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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Coffee with Mark Twain

How would you describe yourself as a writer?  Are you a humorist?

No, I'm not a humorist - though i often use humor - but a satirist, a moralist, and a teacher. A key characteristic of the human species is its inability to learn, so the attempt to teach has its strict limits. Keep in mind that clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society. That's a humorous comment, isn't it? But it's also satirical and moralistic. It tries to influence people not to be naked, by which i mean you've got to wear clothes of some kind or other because naked anything, especially the naked truth, isn't acceptable. But it's nakedness - frankness, honesty, sincerity - that should be respected. Our society, though, isn't comfortable with that. People don't want to see or hear or read nakedness. So humor helps a writer disguise and make more palatable what he wants to say. Of course, if it's nothing but humor, it stops there.

Didn't you get some advantage from being labeled a humorist?

For a good part of my career, especially until the 1890s, readers labeled me as a humorist, by which they meant i was funny and mostly harmless. My wife resented that i was being classified as a lightweight - that's what being a humorist meant. Still, it was humor that often brought in the audiences, and when they stayed they got plenty more than humor. They got some truths about the human condition. I always kept in mind as a writer and human being that to be good is noble, but to show others how to be good is nobler, and no trouble.

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