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Ben Schwartz
Unaffiliated independent scholar
The Lost Laugh: American Comedy Between the World Wars

Research and writing of a book on the development of American humor between the two World Wars.

The Lost Laugh is a lively narrative history of American humor set between the two World Wars. It tells the untold story of how the Modernist movement of the 1920s and 1930s, which swept through our literature, theater, music, and art, swept through our humor, shaking it loose from its 19th Century tradition of satire about rugged, simple, rural men in morally affirming stories. As America grew more urban, immigrants, women, and African-Americans broadened and complicated that tradition. Using interweaving biographical story lines, I paint a picture of this era via the careers of satirists Dawn Powell, Jack Benny, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Bob Hope, Gracie Allen, The Marx Brothers, Louis Armstrong, George S. Kaufman, Howard Hawks, and James Thurber, among others. In a wide array of media, they created urban, self-interested, amoral characters in non-narrative (often self-reflexive) modes, to arrive at much more ambivalent conclusions about American life.

Project fields:
Film History and Criticism; History, Criticism, and Theory of the Arts; Theater History and Criticism

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2017 – 8/31/2018