This collection o fessays, by a group of authors noted for their substantial contributions to the field of Australian literary studies, provides a valuable and entertaining account of Australian humour, embracing examples from the early nineteenth century to contemporary TV situation comedy. The emphasis is mainly on literary humour, with essays loosely grouped under the headings, "Australian Classic Humour", "Humour and Culture", "Humour in Australian Fiction", "Parody" and "Performance". Definitions are a primary problem for anyone choosing to write about the subject. Why is something funny and how can one determine a particular brand of humour is characteristically Australian, since almost any local joke has a variant in the humour compendium of at least one other country? Fran de Groen and Peter Kirkpatrick acknowledge the problem in their Introduction, claiming their collection aims primarily "to stimulate discussion and offer a variety of approaches to the rich and variegated terrain of Australian humour". Nevertheless, a reading of Serious Frolic indicates how certain comic texts have become important reference points in the national culture - Henry Lawson's "The Loaded Dog", Lenny Lower's Here's Luck and the Smith's Weekly cartoon by Stan Cross, "For gorsake stop laughing- this is serious". It is not yet entirely apparent whether more recent comic texts or characters have achieved comparable iconic status, although Barry Humphries (on whom Ann Pender contributes an essay) must come close with his creations, Edna Everage and Sandy Stone.
Review of Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour, edited by Fran de Groen and Peter Kirkpatrick
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