In this lively and fascinating analysis of humorists and their work, Will Kaufman breaks new ground with his irony fatigue theory. The Comedian as Confidence Man examines the humorist's internal conflict between the social critic who demands to be taken seriously and the comedian who never can be: the irony fatigue condition. Concentrating on eight American literary and performing comedians from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, this study explores the irony fatigue affect that seems to pervade the work of comedians—those particular social observers who are obliged to promise, "Only kidding, folks," even when they may not be; in G. B. Shaw's words, they must "put things in such a way as to make people who would otherwise hang them believe they are joking."
If these social observers are obliged to become, in effect, confidence men, with irony as the satiric weapon that both attacks and diverts, then the implications are great for those social critics who above all wish to be heeded.
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