Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorkerby David Remnick
When Harold Ross founded The New Yorker in 1925, he described it as a “comic weekly.” And although it has become much more than that, it has remained true in its irreverent heart to the founder’s description, publishing the most illustrious literary humorists of the modern era—among them Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, George S. Kaufman, James Thurber, S. J. Perelman, Peter De Vries, Mike Nichols, Marshall Brickman, Woody Allen, Donald Barthelme, Calvin Trillin, George W. S. Trow, Veronica Geng, Garrison Keillor, Ian Frazier, Roy Blount, Jr., Bruce McCall, Steve Martin, Christopher Buckley, and Paul Rudnick.
This anthology gathers together, for the first time, the funniest work of more than seventy New Yorker contributors. Parodists take on not only writers like Hemingway and Kerouac, but TV documentaries, Italian cinema, and etiquette books. (Enough have been published, Robert Benchley maintains, “that there should be no danger of toppling over forward into the wrong soup, or getting into arguments as to which elbow belongs on which arm.”) Other pieces offer perspectives on the heights of fame, the depths of social embarrassment, and the ups and downs of love and sex. Such well-loved sketches as Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” take their place alongside light-hearted essays on food, tennis, and taxis, and flights of fancy that follow an apparently simple premise to the point of no return, and sometimes well beyond. Here you will find large insights (Woody Allen: “Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage”) and hard-earned wisdom (Ian Frazier on dating your mom: “Here is a grown, experienced, loving woman—one you do not have to go to a party or a singles bar to meet, one you do not have to go to great lengths to know”). And, not least, a great deal of helpful advice, including Steve Martin’s on memory and middle age: “Bored? Here’s a way the over-fifty set can easily kill a good half hour: 1. Place your car keys in your right hand. 2. With your left hand, call a friend and confirm a lunch or dinner date. 3. Hang up the phone. 4. Now look for your car keys.”
A rich selection of humorous verse includes caustic gems by Dorothy Parker, the effortless whimsy of Phyllis McGinley, and Ogden Nash’s unforgettable slapstick prosody, as well as forays by luminaries who ought to have known better, like Robert Graves, Elizabeth Bishop, and W. H. Auden.
A wonderful gift for others, or a delightful treat for oneself, Fierce Pajamas is a treasury of laughter from a publication described by Auden as “the best comic magazine in existence.”
“Classic humor writing from a fantasy slumber party of writers.” —Vanity Fair
“Quite simply among the greatest stuff like this ever written . . . There is comic brilliance in these pages. . . . [Fierce Pajamas] is more than worth your time, your money and the potential damage to your funny bone.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The New Yorker’s fine anthology of humor writing can inspire us to collectively bemoan the scarcity of a certain kind of printed comedy: the subtle and sophisticated type." —Newsday
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Read an Excerpt
DEATH IN THE RUMBLE SEAT WITH THE USUAL APOLOGIES TO ERNEST HEMINGWAY,
WHO MUST BE PRETTY SICK OF THIS SORT OF THING
Most people don’t like the pedestrian part, and it is best not to look at that if you can help it. But if you can’t help seeing them, long-legged and their faces white, and then the shock and the car lifting up a little on one side, then it is best to think of it as something very unimportant but beautiful and necessary artistically. It is unimportant because the people who are pedestrians are not very important, and if they were not being cogido by automobiles it would just be something else. And it is beautiful and necessary because, without the possibility of somebody getting cogido, driving a car would be just like anything else. It would be like reading “Thanatopsis,” which is neither beautiful nor necessary, but hogwash. If you drive a car, and don’t like the pedestrian part, then you are one of two kinds of people. Either you haven’t very much vitality and you ought to do something about it, or else you are yellow and there is nothing to be done about it at all.
If you don’t know anything about driving cars you are apt to think a driver is good just because he goes fast. This may be very exciting at first, but afterwards there is a bad taste in the mouth and the feeling of dishonesty. Ann Bender, the American, drove as fast on the Merrick Road as anybody I have ever seen, but when cars came the other way she always worked out of their terrain and over in the ditch so that you never had the hard, clean feeling of danger, but only bumping up and down in the ditch, and sometimes hitting your head on the top of the car. Good drivers go fast too, but it is always down the middle of the road, so that cars coming the other way are dominated, and have to go in the ditch themselves. There are a great many ways of getting the effect of danger, such as staying in the middle of the road till the last minute and then swerving out of the pure line, but they are all tricks, and afterwards you know they were tricks, and there is nothing left but disgust.
The cook: I am a little tired of cars, sir. Do you know any stories?
I know a great many stories, but I’m not sure that they’re suitable.
The cook: The hell with that.
Then I will tell you the story about God and Adam and naming the animals. You see, God was very tired after he got through making the world. He felt good about it, but he was tired so he asked Adam if he’d mind thinking up names for the animals.
“What animals?” Adam said.
“Those,” God said.
“Do they have to have names?” Adam said.
“You’ve got a name, haven’t you?” God said.
I could see–
The cook: How do you get into this?
Some people always write in the first person, and if you do it’s very hard to write any other way, even when it doesn’t altogether fit into the context. If you want to hear this story, don’t keep interrupting.
The cook: O.K.
I could see that Adam thought God was crazy, but he didn’t say anything. He went over to where the animals were, and after a while he came back with the list of names.
