brings us finally to our most profound thanks to both our sets of parents, to Henry and Mildred Grawe whose life became something of a model of the somber comedy we have always studied and to Dr. Charles and Elizabeth Jaeckle. It is with greatest pleasure that we dedicate the present work to Robin’s parents, Charles and Elizabeth Jaeckle, and to mine, Henry and Mildred Grawe.


With J. S. Bach, and so many others, we are happy to sign this acknowledgement.


Paul H. Grawe

Thanksgiving Day, 2008

Winona, MN





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