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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
"Siva Vaidhyanathan" <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 1 Sep 1994 12:56:48 -0600
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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>Dear Twainians:
>Until this week, I had a panel arranged for the American Humor Studies
>Association/American Literature Association conference in Cancun, Mexico,
>December 8-11, 1994.  The panel's title is "Twain's Children: Modern
>Humorists Descended from the Master."
>Now I find that one, possibly two, of my three panelists cannot attend.
>Therefore, I am issuing a general call for some response by August 30 for
>least one more paper for this session, possibly two.  A provocative title
>will be enough; a short (100-150 words) abstract would be even better.
>Please respond either through e-mail or by writing me at 3653 Maple Glen
>Lane, Charlotte, NC  28226-4834, or by calling me at
>Joe Alvarez

Dear Joe:

I called your machine this morning. I hope it is not too late to get this
idea into your program. Even if it is not, please get back to me about next
year's program. I just checked two weeks worth of e-mail yesterday, and
thought up the idea while trying to get to sleep last night.

Here's the idea:

                "Standup as Storyteller: Richard Pryor's Comic Style"

        Richard Pryor's standup routines throughout the 1970s and 1980s grew
from simple gags and put-ons into full-fledged stories. By the time he went
_Live on the Sunset Strip_, he had moved well beyond his generation of
comics. He had become a social satirist who shared much of Mark Twain's
style and techniques.
        Pryor's narrative voice, whether relating travels through Africa or
on-location movie shooting in an Arizona prison, resembled the bemused
lightness of _An Innocent Abroad_. Another, probably more significant
stylistic tool, is Pryor's use of voices in his storytelling. The laughs
Twain and his contemporaries generated by imitating black dialect were at
least equaled by Pryor's biting parodies of white speech.
        The similarities between the most influential white comic
storyteller of the 19th century and the most influential black oral artist
of the late 20th century go beyond the basic tools of the trade. The
parallels are further evidence that Twain had tapped into a rich comic
stream that African Americans enjoyed for centuries, and the majority
culture has only recently started to map and appreciate.

Thank you for considering this idea. Please let me know as soon as possible
if it fits your needs. Planning for such a trip so soon will take some


Siva Vaidhyanathan
University of Texas