“Here you are,” he said.
God read the list, and nodded.
“They’re pretty good,” he said. “They’re all pretty good except that last one.”
“That’s a good name,” Adam said. “What’s the matter with it?”
“What do you want to call it an elephant for?,” God said.
Adam looked at God.
“It looks like an elephant to me,” he said.
The cook: Well?
The cook: It is a very strange story, sir.
It is a strange world, and if a man and a woman love each other, that is strange too, and what is more, it always turns out badly.
In the golden age of car-driving, which was about 1910, the sense of impending disaster, which is a very lovely thing and almost nonexistent, was kept alive in a number of ways. For one thing, there was always real glass in the windshield so that if a driver hit anything, he was very definitely and beautifully cogido. The tires weren’t much good either, and often they’d blow out before you’d gone ten miles. Really, the whole car was built that way. It was made not only so that it would precipitate accidents but so that when the accidents came it was honestly vulnerable, and it would fall apart, killing all the people with a passion that was very fine to watch. Then they began building the cars so that they would go much faster, but the glass and the tires were all made so that if anything happened it wasn’t real danger, but only the false sense of it. You could do all kinds of things with the new cars, but it was no good because it was all planned in advance. Mickey Finn, the German, always worked very far into the other car’s terrain so that the two cars always seemed to be one. Driving that way he often got the faender, or the clicking when two cars touch each other in passing, but because you knew that nothing was really at stake it was just an empty classicism, without any value because the insecurity was all gone and there was nothing left but a kind of mechanical agility. It is the same way when any art gets into its decadence. It is the same way about s-x–
The cook: I like it very much better when you talk about s-x, sir, and I wish you would do it more often.
I have talked a lot about s-x before, and now I thought I would talk about something else.
The cook: I think that is very unfortunate, sir, because you are at your best with s-x, but when you talk about automobiles you are just a nuisance.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
DAVID REMNICK is the editor of The New Yorker. He is the author of several books, including King of the World and Lenin's Tomb, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.
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This book is a perfect gift for all fans of The New Yorker! If you are like me, The New Yorker¿s cartoons draw your attention first. Then, you¿ll look for quips in verse. You¿ll scan your favorite features. Next, you¿ll scan the table of contents for your favorite writers. Finally, you will read articles on subjects of interest. In all cases, you can expect to be surprised with wit . . . even in the midst of ¿serious¿ articles on ¿serious¿ subjects. Unless you have read every issue of The New Yorker over the past 75 plus years, undoubtedly you¿ve missed some wonderful humor in the form of prose and poetry. This anthology lets you quickly access the works that have ¿stood the test of time¿ to still produce a laugh now for both editor, David Remnick, and editorial director, Henry Finder. Over 70 contributors are represented, many by more than one piece. You are cautioned that ¿humor is often diluted by concentration¿ so that you should sample this collection over time in small doses, like medicine. The works are loosely organized into Spoofs, the Frenzy of Renown, the War between Men and Women, the Writing Life, a Funny Thing Happened, Words of Advice, Recollections and Reflections, and Verse. The works vary a lot in how quickly they will reach your funny bone. Some will release many laughs, while others are basically one joke that will raise not too much more than a smile. After you have finished all of the offerings to the altar of humor, you may wish to create your own index of which works match best with which moods and times when you read. I usually prefer compact works suffused with quick humor. Here are my favorites in the collection: E.B. White, ¿Duck in Fierce Pajamas¿ which begins with ¿Ravaged by pink eye, I lay for a week scarce caring whether I lived or died.¿ and ¿Critic¿ Marshall Brickman, ¿The Analytic Napkin¿ Ian Frazier, ¿LGA - ORD¿ which begins with ¿Grey bleak final afternoon ladies and gentlemen . . . .¿ Groucho Marx, ¿Press Agents I Have Known¿ Chet Williamson, ¿Gandhi at the Bat¿ F. Scott Fitzgerald, ¿A Short Autobiography¿ Frank Sullivan, ¿The Cliché Expert Takes the Stand¿ and ¿The Cliché Expert Tells All¿ Ruth Suckow, ¿How to Achieve Success as a Writer¿ Michael J. Arlen, ¿Are We Losing the Novel Race?¿ Woody Allen, ¿Selections from the Allen Notebooks¿ Peter De Vries, ¿The High Ground, or Look, Ma, I¿m Explicating¿ Robert Benchley, ¿Why We Laugh -- Or Do We?¿ Steve Martin, ¿Changes in the Memory after Fifty¿ Clarence Day, ¿Father Isn¿t Much Help¿ S.J. Perelman, ¿Cloudland Revisited¿ Martin Amis, ¿Tennis Personalities¿ John Updike, ¿Car Talk¿ Dorothy Parker, ¿Rhyme of an Involuntary Violet¿ Ogden Nash, ¿Procrastination Is All the Time¿ Robert Graves, ¿The Naked and the Nude¿ Communing with these wonderful writers will also encourage you to read more of their work, and the works of those they spoof. What could be finer? I hope that the editors consider producing a second volume that includes serious works which contain humorous asides and interludes. Look on the bright side of every ¿overly serious¿ subject. In that way, you can avoid the ¿deadly dullness¿ stall! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise