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THE BIG BOOK OF NEW AMERICAN HUMOR The Best of the Past 25 Years edited by William Novak & Moshe Waldoks (Harper: $15.95, illustrated)

October 28, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

Compiling an anthology of humor is a thankless labor, as readers invariably ask, "Why wasn't so-and-so included?" and "You call that funny?" Having chosen to tap-dance through a mine field, William Novak and Moshe Waldoks manage to step on just about every mine. They omit most of the innovative and/or representative humorists of the era: Berke Breathed, Bill Cosby, Jim Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Eddie Murphy, Lily Tomlin, Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson. Robin Williams and Richard Pryor aren't included because their routines "simply defy transcription." The few genuinely talented people in the anthology are badly represented. Novak and Waldoks choose a mediocre poem by Garrison Keillor, rather than one of his Lake Wobegon stories; an assortment of "Doonesbury" strips fails to showcase Garry Trudeau's remarkable political satire. Among the material that Novak and Waldoks include: Rich Hall's "Sniglets," a column by Ann Landers and a crashingly trite piece from Alice Kahn. They call that funny?

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