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[Detail] Woody Guthrie

Humor

In his letter about songwriting, Guthrie also provides insight into the art of humor. Read the letter and identify the main points that Guthrie makes about how to create humor in writing or storytelling.

"You hadn't ought to try to be too funny because if you just tell folks the truth they'll laugh at every other word. The best of all funny songs have got a mighty sincere backbone. There are the old deathbed and graveyard and parted lover songs that I sing more than any others when I need to cheer myself up, and there is something very funny about almost everything that happens if you do a good job of a telling just exactly what took place like in the song why do you Stand There in The Rain? Or about Pretty Boy Floyd or the little Boll Weevil. People that laugh at songs laugh because it made them think of something and they want you to leave a good bit up to their guesswork and imagination and it takes on a friendly and warm atmosphere like you was thanking them for being good listeners and giving them credit for being able to guess the biggest part of the meaning. Lots of songs I make up when Im laughing and celebrating make folks cry and songs I make up when Im feeling down and out makes people laugh. These two upside down feelings has got to be in any song to make it take a hold and last."

From Letter from Woody Guthrie to Alan Lomax, September 19, 1940 (page 2).

Browse Guthrie's writings for examples of humor such as his letter to the Archive of American Folk Song or his recollections of election day in Oklahoma in his letter called Vote for Bloat:

"You talk about elections man I seen years go by down there in Oklahoma and you talk about fights I seen years go by down there in Okfuskee County when none of us knew for six or eight months just who was elected sheriff or judge because nobody was well enough to count the votes. Some years they wasn't enough votes to count. Other years they counted them three times and all of these things caused fist and gang fights. We tried not to hurt the women. Everybody liked kids down there but a few days before election and several days after we didnt, well us kids just naturally had to keep off of the streets because of the fist fights and gang fights and teams running away with wagons and turning over chicken coops and running through everything and women out chasing from one end of town to the other getting their men folks up off of the streets or out from under some building. It was wild down in there along them rivers and we had plenty of skunk and bob cat and panther but you was a devil of a lot safer out along the river bottoms than you was in town of a election week."

From Vote for Bloat (page 3).

Identify passages that illustrate the points Guthrie made about how to create humor. What other techniques does he use to create humor that he didn't outline in his letter on songwriting? Practice reading one of these letters out loud to create the most humorous effect.