Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker
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When Harold Ross founded The New Yorker in 1925, he described it as a “comic weekly.” And although it has become much more than that, it has remained true in its irreverent heart to the founder’s description, publishing the most illustrious literary humorists of the modern era—among them Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, George S. Kaufman, James Thurber, S. J. Perelman, Peter De Vries, Mike Nichols, Marshall Brickman, Woody Allen, Donald Barthelme, Calvin Trillin, George W. S. Trow, Veronica Geng, Garrison Keillor, Ian Frazier, Roy Blount, Jr., Bruce McCall, Steve Martin, Christopher Buckley, and Paul Rudnick.
This anthology gathers together, for the first time, the funniest work of more than seventy New Yorker contributors. Parodists take on not only writers like Hemingway and Kerouac, but TV documentaries, Italian cinema, and etiquette books. (Enough have been published, Robert Benchley maintains, “that there should be no danger of toppling over forward into the wrong soup, or getting into arguments as to which elbow belongs on which arm.”) Other pieces offer perspectives on the heights of fame, the depths of social embarrassment, and the ups and downs of love and sex. Such well-loved sketches as Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” take their place alongside light-hearted essays on food, tennis, and taxis, and flights of fancy that follow an apparently simple premise to the point of no return, and sometimes well beyond. Here you will find large insights (Woody Allen: “Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage”) and hard-earned wisdom (Ian Frazier on dating your mom: “Here is a grown, experienced, loving woman—one you do not have to go to a party or a singles bar to meet, one you do not have to go to great lengths to know”). And, not least, a great deal of helpful advice, including Steve Martin’s on memory and middle age: “Bored? Here’s a way the over-fifty set can easily kill a good half hour: 1. Place your car keys in your right hand. 2. With your left hand, call a friend and confirm a lunch or dinner date. 3. Hang up the phone. 4. Now look for your car keys.”
A rich selection of humorous verse includes caustic gems by Dorothy Parker, the effortless whimsy of Phyllis McGinley, and Ogden Nash’s unforgettable slapstick prosody, as well as forays by luminaries who ought to have known better, like Robert Graves, Elizabeth Bishop, and W. H. Auden.
A wonderful gift for others, or a delightful treat for oneself, Fierce Pajamas is a treasury of laughter from a publication described by Auden as “the best comic magazine in existence.”
one, requiring a lengthy vacation at the seashore, daily exercise, warm milk on retiring, and eventually a visit to the family psychiatrist. The head-candler listened to my story (“Rot-cod . . .” I began), then wrote out a prescription for a mild sedative (I murmured, “slip pils”) and swore me to total palindromic abstinence. He told me to avoid Tums, Serutan, and men named Otto. “Only right thinking can save you,” he said severely. “Or rather, left-to-right thinking.” I tried, I really tried.
wife,” but that he was inhibited. (Some of these jokes even I can’t seem to get through my head.)*6 1937 S. J. PERELMAN INSERT FLAP “A” AND THROW AWAY ONE stifling summer afternoon last August, in the attic of a tiny stone house in Pennsylvania, I made a most interesting discovery: the shortest, cheapest method of inducing a nervous breakdown ever perfected. In this technique (eventually adopted by the psychology department of Duke University, which will adopt anything), the subject is
they would give them boxed sets at Christmas. To have something in a boxed set (the symphonies of Beethoven; the motets of Schütz; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion) was to possess it—to have turned the waves of musical history into an object as solid as a doorstop. Not that the musical fathers were musical snobs. They loved Jimmy Durante singing “Inka Dinka Doo,” for instance, or the lyrics to the Peggy Lee hit “Mañana”: “Oh, the window she is broken, and the rain is coming in,” they would sing to
Always one to speak his mind, Stravinsky probably began by telling Schoenberg that his dodecaphonic methods of musical composition were a lot of hooey. Very likely, Schoenberg would have bristled at this, and may well have reminded Stravinsky that great art, like the Master’s own “Sacre,” need not be immediately accessible. Stravinsky then probably made a smart remark comparing Schoenberg’s methods to the methods of a troop of monkeys with a xylophone and some hammers. This probably made
have it. Baudelaire, the self-styled king of the symbolist poets. Nothing if not controversial. Thank you for coming. Gracias. VIRGINIA. Yo, Virginia—wake up. I have something I want to tell you. I was just over to look at the poster they got of me. And you know what? They got the wrong tie. That’s right. They got me wearing a club tie instead of this little one that I always tie funny. I just want to say a couple of things. One, a lotta people probably think it was kinda weird for me to get