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Laughing to Keep From Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century, by Danielle Fuentes Morgan

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is an academic work, with all the analysis that implies; it is not itself a work of humor. That analysis, however, is well worth the price of admission for anyone who cares about satire, about 21st century African-American culture, and I think in fact for American culture in general. Morgan is magisterially far-reaching when it comes to satirical lenses of the 21st century. She has no apparent genre bias but sees the potential for satire in any and all genres.

She also sees its potentials for failure. The section on failed attempts at satire and why they missed their mark is fascinating, and by itself it would have been enough to make the whole book worthwhile. While this is academic analysis, she is entirely ready to include “this wasn’t particularly funny, no one was laughing, and for good reason” in failure modes of satire. She’s not doing a comedy turn herself, but she never loses sight of what she’s actually analyzing–and I felt inspired at several places to look for the more successful attempts she describes, to experience or re-experience them.

Morgan gives the reader a solid grounding in pre-21st century works in this genre, quickly and concisely but in a way that made me miss Richard Pryor, which seems like exactly what ought to happen with a work like this. I enjoyed this book a lot, and it also made me enjoy some things more deeply–not required of criticism, but excellent when it can happen.

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