Sleight Of Mouth by Harry Allen

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 2005)

Sleight of Mouth

What's wrong with this book:

(1) A list of contributors in the front of the book, an obvious attempt to help deflect attacks for lack of crediting—the kinds of attacks that have been leveled at the author's previous pamphlets—serves poorly, if at all, as a defense. Had the names of those contributors been attached to specific entries, then perhaps we could judge the accuracy and ownership of their "contributions." Even presuming such ownership was accurate, this brief list does not seem to begin to account for the volume of work included here. The problem, in a word, is theft. Collecting and using jokes you like from random acts of performance is a focused act of piracy and is inexcusable; collecting and publishing them without explicit permission is indefensible. (A joke about using one's powers only for good—since stolen by countless magicians—was likely the creation of Emo Phillips. Suggesting that it's nice to have a nose large enough for birds to perch predates Jimmy Durante—try Edmond Rostand in 1897. But you get the idea.)

(2) Much of the material in these pages is in such bad taste it might as well have been written by Jack Kevorkian; using some of these lines in public might well serve as a practical and immediate course in suicide. For the lines that the audience won't kill you for, there are countless others that any user deserves instant vaporization for uttering, considering the wealth of insulting and offensive material included here. A performer would have to be working exclusively for idiots, and noxious ones at that, to find many of these lines appropriate; he'd have to be an idiot himself to utter them under all but the most egregious of conditions.

(3) Nobody who's interested in learning to be professionally funny will be able to do so with a book like this as a source. Being funny means creating original humor that suits your character and reflects your point of view, not plugging in someone else's material, whether good or bad, like selections from a Chinese menu. If you want to learn to actually be funny, try a serious book like How To Write & Sell Your Sense of Humor, by Gene Perret (1982, Writer's Digest Books).

(4) It's not funny.

What's right with this book:

(1) Unknown.

It's not the author's material. It's not your material. Don't do it. Don't buy it.

For further discussion of these and other related issues, I yield the floor to professional comedy star Paul Provenza. See my interview with Paul on the next page.

6" x 9" laminated hardcover; 186 pages; illustrated with lame clip art and seven even lamer photos proving the author has shaken hands with Henny Youngman, Danny Thomas, Pat Morita, Ed McMahon, Lucille Ball, Harry Anderson, and Pat Paulson (Pat Paulson?!?), and is desperately in need of a life; 1995 Published by L&L Publishing

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