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Parker on Humor, Wit, and Satire


Humor to me, Heaven help me, takes in many things. There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind. There must be a magnificent disregard of your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it. There must be some lagniappe in the fact that the humorist has read something written before 1918.

From Dorothy Parker. Introduction. The Most of S. J. Perelman, by S. J. Perelman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958, xi-xiv.

 I don't want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel guilty. I've never read a good tough quotable female humorist, and I never was one myself. I couldn't do it. A "smartcracker" they called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There's a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn't mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me -- and then they got the shaggy dogs. . . . .

[But] ah, satire. That's another matter. They're the big boys. If I'd been called a satirist there'd be no living with me. But by satirist I mean those boys in the other centuries. The people we call satirists now are those who make cracks at topical topics and consider themselves satirists -- creatures like George S. Kaufman and such who don't even know what satire is. Lord knows, a writer should know his times, but not show them in wisecracks. Their stuff is not satire; it's as dull as yesterday's newspaper. Successful satire has got to be pretty good the day after tomorrow.

From Dorothy Parker, interview with Marion Capron, in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. Ed. Malcolm Cowley. New York: Viking, 1958, 69-82.

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