LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

English Humour for Beginners


by George Mikes.

I truly wanted to like this book (which is why I paid £8.99 for a mere 146 pages), but by p.17 I was cringing: my discomfort started with the line, “I found myself with a group of about six or seven people and told them a joke about homosexuals.” The author explains how a passing homosexual objected to his joke, refers to the man’s anger as “a gimmick”, and seems confused about why anyone would object anyway.

I struggled on, trying to engage with the next chapter entitled “What is Humour?” which included the explanation “It’s no good trying to fathom why a black man looks funny … I know several people who went to Amin’s Uganda, which is full of black people, and failed to roar with laughter once” (p.22), and “This may be the funniest way of calling a woman a whore, but not, surely, the most economical” (p.23). Although I flicked ahead, scanning the text and illustrations for a more redeeming narrative, I only found more of the same, and – although I almost never fail to finish a book – I gave up soon after that.

I accept I have taken these quotes out of context, but even in what might be a necessarily uncomfortable study of homophobic, racist, and sexist humour (though I’m not convinced that’s what I reading), I found the author’s tone arrogant and his use of such examples hopelessly outdated.

Did not finish.


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