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Newspaper and Magazine Humor

by The Editor Company   


Let us consider what humorous matter for publication is. Is it humor as is humor, or is it humor as is the kind of humor that the editor of a particular magazine wants? The bulk of humorous writing appears in the newspapers and has done so for years. Is it because newspaper readers know a good thing when they see it better than magazine readers do ? Is it because newspaper editors have a keener sense of the ludicrous than magazine editors have? Very likely it is neither the one nor the other. Readers and editors are all pretty much alike in their appreciation of humor, though they may have some individuality of taste, each having his favorite brand. But in the main principle of it-is-to-laugh, they average about the same. Why the newspaper is the funny writer's special field is because humor, as a rule, can not be edited and pruned and trimmed to suit the magazine editorial idea. It is not strictly "literature," and is not formulated by rule and measure. A writer of serious matter, unskilled in literary expression, may submit a story which has in it the real qualities of a story and the editor can, and often does, whip it into shape. But the humorous article is not that kind. It is either funny or it is not funny, and all the editors on earth can't make it funny if it isn't. Sometimes the nub of an article of a thousand words or more may be presented by the editor in a "stickful," but the humorous sketch, intended to be laughable in the general idea of, it, must contain the real stuff or go to the basket. 

Our greatest humorists made none of their reputation by their contributions to magazines, and the few articles they have contributed have not added to their fame. They have tried it, but the magazine restrictions have been too many for them. To be really funny a writer must be permitted to think as he pleases and express himself according to his own ideas of what written expression is. Mark Twain, who by reason of work and years, stood at the head of American humorists, became a magazine writer, but if his position had depended upon what he had written in that field, would he have been at the head? The best things he ever wrote, and they were good from start to finish, would give the average magazine editor a nameless horror if he were asked to publish them. This will seem strange, for the magazine readers read funny things and enjoy them, probably more keenly than any other class of readers, for they are the most intelligent of all readers, but the magazine editors elect not to permit them to read such things in their magazines.

The demand for humor continues, and the writer of it can get more for the service of his pen in that field than in any other if he can turn out the product the editor seeks. There is no rule by which the humorous writer may be guided. He can only produce the stuff and send it from one editor to another, even among the newspaper editors who are not so rigorous as the magazine editors. The editorial funny-bone must be touched or the thing will not prove worthy of acceptance. But editorial funny-bones differ largely.

Generally it is the long humorous story or sketch that has anything but a funny time in reaching the public. The writer who can produce the small bits of prose and verse, especially the funny anecdotes, will not have much difficulty in disposing of all he can supply. They come in handy as "fillers" and they are always popular with exchange editors who need short things, and thus advertise the paper of original production. If the writer can produce that mild form of humor which glows gently and tingles tenderly, as it were, with no shock of laughter nor incitement to hilarious demonstration on the part of the reader —and there are such, mostly women, whose work is admirable —he may hope to get into some one or other of the magazines. There is no telling which one, or how many rejections he must undergo until the article is sufficiently seasoned, but when it does go, he is amply rewarded financially and is pretty sure of keeping on the acceptable side of the editor.

It is a pleasure to know that humor, as a rule, is not a magazine product, because we must have some individuality in writing, whether we do in literature or not, and in some respects, our magazine literature of to-day is too much editor and not enough writer. The writer makes the magazine, for without him it could not exist, but he doesn't make it out of his own

individuality. He has the talent and the editor has the shaping of it. The writer is lost in his magazine. It would be quite different if the humorists were admitted, because, whatever else might happen, no reader would get "Mr. Dooley's" stuff mixed with George Ade's, nor would he ever mistake an "Eli Perkins" production for a Tom Lawson frenzy. The individuality of writers will be preserved among the humorists and from them it will in time get back to the others.