Bill Mares and Don Hooper put out a darned good book about Vermont humor. It’s called I Could Hardly Keep from Laughing. Even though I’ve grown up in Vermont—well, almost—I’ve always wondered what that is. Vermont humor, I mean. How would I know it if I met it walking down the street? I read eagerly and kept my eyes open for the answer.
The authors collected Vermont jokes and anecdotes by the truckload. I delighted in Hooper’s cartoon art, the bug-eyed but endearing folk of our Vermont hills. I could hardly keep from smiling at the humor of familiar Vermonters like Silent Cal, Francis Colburn, George Woodard, Al Boright, Fred Tuttle, and Rusty DeWees. Some of the Vermont humorists I met in these pages were new to me, and it tickled me to get acquainted with Robert C. Davis, David K. Smith, or Josie Leavitt.
Did Mares and Hooper entertain me and add to my understanding of Vermont humor? St. Peter on a pogo stick! You bet they did! Did they define Vermont humor like Webster? They’ve lived in Vermont long enough to know better. They did give a few hints to help us put classic Vermont humor up a tree. What did they say in chapter one? “Dry, wry, understated.” And when they unloaded their truck, the humor that tumbled out fizzed with playful wit, but I agree with Danziger. He says in the foreword it’s easier to tell what Vermont humor is than what it is not. In my mind’s eye there is always a hint of mischief in the eye of the Vermont humorist looking back at me. It bespeaks an urge to tease but never to be unkind.
For me, the best Vermont humorists have always put themselves in the same boat with their audience. Theirs is not so much the idea that “the joke is on you,” as it is that “the joke is on all of us.” But what do I know? As the fella said in chapter three, “Not a damn thing.” Vermont humor remains something of a mystery to me. Maybe that’s good. A butterfly pinned to a board is nowhere near as pretty as one fluttering by on the breeze.
I Could Hardly Keep from Laughing by Don Hooper & Bill Mares. Rootstock Publishing, December 2021.
Reviewer bio: Alec W. Hastings is the author of Cap Pistols, Cardboard Sleds & Seven Rusty Nails: A Vermont Boyhood in Happy Valley. He grew up in the hill country of Vermont when Jersey cows still grazed the pastures and men in denim boiled sap in wood-fired evaporators.
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