BOOK REVIEW: Yaffe’s New Humor Book Takes Light-hearted Look at the Irresistible Appeal of One-line Jokes

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
 BOOK REVIEW: Yaffe's New Humor Book Takes Light-hearted Look at the Irresistible Appeal of One-line Jokes
I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor. After all, my favorite Woody Allen movies are the early, funny ones. Seriously, Philip A. Yaffe has written a book that should help you answer the question about what constitutes humor, “One-Line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane” (Amazon Kindle edition, free wireless delivery, about 308 pages, $7.70).
Looking at experts in quick draw humor — Bob Hope, Rita Rudner, Rodney Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Woody Allen and Jack Benny to name just six — Yaffe explores what makes jokes funny. Reprinting hundreds of one-liners,  he notes that just as “music is said to be the universal language. The same could be said of humor. Just as people the world over like to listen to and play music, so they like to listen to and tell funny stories.”

“As with music, people have different tastes; some like certain kinds of humor and not others. However, whatever their tastes, almost everyone seems to appreciate one-liners . . . but are disinclined to pass them on,” says  Yaffe. I’ve reviewed many ebooks by Brussels, Belgium based American writer Yaffe, and I found “One-line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane” to be up to his usual high standards.

One-liners, he says, are pithy humorous observations told a single sentence or perhaps two at the most. At their best, they are a distillation of everything humor is all about, wrapped up in an extremely small package. But if one-liners are such a highly prized form of humor to listen to, why are we so reluctant to tell them to others?

“I believe this is because a single one-liner is like an orphan. It is only when they come together fast and furious that one-liners reach the apogee of comedic perfection,”  Yaffe says.

“By contrast, telling a single one-liner, no matter how inherently funny it may be, doesn’t benefit from this propitious comedic environment. A single one-liner must stand or fall totally on its own, which is why so often it does fall. Thus, while most people admire the one-liner as the acme of humor, they themselves prefer to tell longer jokes because a longer joke helps create the comedic atmosphere and expectation for laughter that a single one-liner cannot.”

A second reason one-liners told singly often fail is that being so condensed, they assume considerable knowledge on the part of the listener. “With a longer joke, you can set the scene to be certain that the listener will understand the context of the joke. However, with a one-liner, either he immediately understands — or he doesn’t.”

In short, whether or not a one-liner succeeds or fails depends as much, and perhaps more, on the listener than on the teller.

Yaffe’s book  celebrates the one-liner as a particularly well-regarded form of humor rather than to launch a scholarly investigation into the philosophy, psychology, and mechanics of the one-liner. For the most part, it highlights some of the best practitioners of the craft along with some of their funniest lines, e.g. Woody Allen, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Will Rogers, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, etc

In order to fully appreciate their exceptional appeal, it is useful to understand what underlies them. Therefore, the book also includes a brief discussion of the theory and practice of humor, and specifically the theory and practice of the one-liner. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the book is devoted to displaying and enjoying one-liners themselves.

“So prepare yourself to smile, titter, and even laugh out loud. While you are enjoying yourself, if you also learn something useful, so much the better,”  Yaffe concludes.

About the Author

Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)  with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.

He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.

Books by This Author

•       The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional

•       The Gettysburg Collection:
A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional

•       Actual English: English grammar as native speakers really use it

•       Gentle French: French grammar as native speakers really use it

•       What’d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous?
Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French

•       Belief, Disbelief, Unbelief: A Thousand Thoughts before You Die

•       Extraordinary Ordinary Things: How Did We Ever Live without Them?

•       One-line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane

•       The Little Book of BIG Mistakes

•       The Eighth Decade: Reflections on a Life

Books in “Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists” Series

(at August 2013)

•       Astronomy & Cosmology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists
•       Human Biology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists

Books in “The Essential Ten Percent” Series

(at August 2013)

•       College-level Writing: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Human Psychology: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Logical Thinking: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Public Speaking: The Essential Ten Percent
•       The Essential Ten Percent Omnibus: Logical Thinking, College-level Writing, Public Speaking
•       The Human Body: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Wise Humor: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Word for Windows: The Essential Ten Percent


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